The Conditions For Peace in the Middle East
(A letter sent to Amos Oz, a highly respected international author and political thinker from Israel)
I have listened carefully on Facebook to your excellent and inspiring presentation at Tel Aviv University last year at which you introduced your new book, Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land.
My first point is: you said that Switzerland is the only multi-nations state, but I respectfully suggest that the United States is, too. The common denominator (which Trump is actively destroying) is the existence of mutual trust and respect. Without it, two or more nationalities cannot coexist, an idea that ties to something you said at the beginning of your lecture: you said we have to recognize each other’s pain. The problem with some Israelis which are unfortunately today in power is that they insist the Palestinians recognize our pain without acknowledging theirs. So, for peace in the Middle East, there must be mutual respect.
But, I believe the requirement of mutual respect is going to be mightily difficult to meet first in Israel. It is not part of our culture to respect the other.
I believe you probably know the joke about the Jewish man whose boat capsized. He was stranded alone on an island for many years. When a boat saved him, those on board found the man had built two synagogues on the island.
“Why build two?” they asked. “You are all alone here.”
“This is the synagogue I will never go to” was his answer.
I went through hell when I came to Israel at age eleven. I was despised, bullied, and put down by the sabras, the Israeli-born Jews. I was called “sabon,” the raw material for soap the Nazis made of my cousins, aunts, and grandparents. When the Yemenites or Moroccans arrived in Israel, you know the put-downs and jokes Israelis made. Then came the Ethiopians, and now notice how the Russians are received. For Purim, we hit each other on the head with plastic hammers. Even the religious Jews reject each other’s rabbis and followers. We are our own enemy. (Notice the disrespect in the expression: (avoda aravit) – arab worksmanship).
We need an educational, experiential revolution before we can live with Arabs in peace.
There is no chance for living in peace together also because the Arabs do not respect each other either: Shias are killing Sunnis and vice versa, not to mention Muslims in conflict with the Christians. See Lebanon. See Syria.
The problem is not just a lack of mutual respect—there is a lack of trust as well.
The two-country solution you suggest would probably be very hard to sell to a majority of voting Israelis because they do not trust a sovereign Palestinian country not to be dominated by Hamas and Irani operatives. They claim that in addition to the threat the Hezbollah pose to Kiryat Shmona and Haifa, and the threat Hamas poses from Gaza to Israeli settlements in the south, the new Palestinian sovereign country would pose a genuine threat to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Israel’s center. The fear of a new Holocaust is deep in survivor’s minds. The fear is deep-seated.
What about the reverse? Can the Palestinians trust the Israelis?
Please notice that in the West we say, “Life is give and take.” In Arabic, the expression is reversed. Instead, they say, “Life is take and give.” The first version expresses trust, the second, lack of trust. It is part of the Arab culture not to trust each other, so how could they trust us—especially when we have done so little to earn their trust.
So, a one-country solution would not work for the compelling reasons you outlined in your lecture (the demographic threat) but also because, without mutual trust and respect, there would be a bloodbath. And as two countries, although logically looks the right solution, for fear and mistrust will not be acceptable by the Israeli voting population. And I doubt any leader can erase that fear easily, especially after the experience Israel has had with the retreat from Otef Gaza.
I am afraid my conclusions are very pessimistic. We are stuck waiting for a miracle.
Another point: The story of Lifta where a Palestinian told you he yearns for his little house in that village, although the village does not exist anymore. It is a shopping mall. It touched a nerve. Every time I go to Belgrade, I go to my grandfather’s house. The Communists took it from my family decades ago as a condition of letting us leave the country and immigrate to Israel.
I resent losing my grandfather’s house. It is a house I will never live in. It is a run-down, useless piece of real estate, but it was ours, and it was taken by force. Emotions play a role here: the feeling of being robbed. The sense of injustice.
If we Jews feel that way, why should we expect the Palestinians to feel differently; To be non-emotional and logical, as you suggest?
What made Jews’ in other countries stop insisting on taking back their stolen real estate, regardless of its value, where the reparations made. It was the reparations from Germany that enabled the normalization of relations with Germany.
Israel should do the same without accepting guilt. We should do it because we empathize with and understand the Palestinians longing for their land and homes. I would suggest that Israel put several billion dollars in a Swiss trust account for those Palestinians who give up their right of return and their assets. But, the money could not be used for buying armaments: it would need to be used for economically justified industrial development in partnership with Israeli, American, or European firms. Let the Palestinians have something to lose if there is another war. As it is, Palestinians have nothing to lose by fighting Israel—only their lives, so many of which are miserable enough as it is.
What you describe as the disease of clinging to memories which are alien to reality, I call the conflict of perceptions.
We can see the world through three lenses: what is, what we want it to be, or what we believe it should be.
The danger arises when we combine what we want with what we believe should be, and ignore the is: we become fanatical. I think you called this state “mad.”
There will be no peace in the Middle East until both parties start with this perception. Then, in light of what is, both parties should ask themselves what they want, and in light of the answer to this second question, decide what should be done accordingly.
I hope this feedback reaches you. Maybe we can start exchanging views and, when I come on my annual visit to lecture in Israel, have a cup of coffee and get personally acquainted.
Respectfully and with admiration for your political courage,
Professor Ichak Kalderon Adizes