In 1984, Jerry Levin was kidnapped by the Hezbollah militant group in exchange for extremists that tried to bomb the French and American embassies in Kuwait. He was in captivity for over 11 months before being freed with the help of his wife, friends and colleagues. Originally of Jewish descent, Levin converted to Christianity during his captivity. His work as an activist earned him and his wife, Sis Levin, recognition by the Dalai Lama as one of 2009’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion.
Levin, ex-CNN Middle East bureau chief and former hostage, spoke to Long Beach residents about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an event on Saturday, Jan. 6 by activist group People for Palestinian-Israeli Justice (PP-IJ).
Levin said his experiences and work in the Middle East allowed him to witness the struggle on the West Bank, which he said has been increasingly strenuous for the Palestinians as Israel expands its borders deeper into Palestine’s territory using military force.
Many citizens in the region have been killed in the crossfire. Throughout 2016, 157 Palestinians and 22 Israelis were killed as a result of the conflict. A large spike in the death toll for Palestine occurred in 2014 when 2,293 Palestinians and 89 Israelis were killed, according to data collected by the website If Americans Knew (ifamericansknew.org).
In 2008, the Gaza War– also called Operation Cast Lead– was an armed conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the Gaza Strip. During the fighting, 3,078 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces and 61 Israeli military personnel were killed, according to B’Tselem: The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
The yearly death toll statistics provided by ifamericansknew.org refer to events as far back as 2000, however, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back even farther.
In the 19th century, most of the land where Palestine stood was inhabited by a multicultural population– approximately 86-percent Muslim, 10-percent Christian and 4-percent Jewish– that lived in peace, according to Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh’s research, which was displayed on pamphlets made available to the public during the event. Qumsiyeh is an expert on Palestinian refugees and wrote Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle.
In 1917, a majority of European nations were deadlocked in fighting as World War I entered its third year. Great Britain’s declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire in 1914 led British officials to project what the future would hold for territories under Ottoman control, including Palestine.
Near the end of 1917, British parliament signed the Balfour Declaration, which favored the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine until May 1948, opposed both the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine as well as unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees to the region, according to history.state.gov. Great Britain wanted to preserve positive relations with the Arabs to protect its vital political and economic interests in Palestine.
By the end of World War II, nearly 6 million Jews were killed, along with other ethnic groups, as part of Nazi-Germany’s Final Solution– the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe, according to the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s website. This genocide and the expanding idea of Zionism– a national movement of the Jewish people that encourages the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland– led to increased Jewish immigration into Palestine, and conflict in the region grew, according to ifamericansknew.org.
In Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations intervened and adopted Resolution 181– also known as the Partition Resolution– that would divide England’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states when the British mandate was scheduled to end in 1948.
Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain a “corpus separatum”– a Latin term referring to a city or region given a special legal and political status different from its environment but falling short of being sovereign– under international control administered by the United Nations. President Harry S. Truman ultimately decided to recognize the state of Israel, according to history.state.gov.
War broke out in 1967 as Israel began to expand its borders. By the end of the Six Day War, Israel occupied 22-percent more of originally Palestinian land. During the conflict, Israeli forces attacked U.S. Navy ship USS Liberty, which resulted in over 200 American casualties. Israel claimed the U.S. ship was mistaken for an Egyptian ship, according to The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship.
Video by: Sebastian Echverry | Signal Tribune
Recently, President Donald Trump announced that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jerusalem. It was reported that some world leaders were critical of his action.
Levin said it is crucial for American citizens to understand this issue since its beginnings because the U.S. government played a large role in why the disagreement ensued.
“It is important at the local level because people that care, such as I do, can come together, receive new information, learn what the situation is and let them know that they’re not alone,” Levin said. “The predominant feeling in the United States is still knee-jerk pro-Israel [and that it] can do no wrong. As long as that is the predominant feeling in the United States, then that is going to permit the Israelis to continue to carry out the type of atrocious occupation of the West Bank and the ghettoization of Gaza.”
The United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is a longstanding cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East, according to foreignassistance.gov– a tool for tracking U.S. foreign assistance spending. Last year, the U.S. planned to give $3.10 billion to Israel for “peace and security,” according to foreignassistance.gov.
During the Jan. 6 event, the PP-IJ asked citizens to sign petitions for their local representatives to weigh in on the issue.
One petition asked 47th District Congressmember Alan Lowenthal to co-sponsor HR 4391: Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, which Minnesota’s 4th District Congressmember Betty McCollum introduced last month. The PP-IJ is asking Lowenthal to co-sponsor the bill and to schedule a meeting with him sometime later this month to discuss the act.
Another petition asked Trump and the U.S. State Department not to move the embassy to Jerusalem. The PP-IJ is also petitioning State Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein to block the moving of the embassy.
Levin said that opposing Israel’s policies concerning Palestine is difficult because critics are quickly called anti-Semitic.
“The problem is if you say you are pro-Palestinian or if you are a rabid supporter of Israel– right or wrong– you are anti-Semitic,” Levin said. “That’s the way you are looked at. If you are not for Israel, then you’re against the Jews.”
Levin argues that the population in Israel is itself divided, both religiously and ethnically. He claims that there are Zionist and non-Zionist Jews that view Israeli policies different from each other.
“There are people in Israel who are against the policies of their own government,” Levin said. “Unfortunately, name calling, when it comes to political disagreements, is a vicious game. If I speak too loudly against prevailing American opinion, then I’ll be called un-American.”