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Only a fool would write a column about the Israel-Palestine conflict. You can’t say anything reasonable without enraging both sides. My daughter, who to my surprise has converted to Judaism, strongly advised me not to write this column. Nevertheless-

The conflict has similarities to historical problems of New Mexico and Silver City, but that metaphor is limited and incomplete. A few years ago, I attended a meeting at Western New Mexico University’s Light Hall with speakers from the Oklahoma branch of the Apache tribe. The tribal historian said something like this: “You stole this land from us fair and square, and we’re not trying to take it back.”
One reason is because approximately 100,000 Americans trace their ancestry to the Apache people. The population of the parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas once occupied by Apaches is about 10 million people–100 to 1. Even if Apaches restored their fighting form from the 1870s, they would have no more chance than when a few thousand tried to defend their homeland. They were quickly outnumbered, which is why they lost the war despite winning most of the battles.

No Palestinian says that Israelis stole their land fair and square. There’s a big difference between 138 years for Apaches and 74 years for Palestinians. How much time must pass before you can live with a painful history? Maybe forever, if the population numbers are comparable. There are about 5 million Palestinians and more than 7 million Israeli Jews. The Jews are better armed and organized. Palestinians can point out that they outnumbered Jews about 2 to 1 when Israel was formed in 1948. Palestinians today probably can’t destroy Israel, but Israel would have a hard time getting rid of Palestinians.

As Anglos and Hispanics, we can feel secure on stolen land while noting that, according to most anthropologists (but not native legend), Apaches were immigrants too, arriving in the time of the conquistadors. Most of us feel sympathetic about the tragic Apache story, but not sympathetic enough to leave.

Israelis, on the other hand, can’t feel comfortable. It can be personal. One Palestinian may see one Israeli living where he was born. Jews have lived in the area for thousands of years, but they weren’t the majority until after immigration of European holocaust refugees and later Jews from Russia and other countries.

If you look at injustice in the Holy Land, no one is without sin. The incursion of Hamas into Israel on Oct. 7 was a violent and bloody act that the invaders knew would stir a horrible revenge. Sexual violence against Israeli women was one of the worst parts. Israel’s reaction has been overkill, punishing the innocent with the guilty. At one point, Israeli troops killed three of their own hostages carrying a white flag. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Israeli thugs have violently expelled many longtime Palestinian residents from land near Jewish settlements.

It’s hard to reach peace through compromise when many people on both sides will settle for nothing less than complete destruction of millions of the other. We’d like to hope that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are willing to accept (but not forget) injustices and try to live peacefully in adjacent countries. But peace requires more than a majority. Extremists on both sides have a veto.
The United States has for many years supported separate Israeli and Palestinian states, but the current Israeli government wants no part of it. The United States provides military aid amounting to about 16 percent of the Israeli military budget. That’s significant, but apparently not enough to give us much leverage. We may have helped Israel to the point of independence from us.

Israelis used to describe their country as Jewish and democratic, but the democratic part is no longer certain. And does “Jewish” refer to a religion or an ethnicity? It’s complicated.

Time changes everything. Israelis can take hope from the fact that Native Americans serve in our armed forces at five times the national average. In 100 years, will Palestinians be loyal Israeli citizens in the same way? That may depend on demographics. The struggle with weapons of war may give way to a fight in the bedroom—who can create more babies. Currently, Arab Israelis (about 21 percent) have a higher birth rate than Jewish Israelis, but ultra-orthodox Jews have a higher birth rate than less fundamentalist Jews. Will extremists on both sides weaponize fertility?

If you’re discouraged about partisanship and conflict in the United States, just be glad you don’t live in Israel. But Israeli-Palestinian politics seems to be coming to our own election. It looks like the past isn’t past, and a distant country is too close to home.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to bruce@greensilverlinings.com.
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We respectfully acknowledge that the entirety of southwestern New Mexico is the traditional territory, since time immemorial, of the Chis-Nde, also known as the people of the Chiricahua Apache Nation. The Chiricahua Apache Nation is recognized as a sovereign Native Nation by the United States in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Friendship of 1 July 1852 (10 Stat. 979) (Treaty of Santa Fe ratified 23 March 1853 and proclaimed by President Franklin Pierce 25 March 1853).

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