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.