Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How a pro-Palestinian American reporter changed his views on Israel and the conflict

A year working as a journalist in Israel and the Palestinian territories made Hunter Stuart rethink his positions on the conflict.
(JPost) IN THE summer of 2015, just three days after I moved to Israel for a year-and-a-half stint freelance reporting in the region, I wrote down my feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend of mine in New York had mentioned that it would be interesting to see if living in Israel would change the way I felt. My friend probably suspected that things would look differently from the front-row seat, so to speak.

Boy was he right.

Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.


The friends I made in Israel forever changed my mind about the country and about the Jewish need for a homeland. But I also spent a lot of time traveling in the Palestinian territories getting to know Palestinians. I spent close to six weeks visiting Nablus and Ramallah and Hebron, and even the Gaza Strip. I met some incredible people in these places; I saw generosity and hospitality unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to. I’ll be friends with some of them for the rest of my life. But almost without fail, their views of the conflict and of Israel and of Jewish people in general was extremely disappointing.

First of all, even the kindest, most educated, upper-class Palestinians reject 100 percent of Israel ‒ not just the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They simply will not be content with a two-state solution ‒ what they want is to return to their ancestral homes in Ramle and Jaffa and Haifa and other places in 1948 Israel, within the Green Line. And they want the Israelis who live there now to leave. They almost never speak of coexistence; they speak of expulsion, of taking back “their” land."


I’m back in the US now, living on the north side of Chicago in a liberal enclave where most people ‒ including Jews ‒ tend to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood, which is gaining steam every year in international forums such as the UN.

Personally, I’m no longer convinced it’s such a good idea. If the Palestinians are given their own state in the West Bank, who’s to say they wouldn’t elect Hamas, an Islamist group committed to Israel’s destruction? That’s exactly what happened in Gaza in democratic elections in 2006. Fortunately, Gaza is somewhat isolated, and its geographic isolation ‒ plus the Israeli and Egyptian-imposed blockade ‒ limit the damage the group can do. But having them in control of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem is something Israel obviously doesn’t want. It would be suicide. And no country can be expected to consent to its own destruction.