The October 7 kibbutzim massacre will never be forgotten. In Israel, October 7 will be remembered from reference points as far back as the Holocaust or even the Babylonian invasion of 589 BC. In America, it might be remembered as a surprise attack akin to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Perhaps in Hamas’ vision, it will be remembered much like the Viet Cong might remember the Tet Offensive, but the Palestinian people will remember October 7 for the suffering it recalls.
It was September 17, 1982. I was one of several undergraduate political science students assembled in a public university classroom for what might have been just another evening session in a course on Middle East policy. The course was taught by a popular professor who was Palestinian American. The students loved this professor because he loved his students. His classes were always interesting, and we could always count on a few laughs brought by the professor’s lighthearted nature and wry sense of humor. The class that night, however, was quite different.
News broke that day of the massacre of as many as 1,400 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by a Christian Phalangist militia under the watchful eye of the Israeli forces controlling the area. A devastated professor entered the classroom that night. He fought back tears as he struggled to conduct the class with some semblance of normalcy. I do not remember exactly what the professor said about the Lebanon massacre, except that he would not have disparaged anyone or called for retribution. I mostly remember his pain.
Regrettably, I could not understand the full depth of the professor’s pain until an equal number of Israelis were massacred on October 7. I, along with my classmates, came from a Judeo-Christian heritage and knew little about the Palestinian perspective before taking the course. In the weeks that followed, Western media gave the story little follow-up, like the extensive and graphic coverage after October 7.
The memory of one American college student is just one in a multitude of ways that October 7 will be remembered. October 7 is not the stuff of life that is forgotten. It is a memory as old as the scriptures, as universal as man, and as diverse as mankind. The memory encapsulates arguably the most intractable conflict between any two peoples on the globe. The Palestinian people are not faring well in that conflict.
After waves of post-WWI Jewish migration to Palestine and increasing Zionist militant actions against British rule, the United Nations adopted a 1947 partition plan for Palestine in Resolution 181. Israel declared independence in 1948. An ensuing war between Israel and Palestinian Arabs resulted in massive Palestinian refugee displacement. The 1967 Six-Day War displaced even more. Most fled to Gaza. UN Resolution 194 promised reparations and the “right of return” to Palestinian refugees but to no avail.
UN Resolution 242 raised hopes for a free and independent Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory previously held by Arab states. Still, those hopes were chipped away one Israeli West Bank settlement after another in violation of 242. Palestinians suffered disproportionate civilian fatalities while the UN Security Council passed dozens of resolutions addressing humanitarian issues or calling for Israeli restraint. Israel, under Netanyahu, resisted the two-state solution.
Throughout modern history, the Palestinian cause has been exploited by enemies of Western democracies – WWII Axis powers, the Cold War Soviet Union, and evolving Islamic terrorist regimes from the Iranian hostage crisis through the “war on terrorism.” The Carter Camp David Accords, the Madrid Peace Conference, the Oslo Accord, the Gaza-Jerico Agreement, the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty, the Oslo II Accord, the Clinton Camp David Summit, the Bush Roadmap for Peace, the Obama attempted “restart” of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a lopsided peace plan proposed under Trump, and the Abraham Accords have all failed to resolve the conflict.
October 7 will be remembered in many ways for many different reasons, but the best way to remember October 7 is to learn from the memory instead of doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Biden’s appeal for Israel to learn from US mistakes after 9/11 is to say, as history shows, you cannot defeat terrorists by outkilling them.
Because October 7 memory is so universal and diverse, the only entity positioned to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict is the UN. Given its central role in conceiving and parenting the state of Israel and the two-state solution, the UN owes both Israel and Palestine some tough love, not through negotiation, but by implementing and enforcing Resolution 242.
Frank Wrinn is a consultant to governmental and other nonprofit organizations on economic and social development issues. Frank has a Master of Public Policy degree from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and over thirty-five years of experience in strategic planning and policy analysis.