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Friendship in Time of Conflict

goldsborobooks.com

Let me tell you a story. A story about friendship, a story about war and peace, a story about a book. I’ll start with the friendship: When I arrived here in Sacramento almost twenty-four years ago, right away I got involved with a small group of people from different backgrounds (but mostly Jews), who called their group ‘The Middle East Peace Project,’ and who were dedicated on educating the public at large about all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more so even, on spreading the word that peace was possible to achieve.

Among the group activists was a Palestinian named Akef Shihabi, who was a mild-mannered, middle-aged man, educated and very pleasant to be around. We struck friendship soon after I joined the group, I visited his house and he mine, and though his family was expelled from East-Jerusalem in 1948; and though my parents arrived to then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1946, refugees and survivals of the Holocaust, we not only fast became friends, but on behalf of our group we began appearing together around the city and county, universities, congregations, Jewish and Christians and Muslims, where we shared our different experiences but common belief in the possibility of peace.

At some point we drifted apart, due to life’s other obligations, necessities, and misfortunes. Also, due to my realization that at some point we were just treading water, and had exhausted all the open venues in this area. Still, on occasions I would think of him. None more so than nowadays, when for the last three weeks I was consumed by a new book—’Apeirogon,’ by Colum McCann—which was published last month to great acclaim and much interest. So much so that one book reviewer I’ve read, in ‘The Guardian’ of London, concluded by saying that if ever a book can bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is the book.

I was immediately intrigued: Can a book bring peace? Not only that: At the center of the book—the author is calling it a novel, yet it’s really a novel in name only since it’s mostly a nonfiction, biographical, historical book using real people, real names, and real incidents—are an Israeli and a Palestinian, from Jerusalem and Jericho, who both lost young daughters to the conflict. They form an everlasting friendship, first through an organization called ‘The Parents Circle,’ and then through an organization called ’Combatants for Peace.’ Both organizations are also real and active presently.

At the core of the book is the story of these two men. How their daughters were killed—the Palestinian man, Bassam, ten-year old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of her head by a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier riding in a Jeep, just as she came out of a small shop on a break from school, a candy in her hand; the Israeli man, Rami, his daughter Smadar, only fourteen, was walking with her two best friends on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when three suicide bombers exploded themselves one afternoon. The book tells their stories, their families’ and daughters’ stories, how they deal with the constant grief and loss, how they became friends and active in peace and reconciliation efforts, appearing and lecturing together not only in Israel-Palestine, but in Europe and America.

This ancient conflict, they believe, won’t end until we talk. (A side bumper-sticker on Rami’s motorbike says just that in Hebrew : (זה לא ייגמר עד שנדבר. And the book indeed talk. And talk for long about them and about other things. It’s all those other things, unrelated to their friendship, peace activities and personal stories that obscure and dull the effect of the book somewhat. They hold our attention, the two men; their stories original and painful enough for the book to sustain interest and emotional resonance throughout. The author though, it seems, wanted to write the “ultimate” book about the Middle East at large, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Which takes away from the impact at the core of his book.

Nonetheless, it’s an admirable effort. But can it bring peace? No, it cannot. Still, it’s an important book. And it’s important not only because it shows the historical depth, and current magnitude of the conflict—as other books had done already (not to mention the Bible)—but also because it gives voice to the possibility of friendship in time of conflict. The possibility of shared experiences and shared humanity and efforts working, united, for the common good. And it makes clear that peace is possible to attain.

Therefore, in conclusion, I suggest that anyone who’s connected to this conflict in any way, to the ‘land of milk and honey’ and to its people, whether closely or remotely, would surely find this book of great interest. As Rami thinks to himself when he first joins ‘The Parents Circle’—an organization of bereaved parents from both sides—“It is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands.” And equally so Bassam (who experienced seven years of humiliation and torture in an Israeli prison) thinks that “The only revenge is making peace.” So ultimately, and persuasively, their story renews the hope that someday in the future, sooner rather than later, driven by the people more than by their leaders, a peaceful resolution to this endless war would be found.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

Truth, Lies & the Peace Plan

imemc.org

Allow me to reverse the order of the title and start with the Peace Plan. Yes, that Peace Plan: “The Deal of the Century!” It’s not a Peace Plan, let’s get this out of the way first: it’s an Annexation Plan. It’s a real estate deal meant to subdue the Palestinian People once and for all into submission, and solidify the Biblical inspiration of the zealotry, messianic settlers movement—pushed from behind by Netanyahu, Kushner, Friedman and Greenblatt—for eternity. There isn’t a lot of peace to be found in this plan; a plan which demands two sides; a plan which demands consultations ahead of time; a plan which demands compromise; a plan which demands an understanding of the complex situation and an agreement of principles. There is none of it in this Peace Plan. It’s one big lie.

Which brings me to the ‘lies.’ First lie: this Peace Plan will bring about a Two-State solution. Complete nonsense. It’s a plan which has one state, Israel, controlling and humiliating the other nation and its people, the Palestinians. It is, for all intents and purposes, a continuation of the occupation by other names. Therefore, the second lie to come out of it, that the Palestinians will have a state to call their own, is also complete nonsense. Again, calling something a state doesn’t make it so. That entity will be surrounded and controlled by Israel, with no borders with any other nation, and with no outlet to the sea or river—yes, my friends, the conqueror has taken away even the Jordan River from the Palestinians. It’s an enclave, at best. A ghetto, a… well, as a son of Holocaust survivors I won’t say more. You get the message though, I’m sure.

Lie number three: East Jerusalem will be the Palestinian capital. That’s a good one, really, for a skit on Saturday Night Live. There is no longer East Jerusalem, since it’s already unified into one big Jerusalem: The capital of Israel. Again, if you throw people out of the city walls, and tell them to call that wadi, that hill, that remote neighborhood outside the city wall a Capital, and call it East Jerusalem, doesn’t make it so. It probably makes it worse than your current situation. Live with it or die, the Palestinians are being told. Well, it seems clear from their collective reaction that they prefer to die, rather than live with it and the humiliation that comes along.

Lie number four: Land swap. So instead of all the land Israel is taken by force away from the Palestinians in the West bank, it will give them two small—separate, albeit—pieces of barn land in the western Negev Desert, where nobody lives, with no connection to either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. This is not a land swap; it’s a land grab. I take your prime real estate—most valuable for its historical, cultural, economic, heritage reasons—away from you, and give you in return two small pieces of land of no value to you whatsoever. Which, nonetheless, some Israeli citizens are already claiming is important to them for agricultural purposes.

Lie number five: Some 250,000 Arab residents of Israel, citizens since birth, will become Palestinian citizens, including their cities and villages. Nobody had asked them about it, consulted with them about it, and upon learning of it they immediately voiced strong objections to relinquish their current citizenship. Jews too, are already objecting to it, including Netanyahu—the mastermind behind the Peace Plan—who just announced in a per-election campaign (trying in vain to bribe some Arab voters to vote for him) that he’s going to nix this part of the deal. I can go on. But in short: the whole ‘deal’ is one big lie.

Now to the truth: The Israeli settlers movement has won the day. And not from today. It pains me to say so (though I’ve said this before), but there is no going back. There is no peace, and there is no plan. What we have is a continuation of the occupation by a different name. There is no Two-State solution. It’s dead too (at best, it’s in a coma.) There is one state: The greater Israel. That state has two terrible options to make as result of its occupation and colonization of the West Bank. One: grant all the Arab, Palestinian People under Israel’s control Israeli citizenship and equal rights under the law (as president Rivlin has suggested, for instance), including voting rights. Sooner rather than later that would mean the end of Israel as predominantly a Jewish state.

Second: Don’t grant them citizenship and equal rights, as basically Israel is doing now, and solidify what already, and for some years, is in plain sight: An Apartheid State. (50 former European leaders just signed an open letter expressing “grave concern” over President Trump’s Peace Plan, criticizing the plan for allowing Israeli annexation… creating a situation tantamount to “apartheid.”) So the Jews, refugees of European Pogroms and the Holocaust, and refugees of Arab countries mistreatment, would then, in less than a century to the end of World War Two, will create an Apartheid State of their own. Making the Palestinians segregated, second class citizens. Behind a wall, barbed wire, and army guns. There is no escape from it. And there is no escape from the outlook that the free, democratic world—if such world will exist for long—will not live with it. And I don’t believe the majority of American Jews will live with it either. There will be a war. And another one. And so it goes.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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