“Israelis are materialistic and cynical, and don’t care about peace.....”
- response by Michael Oren

Published: 14 October 2010
Briefing Number 271

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Summary:    It has become fashionable for commentators to claim that Israelis “don’t care about peace”. 

They suggest that what Israelis care more about material success and prosperity than they care about peace with the Palestinians, or in the region.  And they claim that Israelis have become cynical about the peace process. 

Time Magazine recently featured a prominent article making these arguments.  That article prompted the following response by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.  Oren shows that Israelis care passionately about peace, and explains why.  He argues succinctly that Israel’s material accomplishments do not indicate “indifference to peace”, but rather “the determination of Israelis to build normal, fruitful lives in the face of incredible adversity”.  

Not only do Israelis yearn for peace, states Oren, but the vision of future peace is a “lifeline” for them.

Michael Oren’s important article was published in The Los Angeles Times on 15 September 2010 (www.latimes.com).  We have reproduced it verbatim as this Beyond Images Briefing.  

We’ve added section headings into the text for user-friendliness online, and we have also included links in the middle part of Oren’s article to some relevant Beyond Images Briefings.

Why Israelis care about peace

by Michael Oren

Los Angeles Times, 15 September 2010 

Imagine that you’re a parent who sends her children off to school in the morning worrying whether their bus will become a target of suicide bombers.  Imagine that, instead of going off to college, your children become soldiers at age 18, serve for three years and remain in the active reserves into their 40s.  Imagine that you have fought in several wars, as have your parents and even your grandparents, that you’ve seen rockets raining down on your neighbourhood and have lost close family and friends to terrorist attacks.  Picture all of that and you’ll begin to understand what it is to be an Israeli. 

And you’ll know why all Israelis desperately want peace.

We seek to build normal, fruitful lives in the face of incredible adversity…..
Recent media reports, in Time Magazine and elsewhere, have alleged that Israelis – who are currently experiencing economic growth and a relative lull in terrorism – may not care about peace.  According to a poll cited, Israelis are more concerned about education, crime and poverty – issues that resonate with Americans – than about the peace process with the Palestinians.  But such findings do not in any way indicate an indifference to peace, but rather the determination of Israelis to build normal, fruitful lives in the face of incredible adversity.

Our scepticism about peace prospects is understandable….

Yes, many Israelis are sceptical about peace, and who wouldn’t be?  We withdrew our troops from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in order to generate peace, and instead we received thousands of missiles crashing down into our homes (see Beyond Images Briefing 234 – the context for the Israel-Hamas war of 2009).  We negotiated with the Palestinians for 17 years and twice offered them an independent state, only to have those offers rejected (see Beyond Images Briefing 21 – ‘Camp David and Taba: What did Israel offer?’; and Beyond Images Briefing 225 – ‘Israel offers to pull out of 93% of the West Bank, plus give 7% more land – Palestinians say no’). 

Over the last decade, we saw more than 1000 Israelis – proportionately the equivalent of about 43,000 Americans – killed by suicide bombers, and tens of thousands maimed (see Beyond Images Briefing 78 – Palestinian suicide bombings: don’t let the world forget; and Beyond Images Briefing 10 – If Israel were the UK or the USA?  Equivalent casualty figures in 7 countries’).

We watched bereaved mothers on Israeli television urging our leaders to persist in their peace efforts, while Palestinian mothers praised their martyred children and wished to sacrifice others to jihad (see Beyond Images Briefing 104 – ‘Sweets on the Streets: glorification of terror in Palestinian society’).

An overwhelming majority of Israelis support the peace process, despite past disappointment and trauma….

Given our experience of disappointment and trauma, it’s astonishing that Israelis still support the peace process at all.  Yet we do, and by an overwhelming majority.  According to the prestigious Peace Index conducted by the Tamal Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and released in July, more than 70% of Israelis back negotiations with the Palestinians and nearly that number endorse a two-state solution.  These percentages exist even though multiple Palestinian polls show much less enthusiasm for living side-by-side in peace with Israel, or that most Israelis believe that international criticism of the Jewish state will continue even if peace is achieved.

We’ve passionately responded to genuine opportunities for peace

Indeed, Israelis have always grasped opportunities for peace.  When Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat or King Hussein of Jordan offered genuine peace with Israel, our people passionately responded and even made painful concessions.  That most Israelis are still willing to take incalculable risks for peace – the proposed Palestinian state would border their biggest cities – and are still willing to share their ancestral homeland with a people that has repeatedly tried to destroy them is nothing short of miraculous.

…. And we have preserved democratic rights despite unrelenting pressure

It’s true that Israel is a success story.  The country has six world-class universities, more scientific papers and Nobel Prizes per capita than any other nation and the most advanced high tech sector outsider of Silicon Valley.  The economy is flourishing, tourism is at an all-time high and our citizen army selflessly protects our borders.  In the face of unrelenting pressures, we have preserved a democratic system in which both Jews and Arabs can serve in our parliament and sit on our Supreme Court.   We have accomplished this without knowing a nanosecond of peace.

The improvements in Israeli society do not lessen our deep desire for peace

We shouldn’t have to apologise for our achievements.  Nor should outside observers conclude that the great improvements in our society in any way lessen our deep desire for peace.  That yearning was expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the recent White House ceremony for the start of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.  Addressing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as “my partner for peace”, Netanyahu called for “a peace that will last for generations – our generation, our children’s generation and the next” (see Beyond Images Briefing 268 – Benjamin Netanyahu as peace builder: his speech at Washington talks, September 2010). 

Israelis don’t have to imagine what it’s like to live in a perpetual war zone. We experience it.  For Israelis, the vision of peace is our lifeline.