Neil Rubin

Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review / July 16, 1998 / 22 Tamuz, 5758

Wishful thinking

By Neil Rubin

SAMIR, A FRIENDLY teenager en route to a Chicago university, summed up his greatest joy about the United States with one, simple sentence: "There's a lot less pressure."

Sunday evening, Samir, a Palestinian teen, sat quietly for most of the time as his father and a colleague had an open dialogue with me at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center. About 20 people showed up for the last-minute event sponsored by the decidedly left-wing American Friends Service Committee.

I agreed to participate for the reason that I attended the Palestinian Olympic team's party about two years ago. American Jews, who do influence the Mideast peace process through lobbying the U.S. government, rarely interact with Palestinians. Nor do we want to. As I bluntly told our guests, "I'm not particularly interested in the Palestinians or their cause, at least not the way I care about Israelis. I am interested in Israel, particularly its Jews, and I feel that occupying the West Bank has damaged Jewish morale and dignity. We need to focus our energies on spiritual matters, not military occupation. So even though I believe Jews and Arabs should live wherever they want, most of the occupation needs to end, which is the complex process in which the Israelis and Palestinians are now engaged. But frankly," I added, "Palestinian nationalism scares the hell out of me."

For this, a gentleman from Bosnia told me that he was angry and embarrassed that we were both American citizens, adding that the Holocaust should make me more sensitive to the Palestinians' pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. I told him that I'm concerned about such notions for my 10-year-old Israeli niece. She shouldn't have to worry about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness evaporating as a bus she's on explodes or a terrorist randomly knifes her in the street. And, I responded, I don't remember the majority of Nazis seeking a peaceful solution to the Holocaust, which was radically different than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But such moments were not typical of the overwhelmingly positive two-hour conversation. Recognizing that we were not U.S. State Department negotiators, we avoided the predictable Palestinian rage at Israeli land appropriation and Jewish anger at the Palestinians having about 20,000 additional machine-gun wielding policemen than permitted under the Oslo Accords.

The Palestinians, veterans of such talks, presented well-reasoned positions. As Ghassan Andoni said, "I'm no peacenik. I just don't see a way other than a Palestinian state achieved through negotiations."

He also believed that Israeli West Bank bypass roads to settlements are meant to dice up the territories to prevent contiguous Palestinian rule, Netanyahu still seeks a Greater Israel, settlements are part of a colonialist occupation and Jerusalem will be shared.

The last matter, I told him, won't happen, so forget it. Borders will be redrawn to make everyone happy. The only question is whether this comes before war, which is inevitable under today's conditions.

Andoni, head of The Rapprochement Center for Dialogue and Understanding, is a former fedayeen, which Jews would call a terrorist and Palestinians a freedom fighter. During a stint in an Israeli jail, a Jewish attorney helped cut his sentence in half. Later, the attorney was severely wounded when two Palestinian terrorists shot up Jerusalem's Zion Square.

Risking further imprisonment, Andoni snuck into Jerusalem to visit the lawyer in the hospital. The Arab was relieved to hear his friend look up and say, "I'm glad that I know you; before I would have thought the person who shot me was just another terrorist. Now he's someone who hates peace and I know not everyone does."

Andoni added, "It's not so easy to hate when you are friends with the enemy."

Perhaps the most intriguing notion came from Samir. "I want," he said, "Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side as neighbors, my house next to a Jew's. And if my children want to marry a Jew, so be it."

Don't hold your breath, both Andoni and I agreed.

In closing, I told Samir to hold onto his dream because the notion is seldom heard through the very real Hamas bulletins. Perhaps to his surprise, I asked him to ponder the words of the great Zionist thinker Theodor Herzl: "If you will it, it is no dream."

Peace isn't arriving any time soon to the Middle East. There's plenty of pure hate on both sides and the complaints about one another are as deadly as they are real. But there will be no progress without such talks, even when it seems to get us nowhere.

JWR contributor Neil Rubin is Editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times.

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©1998, Neil Rubin