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Can Water Bring Peace?

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Not sure. But it can certainly bring hope. I know this first hand, as someone who was born in a kibbutz and worked, growing up, in the fields, the orchards, and the fishing-ponds. Back then the kibbutz was largely an agricultural endeavor, not as today mostly industrial, electronic high-tech, or a bed and breakfast kind of a place. But what about peace, you ask?

Let’s find out together. First though, a couple of personal stories to illustrate my point. Back in the late seventies and the early eighties, I did my reserve duty in the Israeli Army in the Golan Heights a few times. On one of these occasions, my company oversaw the southern part of the border, near and around Hamat Gader, where the borders of Israel, Syria, and Jordan meet. As an officer, one of my duties was to drive down the slope with a couple of soldiers for protection, and meet a similar Jordanian Army delegation at the break of dawn, at a low, narrow point where there was an easy access to the Yarmouke River, flowing down the mountains and hills toward the Jordan River and valley.

That was the border between our enemy states at the time, before peace—you see, it’s possible—had been established between Israel and Jordan. We would exchange some morning pleasantries first, and then proceed directly to the business at hand. It involved an easily maneuvered wooden shaft, a small handmade dam of sorts that, when switched one way, diverted the flow of the river toward the Jordanian side. We will meet again at dusk, and would simply reverse the process, allowing the water to flow freely into the Israeli side, down to the Jordan River and all the thirsty fields, orchards, and fishing ponds of the kibbutzim. We would bid goodnight to each other, even exchange some fruits and such. Just as in the mornings, we would sometimes drink black coffee together.

Simple as that. And here the kicker, my friends—which, in all honesty, I never thought of before writing this piece—maybe this simple operation, concerning the sharing of water resources between us Israelis and Jordanians (I believe the Jordanians had their own agreement with the Syrians, not sure though), did help in bringing peace between our two nations later in the mid-nineties. One can certainly hope that that indeed was the case. Which, though some years had passed since then, brings me to my second story.

This one happened as recent as last December, when I was visiting Israel. My brother was driving me to the Jezreel Valley to visit friends, family, and old places. And our kibbutz, Heftziba, of course. As we were getting closer, down on the slope of Mount Gilboa there is a favorite spot, a national park of Biblical significance (where the Prophet Gideon selected his warriors), called The Well, or Spring of Harod. A beautiful spot (see above picture), where the fresh, cool water streams from a cave in the mountain, and falls into a small lake. Plenty of memories I have flowing directly at me from this place. Anyhow, I suggested to my brother that we’ll make a stop there, and he surprised me by saying that unfortunately, it’s totally dry now. What happened, I asked in alarm. The Palestinians, he said, blocked the flow of the stream and diverted it elsewhere.

Which comes to show the chasm that still exists between Israelis and Palestinians, and brings us to the here and now. As the above first story about Israel and Jordan demonstrates, one can only hope for a similar outcome with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. As it happened, just last week there was major announcement about a joint effort and agreement between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, regarding water issues, and endeavor titled the “Red-Sea Dead-Sea Project.” I’ll let the NY Times brief you on that, as reported there on July 13th: “That project… will take water from the Red Sea, near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, and use gravity to carry the water 137 miles via the kingdom of Jordan to the southern part of the Dead Sea, adjacent to Israel’s Arava desert. There it will be desalinated, with the brine deposited in the shrinking Dead Sea and the fresh water transferred into Israel for still-to-be-built desert farms. In exchange, a water pipeline will be built from Israel into Jordan’s capital, Amman, and Israel will augment the already significant amount of water it provides to the Palestinians in the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron area.”

Quite the project, don’t you think? What’s more, the report in the Times continued, “The strategic genius of the plan is that it weaves vital economic interests of these sometimes-antagonists together. Even should Jordan or the West Bank someday fall to radical rejectionists, it would be nearly impossible for those leaders to entirely break the water ties established here without creating substantial hardship for their populations.”

Wow, ain’t that something? It makes one think—especially now, as the fires of war again threaten to erupt in Jerusalem, the West Bank and elsewhere—that there’s hope after all. That water, treated the right way, pouring in the right direction, supplying in the right amount to all parties, can not only extinguish the old fire of hatred and hostility, but can give bloom to a new peace. Make cooler heads prevail. It runs deep, water, you see. After all, this is how King David captured Jerusalem in the first place, through the water shaft, or tunnel. It is hard to believe, considering all the animosity going around, but survival in that ancient, dry land, can only be achieved with the help of water, which necessitates cooperation. Let’s hope it brings peace, too—and sooner, rather than later.

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Six Days & Fifty Years

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This Monday evening, June 5th, we at the Mosaic Law Congregation of Sacramento, and its KOH Library and Cultural Center, will be commemorating—with a special program and an excellent film—the 50-year anniversary to the Six-Day War of 1967. A war in which I fought as a young soldier, both at the Egyptian front and at the Syrian front (see the picture above of young paratroopers about to embark on a plane; I’m second from the left). I will take an active role in the program by recalling my experience during that war (to hear my story you’ll have to come to the event itself). I’m mentioning this upfront because many of you, who have been following my political writings here, and events throughout our community, and know my political views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, may raise an eyebrow or two, to say the least, in wondering how someone with my opinions and inclinations, is so readily participating and organizing such a program.

Well… here’s my explanation. To begin with, our event is not a ‘celebration’ per se, nor it is a ‘mourning’ of sorts. (Most certainly it is not a political event.) Rather—though both elements would be present—it is a commemoration. We will be observing and reflecting on the days leading to the war. Days that began with an act of aggression by Egypt and its leader Camal Abdel Nasser, being pushed from behind by the Russians, which led to a joint effort by all the Arab countries surrounding Israel, aiming to annihilate the young nation and its Jewish people from the face of the earth. Days that plunged Israel into a collective state of anxiety, great worry for its survival, and preparation for the upcoming war. Days of mobilization of all the country’s resources, human and machine, dedicated to the defense of the Jewish state. Days of no school; of no theater; of no street cafes and normal life. Culminating in six days of war that would prove to be decisive, destructive to our enemies, and glorious in term of modern history warfare.

What we will not be observing, reflecting on or discussing, would be the aftermath of that war. The day after. Fifty long years of wars, battles, and yes, some peace. In those years Israel, which at the end of the war—a war of survival per excellence, make no mistake about it—not only secured its long-term existence, but was also began a downfall of sort. At the time, it was situated at its modern zenith as a country, at the highest point on top of the ‘wheel of history.’ But unfortunately, thereafter, it began a downward spiral, continuing to this day. This disastrous descent included, among its many casualties, two warrior leaders turned peacemakers: an Egyptian President and an Israeli Prime Minister, assassinated on the altar of peace. But true: not everything has been bad since then. Far from it: The country, its army, its economy, its high-tech industry—not only its agricultural marvel as before the war—grew into a global leading proportions. After the terrible blunder of the Yom Kippur War, the country had made peace with two of its strongest enemies: Egypt and Jordan. A peace that is lasting, so far. A country of two million people is now a country of more than eight million people. Despite some challenges, it’s still a democracy. Not bad at all.

What went wrong was, still is, the occupation. I’m talking, of course, of the colonial grabbing of the West Bank (the Golan Heights too, to a degree), and the continuation of the conflict with the Palestinian people; which, in historical terms, had begun in 1948 and before. This occupation has led to a situation on the ground where the only solution available; the only solution acceptable on the majorly of both peoples; the only solution accepted on the international community—which regard, and rightly so, the Israeli settlement movement and activity as illegal—has brought us to the dying bed of that Two-State solution. It can still be resurrected and brought to life, I very much want to believe so. But in truth: I don’t see how. Again, I believe the majority of the people on both sides—more even than the politicians—are resigned now to the fact that it’s over and done with.

So what’s wrong with it, you ask? I tell you what. It can bring, potentially, not only the demise, but the end of Israel as a free society, and as a Jewish and democratic state. Maybe still in our lifetime, and maybe not. With it, it would also kill the Zionist dream. Here’s why: It cannot be both. Israel cannot be Jewish and also democratic state, while at the same time continuing to rule over millions of Palestinian people. If Israel would grant them citizenship, it soon won’t be a Jewish state anymore. If it would deprive them of these rights, while continuing to control their lives and treat them as second-class citizens, then it’s no longer a democratic state. It’s an Apartheid state. We did not—I repeat, did not—go to war for that!

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