In highschool, we studied the countries involved in the World Wars. We learned about the two main groups opposing each other during World War II, the Allied and Axis Powers, and we also learned about a third group, the neutral one, namely Switzerland. That meant that when Germany and its allies attacked and fought against France and its allies, Switzerland did not take part in this war and consequently maintained a stable status within its borders. Furthermore, it made significant economic profit due to the increase of investments in its national and private banks.
Palestinians living in Israel seek to be Switzerland when it comes to their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When asked to express our point of view, we feel pressure from Israelis and Palestinians, and a competing desire to support both, yet neither, at the same time. While we are citizens of the state of Israel and enjoy some of the rights and privileges that accompany this status, we are also part of the Palestinian people, and that itself poses an obstacle to these same rights we partially enjoy.
Simple questions such as, “Are you a Palestinian or an Israeli?,” pose a dilemma to us and the average Palestinian citizen of Israel interprets this as, “Are you with the Israelis or with the Palestinians?” The desire we have to maintain a neutral, Switzerland status often causes us to “straddle the fence.”
In today’s world, this Switzerland mentality is of little benefit to anyone. Switzerland’s neutrality prevented it from saving the lives of many refugees that it chose not to absorb. During the Holocaust, Swiss banks were used to launder goods and funds for Nazi officials, and at the same time, allow Allied powers to gather intelligence information about the Axis powers. This shows that neutrality, particularly in Switzerland’s case, does not truly exist. It also shows that neutrality comes at a cost.
It is high time to weigh the cost of our Switzerland mentality when considering the necessity to challenge the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The alternative is not about taking sides, if taking sides means protracting the current deadlock to a peaceful resolution. Instead, the alternative is to be confident and unashamed in our call for equal rights for Palestinian citizens in a democratic Israel, and to call for the end of the Israeli occupation of our Palestinian people.