Tony Waterston on reaching a common view on Israel and Palestine

Tony WaterstonAnyone writing a piece on either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories (the official UN title) will be exposed to a wealth comments from each side with often, little appearance of understanding the other’s perspective. This was my experience following a previous BMJ blog on 5th January. In my job as a paediatrician, I frequently meet parents who are convinced that there is something wrong with their child who is mis-behaving, whereas I am sure that the solution lies with them. If I confront them with this, they will react with anger: I am more likely to be successful if I make it clear that I can understand their point of view, and that I am not going to take sides, but rather describe the situation. Sometimes, I will write down the narrative as it appears to the parents, and the narrative as it appears to the child.

Let’s not take this analogy too far as neither Israel nor Palestine will want to be put in parent or child mode. But let me apply the narrative approach to this long conflict.

Israeli narrative
We are a long suffering and oppressed people who have no home of our own. Israel is our hope and whilst anti-semitism exists, it is needed as a safe haven. Founded out of the horrors of the second world war, it has been under attack by hostile Arab states since its inception. Efforts to make peace with our neighbours have been thwarted and the country is an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarian rule. The occupation was removed from Gaza but despite this there have been continuing attacks with rockets; Hamas is a terrorist organisation which wants to destroy Israel, and cannot be negotiated with. The separation wall was created purely for defence against the cruel suicidal bombing. We had to go to war on Gaza to stop the Hamas attacks, there was no choice. Now, there is no peace partner but this is no fault of Israel.

Palestinian narrative
The Palestinians have a long and honourable history of living in this region and co-existed peacefully with Jews for many years. But in 1948, the year of the Naqba (catastrophe), we were forced to leave our villages and become refugees in surrounding countries. Since then we have been treated as second class citizens in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, have been unable to develop economically owing to harassment and border closures. Every day the Israelis make life difficult for us whilst continuing to allow the growth of settlements, which are illegal under international law. So far the peace process has made no difference to the lives of Palestinians. We voted for Hamas as a more efficient and effective organisation than the corrupt Fatah, but after the fair election the world has boycotted the government which was elected democratically. The Gaza population have suffered greatly owing to this economic boycott, to which was added the huge trauma of the 3 week bombing of this tiny country, and which we consider a war crime.

I would urge those who write in relation to the conflict, to make it clear that they understand the point of view of the other, in particular the horrors of the holocaust on the one hand, and the disaster of the Naqba on the other. There will be absolutely no progress until this time has come about. We may not agree – but we need to understand.

Tony Waterston is a paediatrician in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, working mainly mainly in the community with long term conditions, disability, child abuse and social and mental health concerns. His interests are in child public health, children’s rights and global child health and he leads the RCPCH teaching programme in the occupied Palestinian territories.

  • Mark Struthers (Dr)

    It is hopelessly naïve to suggest that this conflict might be resolved if only the (unequal) protagonists understood the others’ narrative.

    Tony Waterston obviously hasn’t noticed the ugly creature dominating the playroom.

    The creature is not an elephant but the fabled Woolly Mammoth. And this woolly beast, flapping its ears dangerously (double standards) and waving its tusks menacingly (hypocrisies), is called Dumbo. Dumbo is a lumbering, partisan, juvenile delinquent, who endlessly narrates the fable that ‘might is right’.

    When Dumbo eventually dies, the two narrators may have a chance of assimilating their differing narratives and resolving their vicious conflict like mature adults. Roll on the death of the Woolly Mammoth.

  • Andrew Howe

    I wish you mentioned the role of the British Governments in bringing Jews from Europe and Russia and let them settle there. They did so by legislating and criminally “killing” any opponents to its Immigration Policy in Palestine after its illegal occupation of Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s and the first 8 yras of the 1940s. The British forces in 1936 surrounded and killed Sheikh Qassam simply because he honorably refused to surrender to the criminal British Government in Palestine.

    Jews and Arabs lived in Peace in Middle East for years, the Europeans are responsible for forcing the Jewish People to seek a homeland after the organized persecution of the Jews in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Jews were forced to immigrate because of hostility and hatred as well as discrimination they faced in Europe.


  • peter

    Tony, you are being generously polite. The real problem is that the behaviour of Israel is not being judged by the same standards as are applied by the world community to Bosnia, Chechnya, Zimbabwe and other areas in which unacceptable treatment of humans by humans exists. The reason is that we are afraid to criticise Israel because of the terrible legacy of the 2nd World War. They still see themselves as victims and we treat them as special cases. To do otherwise and apply the same standards more than 50 yrs later is surely appropriate. What is inappropriate is for the worldwide Jewish community to plead anti-semitism the moment the behaviour of Israel is condemned, which is what is happening at the moment. Proper discussion is being strangled, purposefully.

  • Elliot Daniel

    You mention Arabs leaving Israel as a ‘Naqba’. You have conveniently not mentioned the one million Jews expelled from Arab countries Aden, Iraq, Libya etc. These Jews were expelled under threat of death. The majority of the Arabs that did not run from their homes in 1948 still live in them as Israeli citizens. Have you ever been to the cities of Haifa, Jaffa, Ramle, Jaljulia, Kfar Kassem etc? The Arabs who chose to stay and not flee as instructed by their leaders are still living in their homes today as Israeli citizens. The Jews of Arab lands had no such choice. I suggest you research this a little deeper, you do not have to go far London has a community of 5000 Jews expelled from Aden during the pogroms there. You seem to confuse the term Israeli and Jewish. Israeli is a multi-cultural society. One quarter of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, this includes Army officers, members of parliament, Judges, doctors all walks of life. How many Jews are living and working in Libya and Aden? Think about this a little and maybe you’ll understand which people really sustained a ‘Naqba’ in 1948!

  • Mark Struthers (Dr)

    As a paediatrician, Tony Waterston will want to remember all those children who have died in this bitter conflict. ‘Remember these children’ is a website dedicated to the memory of these children.

    “IN ANY CONFLICT, the death of innocent noncombatants is deplorable, and lamented by all. It is the death of children, however, that troubles us the most, for children are seen to be innocent in a way adults are not.”

    “From September 29, 2000, when the current Palestinian intifada erupted, through January 18, 2008, at least 1056 Palestinian and 123 Israeli youths under the age of 18 were killed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Thousands more have been injured, many permanently.”

    I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau in December last year and I have just finished reading the book, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne. I would like to know how an understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust could possibly help a Palestinian family accept the loss of their child in the circumstances above … as a stepping stone to peace with the people of Israel.

    Imam Samir Darwish al-Hams, 13, of Rafah, Gaza, was “killed by IDF gunfire to her head, chest, limbs and abdomen on her way to school near the Tal Zarub army post.” She died on 5 October 2004. She had been no threat to anyone, let alone an IDF operative. Her killer was never punished.

    Put yourself in the position of the parents of a child like Imam: what would you do?

  • Dr Suresh

    If there was any holocaust, it was done by the German Nazis, but why should the Palestinian people should pay. If somebody murdered someone else in your city and he is found guilty of the same, can I hang you for his crime? What kind of justice and human rights are these?

    Palestinian people are not only living on this land since centuries but they are the citizens of that country. Can people can come from other countries (Germany, England, France, USSR. India and other countires) and occupy their land and start killing in the name of defence of Israel, and the people who are fighting to claim back their homes are called as terrorists, while the occupation itself is illegal and the state of Isarel is itself illegal.

    Hi Tony tony how can you post such a blog when you are in that country and you are suppose to know the legitimate cause of Palestinian people.

    To summarize in one sentence – Israel has no place in Palestinian land of 1912.

  • The Israeli response is a lot of newspeak and propaganda!They always cry “antisemitism” yet they are not semites the palestinians are.I have been to palestine on several visits and read 10 scholarship books on the crisis there.The media gives basically the opposite of what actually is the truth and the zionists are not bound by truth at all and lie as they go.Go read Arthur Koestler’s Zionism works;Norman Finklestein;Noam Chomsky and David Hurst to name a few of the scholars in this field.

  • Francis Joseph

    Thank you Tony. Nice to see a single article with 2 points of view. There are 2 points of view if not more. There are many points of view, and demonising one side or the other as is the case in most articles gets us nowhere.

  • Ann Robinson

    Dr Waterston presents two parallel narratives. He calls for an understanding of the validity of both to enable mediation and proress. How can anyone disagree with his analysis? And yet even on these pages, the responses are angry, partisan, entrenched and unresponsive to his call. It’s so depressing!

  • aaron

    BMJ has its own ax to grind. Of all the conflicts in the world darfur, the tamils, etc. you cite Israel and when you include palestinians dead you count the terroroists. Limit yourself to the dissemination of medical knowledge

  • Unbelievable ! Grown adults, obviously unacquainted with recorded history (not stories, claims or “a side”-just history.)
    Elliot Daniel”s remarks ARE HISTORICAL FACT! Are there no educated minds willing to even comment after reading his reply? Why not? Not one factual argument, nothing. The next several entries resume the previous drivel.
    You are desperately in need of some education. But it is obvious that that holds no interest. Ask yourselves why this issue is more important than say, Zimbabwe, or the situation ongoing in the Congo, OVER THE LAST DECADE (deadliest conflict since WWII, claiming>5 MILLION LIVES, many of them children (not to mention thee rape, torture, and arbitrary detention) Ask yourselves why only Israel leads you to speak out, even at the risk of grossly distorting reality and history. The answer, my learned colleagues, should be painfully obvious. Disappointing and shameful.

  • Dr. Waterson, forgot to mention that I think your equating the Holocaust with the Naqba, is nothing short of obscene. My understanding of the word is tragedy (referring not to deaths, but embarrassment, indignation, anger, etc)

  • further note to Dennis Pacelli
    thank you Mel Gibson, for your evenhanded summary of the situation.
    Please travel throughout Israel now. You wont believe what can be accomplished in such short time, in spite of all of the wars.

  • Ms. Robinson,
    You sound like a very nice person, anxious for peace in general. What is depressing, is your assumption that Tony’s narratives are correct. Please, consider reading Alan Derschowitz’s book “The Case For Israel” No conjecture or opinions. Simply documented facts, including census information recorded by the British before Israel became a state. Meticulously kept records indicating who was really in the region at the time. Every one of his statements is footnoted with the source given. Anyone really interested can learn about the true history of the region. This issue is overwhelmed with sentiment, obscuring facts.
    On another note, consider WHY the “Palestinians” situation has never been resolved. They are today the only refugees not relocated. Not enough money in the region? Israel has relocated untold thousands of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Russia, with but a fraction of the financial resources, and land available to the Arab world. These “territories” are important to their cause, fomenting hatred from the womb. You should be more offended at the subhuman treatment of fellow women in the Arab countries .
    As has been said: if the Arabs put down their weapons, there will be no more war. If Israel puts down her weapons, there will be no more Israel. (they do not even attempt to deny this)

  • Adam

    I agree in general with this analysis, but I do slightly disagree with the final conclusion.

    The question of Israel/Palestine is always one of proportionality, financially, militarily and influentially, and Isreal come top by a margin in all these factors.

    To understanding the ‘others’ point of view is easy to say and would indeed be a good point to start, but in the West the Palestinians voice, history, and even present political situation, are too often misquoted, misinformed and frequently deliberately misinterpreted for political advantage. There is no balance about Palestine in the West. Most commentators are based in Israel when they issue their reports!

    Mention the Holocaust and people will stop and listen, it provokes a reaction at the very least, mention the Naqba and most people have no idea what you are taking about, indeed my spellchecker does not recognize it, yet it corrects my misspelling of Holocaust every time, its just another example of this harmful disparity, like many others in this heavily one sided debate.

    To realize Tony Watsons’ vision, it is first necessary to get parity, and his is a novel and simpathetic approach, which is well worth a try. But Parity willonly happen when Israel stands on its own two feet and stops receiving its billion$ from the US. Then it will have to act in a socially acceptable way.

    But at least Watsons’ approach is an attempt at balanced, unlike those exposed by Prof Alan Dershowitz, (who David Benkoff touts above), to quote Dershowitz’s debatable figures and to use him as a reference in a discussion about peace is surely a step too far, he is about as interested in peaceful deterrence, collective security, and negotiations as are his counterparts in the Israeli government, vying to see who can be the baddest hardliner on the block! Who all want to continue to construct more of the separation wall, still want to blockade Gaza,will still imprison without trial, and will generally continue to terrorize a population in every way imaginable.

    The Holocaust happened but it is no excuse, and should not be used as one, by Israel, to re-enact those horrors on others.

    The Naqba is ongoing in my mind.

  • simply put, the Holocaust took millions of lives, not just Jews. Since Israel’s involvement in the territories, the population of the Palestinians has steadily INCREASED, probably 2 to 3 times what it was in 1967. So where is the comparison?
    Regarding Dertshowitz, it is obvious you have not read any of his book. It is pointless to try rational discussion with irrational people. Adam, read, learn and interpret this information with the zeal I hope you employ in researching about illness. If not, then there will be no cure. One last thing, YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OR READ ANY ISRRAELI SOURCE STATING THAT THE HOLOCAUST IS IN ANY WAY INTEGRATED WITH THIS INTIFADA. Please prove this with documented source. I do not believe any Jew anywhere feels the issues relate to the Holocaust. Israel’s statehood is as “legal” as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. That the Paestinian charter is committed to Israel’s destruction, is of course a serious issue, and may invoke the “never again”feeling. As astate, Israel offers more freedom to all people than most Arab states offer even to Arabs living in them. Israeli Arabsdespite any complaints they may have, have never been kicked out (despite some hard line factions who have suggested that they be ejected. On the other hand, the rest of the middle east is free of their Jews, who WERE evicted, without their possessions. Lets remember tha tis documented that the Arabs in GAZA and West Bank, left their homes. They were not expelled as you would have us believe. If so, how do you explain the existence of the Israeli Arab population? If you seriously research the conditions BEFORE the 1st intifada, you will find that there was economic improvement after 1967, only to have Arafat get involved and F it up. Billions of dollars HAVE flowed into the strip and west bank. Where idid it go? To improve the average citizen’s lot? No. To line the pockets of Arafat and his ilk. This has NEVER been about money, on either side. If it were, I submit that some of the surrounding Arab countries are among the wealthiest in the world, and could have solved it already. It is and has always been about the Naqba., and the never ending desire to destroy Israel since it was created. The Quran itself, teaches children to hate Jews (long before they have any idea what a Jew is). We do not hear Jews referring to anyone as Apes and Pigs, And by the way if Jews are Apes and Pigs, things do not look good for Muslims, who pale in comparison when it comes to accomplishments in science, art, music, etc. If one side continues to teach such hateful things to children (which it must, since the Quran is Allah’s word) how can you expect peace in our lifetime? It seems to me that this “understanding must come first.

  • Adam
    please visit the website of the palestinian media watch
    this is how they use all of their media resources to gain “peace”
    and this is the real problem, my friend: THEY DO NOT WANT PEACE, THEY WANT ISRAEL DESTROYED. period. Teaching these things to children can never foster any peace. stuffing young minds with hateful rhetoric forever influences them. It should disgust you. It is child abuse by any rational standard. And it comes from the “moderate” gov of FATAH.
    I dont care what your feelings are about Israel, if you cannot see that this is a significant impediment to any form of peace, then I give up!