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Joshua Claxton AY’14 packed his bags and left the United States to start the Arabic Year at King’s Academy program in fall 2013. Now a freshman at Middlebury College, Joshua wrote the article below for his college newspaper, The Middlebury Campus, and shared it with Beyond King’s.

In the summer of 2013, I decided do a post-graduate year at King’s. I had no idea how the year abroad would impact me, but I was ready for an adventure. As you can imagine, it proved to be an excellent decision. The year was incredible; I learned so much and met amazing people. I also developed a passion for Palestinian sovereignty and justice. Fervent and opinionated, I entered Middlebury this past fall determined to stand up for my beliefs. I had many discussions and finally decided to write an article in the school newspaper to best convey my thoughts. In writing the piece I thought of all I learned in Jordan and how I formed such opinions by speaking with friends at King’s. Hope you enjoy!

A year and a half ago I decided to take a gap year. The term “gap year” invariably implies backpacking through some countries, picking up the local tongues, and doing some pro-bono work. I did a bit of that, but was never one of those hostel-hoppers you find in European cafes. Instead, I chose to do a fifth year of high school (aka a post-graduate year) in Jordan at a school called King’s Academy.

Fast-forward a year and a half later to here at Middlebury. Since my arrival, I’ve had several discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s in the news often, especially after this past summer, and when it enters the domain of conversation, people become pretty impassioned. I am undoubtedly among the zealous people who are moved by the situation. In Jordan, the topic was always relevant and many of my friends were of Palestinian descent. There was understandable frustration with Israel’s existence; my Palestinian friends’ families immigrated to Jordan because of what occurred between 1947 and 2000. Much of the animosity was towards policy like the occupation and the general treatment of Palestinians in Israel, which I will get into later.

In America, we cannot truly empathize with the Palestinian struggle. Many other ethnic groups have been forced out of home countries or have fled to avoid oppression; the Jewish people are a perfect example. However, the specific suffering in Palestine is unique in its own right and we (here in the US) can’t imagine how it feels to live in Gaza right now. But before talking facts and morals, about whose side to take, and how peace can be achieved, the approach to discussing the conflict needs to change. The common labels of “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine” are aggravating. Everyone with some interest in the Middle East identifies as one or the other, which is incredibly counter-productive to peace. To consider oneself pro-Israel connotes an absolute anti-Palestine mindset. It’s the mindset of ultra conservatives in Israeli government like PM Netanyahu, who care less about Palestine or its people. They rather believe in the triumph of Israel and the eradication of anything that may inhibit Israel’s climb to hegemonic status.

Similarly, to be pro-Palestine implies a degree of extremism, believing that Israel shouldn’t exist at all. Groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah preach this rhetoric and commit themselves to the destruction of Israel rather than focusing on Palestinian sovereignty and equality. The radicals on both sides perpetuate hatred and polarize the situation in a horrendous way. Thus, to label oneself pro- (either nation) is to align with the morally reprehensible ideals of radicals. Confining oneself to such a single set of beliefs creates a precedent of obstinacy that inhibits diplomatic and political progress. To be obvious and idealistically frank, the goal should be peace and equality for the people, not one country over another because both have a right to exist.

There is an intricate and controversial background to what is now geographically Israel and Palestine but it’s not too essential in analyzing the current conflict. Regardless of how you feel about the history, Israel has been thoroughly established over the past sixty years and it’s not going anywhere. The same way Palestinians aren’t going to stop fighting to get their land back. Therefore the discussion needs to be in the present tense, about the policies and issues of today.

The match-up right now is unbalanced to say the least. Israel’s a big grizzly bear and Palestine is a squirrel throwing acorns. The death toll from the Gaza this past summer was about 2,200 and about 2,100 were Palestinian. Moreover, to quote the political analyst recently brought by Justice for Palestine, Josh Ruebner, “Israel administered a sort of collective punishment” in Gaza that took nearly 1,500 civilian lives and demolished Palestinian infrastructure.

Hamas is a dangerous threat to Israeli civilians and enemy of Israeli defense, but the military answer should not be the destruction of 531 Palestinian villages. This demolition left innocent Palestinians homeless, seeking any refuge available. UN schools were made available as safe havens but those were later bombed too.

Israel is becoming increasingly more brutal with its treatment of the Palestinians. Those within Israel suffer from a segregation and inequality that is analogous with the former apartheid in South Africa. Those in the occupied territories seek sovereignty, but are denied all freedom of assembly or speech. The global community should not tolerate this injustice because if left unaddressed, what remains of Palestine will continue to shrink and nationhood will always evade its people.

Our lecturer from last week, Josh, advocated for an intense series of boycotting, divestment, and sanctions to punish Israel for its unjust treatment of the Palestinians. I’m not sure that’s a bad idea because many of Israel’s policies have been utterly unacceptable. Israel is gradually annexing remaining Palestinian land, similar to Russia’s efforts in Crimea. America should criticize Israel the way it did to Russia. Perhaps if Israel’s greatest ally, America, turns its back towards them in the form of divestment, etc. we’d see more Palestinian integration and equality and a big step towards an autonomous Palestine. In turn, Israel could worry less about fighting Hamas as they treat Palestinians better because that mitigates Hamas’s case for battle.

Ultimately, extremists cannot be reasoned with and the radicals on both sides will always demand more concessions from the opposition. I still have hope though, as everyone should, that a solution can be reached. As our generation comes to power, I envision new, progressive political parties working towards a single state. We, as future leaders, should not fight for Israel or Palestine but for justice, equality, and an end to the violence.

Originally printed in The Middlebury Campus of Middlebury College