Shannon Silberhorn: Jerusalem, Recent Politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Recently, Trump announced that the United States would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.1  As protests erupted in the response in the Middle East, there is an amplification of the tension that already exists between Israel and the rest of the Middle East.  In this examination of the consequences of Trump’s decision, I would like to address the historical roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and based off this historical context, how this decision will affect an already anxious Middle East.  I would also like to explore how we can move forward from here as Americans, and also globally if our goal for the future is peace.

Part of the importance of this decision is that it encourages “full annexation” of Israel, including Jerusalem, which means that the United States is more supportive of Israel’s position than ever before.2  Many in the past have seen a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians as being a deal where “western Jerusalem” is given to “Israel and eastern Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state”.3  Trump’s position on this is cutting out this possibility.  Before, giving half of Jerusalem to Israel would fall into the category of a two-state solution, where the Israelis and Palestinians both occupy “separate but contiguous sovereign states”.4  Now, with Trump’s decision, the Israeli government would ideally annex the rest of Israel for themselves in the future.  Another solution is a binational solution where Israel and Palestine can be reconciled together as one state.  The two-state solution has faced criticism before, Nelson says that opposition comes from “Arabs mortally offended by the presence of a Jewish homeland in what they consider a Muslim land; by Jews who believe God gave them all of Palestine, including Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)”.5  (footnote: I would read Nelson’s work with caution, as he clearly taking the position from the lens of a Zionist Jew.)  For those who believe in a two-state solution, which seems more viable than a one-state solution or a binational solution (which seems unlikely to take place), Trump’s position is shattering our neutrality over that issue and shifting the focus onto a one-state solution in which Israel occupies the rest of Palestine completely.

In my initial response paper on the factors of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I discussed briefly the historical roots of this long-standing issue, and discussed Gopin’s work on the “Abrahamic family”.  I think this concept is important to the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it is important that we all recognize our grudges and biases, especially within the “Abrahamic family”, or within the interfaith community of Muslims, Christians, and Jewish people.  It is important to recognize that how narrators shaped their stories, especially in the Bible, were rife with political strategy and their own biases: what responsibility do we have to uphold that mantle? The Bible also uses metaphors in order to establish these politics and biases and the story of the Abrahamic family is no different.  The Bible has been used before in defense of domestic abuse, homophobia, etc.  Characterizing the Abrahamic story as problematic is no different than characterizing those verses (that encourage violence, etc.) as problematic.  As Gopin says of the metaphor of Abraham’s family, “In this metaphor…identities are established.  In this metaphor, old wounds are expressed.  In this metaphor, ancient competitions and conflicts are given a quality of cosmic significance”.6  Focusing on the specific line “given a quality of cosmic significance”, is very important.  Just as the identity of God is arguable because it beyond human understanding, then these divides are given similar “cosmic significance” in which it is little spoken of why we hold such deep grudges and where they come from.  All three of the Abrahamic religions share the same roots, yet offer different things, and it is so interesting for three religions so historically tied that they can not make headway with one another.  I would argue that cosmically, they all have a similar goal.  As Gopin continues, there is little evidence for the existence of Abraham and his family but the narrative they have set has run away with us.7  

We all claim our homeland, and our roots.  For the Palestinian people who were living there before their country was torn apart by war and occupation, though they were also living in homes.  Is there any way for the Palestinian people to continue to live their lives if there is a resolution for this?  That is also a question that should be addressed in how we discuss this is an historical context.

Historically, rather than just mythically, before the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Jewish people had immigrated there after the horrors of the Holocaust, searching for new homes and returning to their sacred religious home.  Jewish nationalism had existed back in the ancient world, and was amplified through crises like Babylonian Exile (in scripture), where Jewish people were held captive outside of their homeland, Israel.  The Zionist movement, taking on previous feelings throughout Jewish literature and Judaism that “yearn[ed] for a return to Zion”, started taking shape in the contemporary world in the 19th century.8  I would argue that Zionism, at least currently, is integral to the construction of Israel as a Jewish state.  At this point, it would difficult to separate Zionism from what the Jewish people are doing politically in Israel.  It is problematic that any Jewish person in the world can become an Israeli citizen whereas Arab people are being systematically pushed out of Palestine.  It makes sense then that “Arabs, then, often see Zionism as a species of colonialism and racism aimed at appropriating Palestinian land and systematically disenfranchising the Palestinians that remain”.9  

Similarly, Nelson Mandela wrote in response to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, calling the political injustice happening in Israel an Apartheid system.10  Mandela says of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, “Palestinians are not struggling for a ‘state’ but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa”.11  As Mandela described the Apartheid system in Israel, he reiterated that there were two different judicial systems based on race, that the Israeli government held economic control of the state, and that “Palestinian property is not recognized as private property because it can be confiscated”.12  Arab states created a UN resolution labelling Zionism as racist, that passed in 1975.13  This statement was later repealed in 1991, under heavy persuasion from the United States.14  In this respect, it makes sense that the Palestinian people would have difficulty living under a one-state solution, with respect to past persecution.

The argument of Zionists is that people like Mandela who compare Israel to an apartheid system are overly dramatic and misconstruing the situation.  As Pogrund writes, “The Arabs of Israel are full citizens.  Admittedly, these Palestinian citizens of Israel do suffer discrimination, starting with severe restrictions on land use”.15  Zionists see apartheid as a irrational argument because they do not see exactly the same things happening as with aggressively racist apartheid in South Africa.  As Poground continues, “Jews and Arabs travel on the same trains, taxis, and–yes–buses”.16  Pogrund continues on the path that apartheid does not exist by saying, “Everything is open to change in a tangled society in which lots of people have grievances”.17  All of these seem like an argument that maybe apartheid does not exist, but a form of it, or at least a form of discrimination does exist.  Zionists like Pogrund believe that “campaigners want Israel declared an apartheid state so it becomes a pariah, open to the world’s severest sanctions”.18  

I have trouble, unlike these authors, of completely defending the state of Israel as it exists.  But I think that it is helpful to see the other side of an argument.  Zionists truly believe that their movement is one of empowerment, and for Jews suffering from discrimination and mass persecution, I can see how they feel that way.   Nelson feels like Zionism is an empowering activist movement on the part of the Jewish people, as he explains, “Zionism as a form of Jewish activism called for Jews returning as agents to their own history and narrative.  It was a revolt against past Jewish passivity, inspiring many to begin imagining what it would mean to chart their own future”.19  

After Christianity and Judaism fought so viciously in Europe, it also makes sense why the United States would want to make amends to the Jewish people.  But we also have to see racism playing a role in what is happening within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  As Mandela says, “if you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40 years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the population who openly declare themselves to be racist”.20 To not acknowledge that racism still exists, even within this context, would be foolish.  Jewish people still fear Muslim people as acknowledged in Nelson’s work, “A minority Israeli population will have reason to fear that neither their rights nor their physical security would be guaranteed in the critical first years of a Palestinian majority state’s existence”.21  I also think that the Israeli holds the fear that perhaps what will happen to them is what they previously inflicted on Palestinian citizens.

The United States has also played a strong role in Israel’s development as a country.  As Mearsheimer and Walt say, “Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts provided to any other state.  It has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War II”.22  As explained earlier, the United States also pushed for the UN Resolution against Israel to be repealed and and “United States embassies around the world were instructed to put maximum pressure to secure the repeal”.23   

As Mearsheimer and Walt go further in the discussion of Israel’s relationship to the United States as being one that is not mutually beneficial by saying that “This extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for sustained U.S. backing.  But neither rationale is convincing”.24  

Trump’s decision to claim Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the movement of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has already caused problems in a fragile Middle East where the United States’ presence is already unwelcome.  Protests in Lebanon and throughout other Muslim countries have erupted, as terrorist groups and “The Taliban, Hamas and Shia extremist leaders also vowed bloodshed after the move”.25  None of this bodes well for us as a country.  Our stance on neutrality (economic and military-backed neutrality that is) still gave us credibility in international politics.  This action throws neutrality under the bus.  Even France and Germany criticized the move of the United States to recognizes Jerusalem as an Israeli capital.26   Israel has recognized Jerusalem as its capital for a long time, but most of the international community critiques this idea, and the UN Security Council condemns the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal under international law.27  

This does not bode well for future peace.  If Israel and Palestine were to come together and make amends, this would only hinder the success of that.  However, none of the other solutions on either side has seemed viable.  Just as many others, I cannot see how we can move forward.  Acknowledging historical grievances would be difficult as both parties see things differently and this has been culturally ingrained.28  Zionists do not see a future that involves Muslim Arabs, and vice versa.  I do not know who will win, but with the United States’ on Israel’s side, it does not seem like this fight will be fought fairly.

1.  Fisher, Max. The Jerusalem Issue, Explained. 2017.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Nelson, Cary. Dreams Deferred :A Concise Guide to the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict & the Movement to Boycott Israel. Chicago; 4: MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, 2016.

5. Ibid, 313.

6.  Gopin, Marc. “Family Myths and Cultural Conflict.” In Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East, 7-37. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 2.

7. Ibid.

8. Beauchamp, Zack. “Everything You Need to Know about Israel-Palestine.” -11-21T04:21:57-05:00 [cited 2017]. Available from

9. Ibid.

10.  Mandela, Nelson. What Nelson Mandela Said about Israel and the Palestinians .2014.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Beauchamp, Zack. “Everything You Need to Know about Israel-Palestine.” -11-21T04:21:57-05:00 [cited 2017]. Available from

14. Lewis, Paul. U.N. Repeals its ’75 Resolution Equating Zionism with Racism. 1991.

15.  Nelson, Cary. Dreams Deferred :A Concise Guide to the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict & the Movement to Boycott Israel. Chicago; 4: MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, 2016. 51.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19.  Ibid, 333.

20.  Mandela, Nelson. What Nelson Mandela Said about Israel and the Palestinians .2014.

21.  Nelson, Cary. Dreams Deferred :A Concise Guide to the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict & the Movement to Boycott Israel. Chicago; 4: MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, 2016. 238.

22. Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. London: Penguin, 2008. 2.

23.  Lewis, Paul. U.N. Repeals its ’75 Resolution Equating Zionism with Racism. 1991.

24. Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. London: Penguin, 2008. 2.

25.  Homsi, Nada, and Anne Barnard. Protests in Lebanon Near U.S. Embassy After Trump’s Jerusalem Decision. 2017.

26. Ibid.

27. Beauchamp, Zack. “Everything You Need to Know about Israel-Palestine.” -11-21T04:21:57-05:00 [cited 2017]. Available from

28. Ibid.