What exactly is it that we want? How is it that we arrived at this wish, this desire, this aspiration, for lack of better words? Did we simply spin the globe, randomly, and … STOP? Ah yes, this looks like as good a place as any.
Somehow, I don’t believe that this is what happened.
The location is really not so good. In today’s world, given that there is no crude or sweet oil beneath the ground, the property itself is not worth that much. Sure, we looked and we found some small amounts here, and there, but really nothing to write home to mom about. We did have some, for a short while, down along the Sinai coast, at Abu Rudeis. We gave all that back to Egypt in November 1975. And yes, we did find some natural gas recently. The Leviathan gas field is under the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of northern Israel.
When some crazy Jewish people began to “settle” and live on this land, there wasn’t too much going on, except maybe some serious malaria north of the Sea of Galilee. Roads had to be built. The old Roman road, the Via Maris, was covered with hundreds of years’ worth of sand and scrub, and simply would not meet the need. Wires had to be strung and water had to be pumped and the earliest beginnings of agriculture had to be irrigated. I won’t bore you. There are so many books written about this and you can find them and read them. I just know that it was tough. Those crazy Jewish people ate rocks for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then danced the pain away. At least, that’s what I read. And, oh yes, that is what my parents also told me. You see they were Palestinians.
My parents had to deal with some really harsh realities. First of all, I really don’t know if young teens enjoy being uprooted from their families, their friends, and their school. I’m not sure how many would like to live with the knowledge that their parents might never see them again, well, because they might have been murdered by this fanatically racist movement that swept Europe, Nazism. And their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, might also never come back from those “camps”. So my parents and a number of other people’s parents just dealt with that reality. They learned a new language, Hebrew. Many of them learned another new language, Arabic. Don’t kid yourself. Many Jewish and Muslim Palestinians got along and were good neighbors to each other. My parents learned new skills. Like so many others, they studied agriculture. They planted and they harvested. They herded, they milked, they collected eggs, and they grafted branches onto trees.
While others built towns, with roads, and shops, some developed means of bringing water from that big lake in the Galilee to arid lands south of Tel Aviv. Oh, and by the way, Tel Aviv wasn’t there until it was built on the outskirts of that ancient sea port, Jaffa, in 1909. That took a while. A hundred and five years later, just look at it, because you won’t recognize it. I mean, personally, I like other places in Israel better, but that’s just my personal taste.
Did I say Israel? When did that happen? I looked it up. There was a meeting of this organization, which is nowadays completely different than what it was in 1947. Back then, although it wasn’t perfect, it had some real meaning and this organization, the United Nations, really united the nations who were its members. The members voted. Some said no, and some said yes, and some abstained. The majority, however, were in favor. Do we all remember what a majority is and what that means? Well the majority of the members of the United Nations voted to partition Palestine. The resolution gave some of the land to the Muslim Palestinians and there were some Christian Palestinians that would share in that area. The resolution gave some of the land to the Jewish Palestinians.
Many Jewish Palestinians were not happy with that decision. It meant that some farms, villages and “settlements” would not be within the newly created United Nations boundaries.
Many Muslim Palestinians were not happy with that decision either. They called it the “Nakba” which means the catastrophe. Once again, I have to say that in my mind, the tsunami that hit Japan a few years ago, well, that’s a catastrophe. The earthquake that shook Haiti, that’s another. But I guess some of the folks in this really tough neighborhood of the “Middle East”, not wanting anyone Jewish living there, would consider this a catastrophe. The Nazis had that same idea. They wanted Europe to be “Judenrein”, cleansed of Jews. So I’m thinking that some of those Muslim people were just as racist as the Nazis.
Just to be fair, I know that there are Israelis, the former Jewish Palestinians who did not want any Muslim Palestinians living within the boundaries of their newly created state. But many did not mind. In fact, the new state of Israel declared the Arabic language as the official language of Israel, along with Hebrew. Muslim Palestinians residing in quite a few towns within the boundaries of the new state were given citizenship, just like my parents.
The new government made a lot of mistakes. I am not in the habit of “sugar coating” history, and some of it is nasty. I read some of the history in the Holy Scriptures, and the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Chronicles are filled with some nasty stuff. There is no “sugar coating” that part of Jewish history, and there should be none of it now. But, some of those mistakes were made with Jewish people also. How else can I live with the knowledge of how the early government treated Jewish immigrants from North Africa, Iraq, Yemen and Syria?
Again, I ask, what is it that we Israelis want? When we won a stunning victory in June 1967, capturing the Golan Heights, the area known as Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and all of East Jerusalem including the old city of Jerusalem, and the entire Sinai Peninsula we made it clear that everyone, Christian, Muslim and Jew, everyone was welcome to come to Jerusalem. For the nineteen years prior to 1967 this had not been the case. We wanted to show everyone that we respected other religions. We opened the ancient city of Jerusalem to the world. The Baha’i faith, exiled to a Turkish penal colony in Akko, was given the right to build one of the most beautiful shrines anywhere in Haifa, a large city and port in the northern part of Israel. Muslims living within Israel, whether in Akko, Nazareth, Haifa, Umm el-Fahem or any other place, built their houses of worship, their mosques. Were there problems and issues? Sure there were. There was also the Supreme Court, commonly known as the “BAGATZ” and all Israelis knew they had recourse if an injustice was done.
I believe that we should have sued Jordan for peace and returned the land captured from them in 1967. I believe that we almost accomplished that, when Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin ratified the Oslo Agreement in 1993. I also believe that Jerusalem must always remain under Israeli jurisdiction, because it is the capital of Israel, it is the heart of the Israeli nation and it is the soul of the Jewish people. The late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon removed all Jewish Israeli presence from the Gaza strip. In 2005 the evacuation of Israelis from the strip tore a huge gash in the national psyche of Israel. Back then the Egyptians certainly wanted nothing to do with Gaza. It had been offered to them many times since 1967. Israelis and Palestinians were to create the Singapore of the Middle East in Gaza, and construction began on a sea port.
What did we want? I suppose we wanted to live next door to the Palestinians of the Gaza strip, going about our business while they went about theirs. We hoped that the people of Gaza would now go about making their hopes come true. Under Hamas, they sure did try to make one hope come true: they hoped to wipe us out. They hoped to make Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s promises come true. Needless to say, although those Hamas folks tried many times and brought terrible hardship to their own, they did not succeed. And we still want to live next door to the folks in the Gaza strip, in peace.
We want the same thing for the Palestinian people living in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria. We help them, and they help us. Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri built the town of Rawabi just north of Ramallah. Beautiful homes, apartments and condos. We need to convince the Israeli government that it is in its own best interest to provide electricity, water, gas and any other infrastructure to this town. It gives hope to countless Palestinian families. HOPE! Just like the national anthem of Israel, our Palestinian neighbors also need and deserve hope.
Well, that’s what I want. I want to see my Bedouin and Palestinian friends again. I would like to hear them say “MARHABA”, welcome, instead of “You had better not come to visit, because it puts my life in danger!” I want to live in my little corner of the world. I feel that like any other human being on this earth, I have that right, along with all of my Jewish sisters and brothers. Personally, I don’t want to return to the days of the Kingdom, and I certainly don’t want to weep by the rivers of Babylon again. I personally don’t want to rebuild the Holy Temple, but I do want to remember it fondly from time to time by visiting the site where once it stood. Personally I don’t want a “Greater Israel” because there is just so much land to develop south of Be’er Sheva.
I ask myself, is that too much? Am I asking too much, to live in security, in peace, to go about my business, enjoy my grandchildren, maybe sit on a beach south of Haifa, and listen to the waves lapping the shore while sipping some really good coffee? Is it too much to hope for a random visit to Jerusalem, walking or driving, taking the train or a bus, enjoying the day, without worrying that some kid will run me down or stab me? And is it too much to hope that the parents of young Palestinians might teach them that we, the Jews, are not their enemy? Can we hope for schools, classrooms and books in the Palestinian schools to teach something other than hating their neighbors, the Jews of Israel?
I’d like that very much. I’d like to see our neighborhood settle down and end the thousands of years of violence, death and destruction. I want to read about the champions of peace living into their old age and not murdered and assassinated for what they tried to bring about. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?