The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is a retired political science professor at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
I love learning about history and grew up in a household where my father, a social studies teacher, was a compelling teller of times past.
And, since the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7, I’ve interacted with many people about the long, complex history of the region. This history includes ancient Judaism, Jewish life during the life of Jesus and early Christianity, the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD and the kidnapping of Jews to be slave labor in Rome, Jewish relationships with Mohammed in the 6th and 7th centuries, the many Christian crusades, the rule of the Ottoman Empire over its territory of Palestine, the British mandate that created the only Palestinian coins, the impact of the Holocaust in creating Israel as a modern state and the many wars and efforts at peace-making afterwards.
But while we can’t forget the past, reviewing history need not constrain the future.
For one, which events are even relevant isn’t something everyone agrees with. To some, it matters a lot that Jews have been in Israel since Judaism’s start which, by some accounts, was around 1800 years B.C. Others find that history irrelevant.
Also, there’s no single account of any single territory or historical turning point. Different people point to different details or have divergent interpretations.
Take the 2000 Camp David proposal for a two-state solution. I think the terms were quite good and, if Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat had accepted them, the Palestinian people and Israel would be better off now. However, I’ve interacted with people who think a just solution for Palestinians required more and Arafat was right to decline the deal.
Even if we all agree, say, that the creation of modern Israel in 1948 was an important milestone, analyses and accounts of it vary.
Ultimately discussing history only goes so far — and that’s good. Instead of being imprisoned by the past, people can choose to look forward, to pursue peace, security, dignity, land and opportunity for all.
Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting extreme movements, politicians and positions.
Nothing can excuse Hamas terrorists or the extremist pro-Palestinian backers who heralded the attacks of Oct. 7, nor those who denied Hamas murdered and kidnapped Israeli civilians. At the same time, it’s important to care about the Palestinian civilians in Gaza killed in horrible, heartrending numbers.
In Israel, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many in his governing coalition have undermined prospects for peace by backing the extremist settlers who flouted international law and violently took lands from Palestinians in the West Bank. This caused pain and rage and made it harder to achieve a two-state solution. It is good that Netanyahu has finally spoken against these settlers and President Joe Biden announced that “extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank” will not be granted visas to enter the U.S.
Among Palestinians, far too many leaders embraced terror to achieve an impractical, extreme goal — to end Israel and create a Palestinian state that runs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Before last month’s terrorism, Israel was lulled into believing Gaza would remain calm and reacted to this feint by increasing work permits for Gazans in Israel and aid into Gaza.
Meanwhile, as interviews with Hamas leaders by the New Times found, although certain leaders were interested in governing Gaza, the ones who planned the terror attacks wanted to “set off a sustained conflict that ends any pretense of coexistence among Israel, Gaza and the countries around them,” the paper reported. Harm and death for ordinary Gazans was part of that plan, with the understanding that Israel would respond militarily. We’d be in a better place if the Hamas leaders who wanted to continue the pre-Oct. 7 ceasefire with Israel and govern Gaza had been able to stop the others.
To achieve peace and a just solution, extremism must give way to pragmatism, and the pain and trauma from recent and historical events somehow will somehow have to give way to creating a better future. For, while the history that matters for Israelis and Palestinians didn’t start on a particular date, it also hasn’t ended in 2023.