A few days ago, my wife and I took a drive east of Jerusalem to show a friend from Boston some of the complicated geography in areas C and E of the West Bank. Most people in the world, of course, have no real idea of where those areas are really located, and neither did our friend, so it was an enlightening little tour.
First we drove to Mt. Scopus, and overlooked area “E”, which stretches from Mount Scopus going east through the Judean Desert to the city of Ma’aleh Adumim—an area which many Israeli politicians would like to annex to Israel and make part of greater Jerusalem. Then we drove into one of the nearby hilltop settlements. It was a beautiful quiet day, and the scenery was magnificent. Very pastoral, and very suburban—only 15 minutes from Jerusalem. A genuine bedroom community, not far from the Big City.
As we were strolling around, we noticed a strange sign on the nearby kiosk. It said in Hebrew: Am Shalem Doresh Falafel, which we can translate as “The people demand falafel.” This was a play on a previous slogan of a few years ago: Am Shalem Doresh Shalom—”The people demand Peace.” At first I thought it was funny, and then I realized what it really meant.
The people”, apparently, are not interested in Peace any more. They don’t believe in it. There is no partner for it, they say (as if we ourselves were a serious partner for peace!). And even if there was a serious partner, it is not achievable since the gaps between the sides are simply too wide.
Instead, the people want falafel! In other words, they simply want to eat and drink and be happy! They don’t want to worry all the time about issues of war and peace. They just want “normal” life!
I explained to my friend some of the background for this feeling. Many Israelis have given up on the “Peace Process”. It is boring. It never really leads anywhere, so why continue to discuss it.
Apathy and denial have set in very deeply. “The People” (whoever they are) simply want falafel or pizza or some humus. Wars and violence? Well, I guess that they will just fade away! Or we will have to tolerate them every other year, as part of the natural cycle of life in this area.
My friend from Boston was aghast! “But what will be?”, she asked.” What is the solution? Are Israelis really not thinking about the solution anymore?”
I responded despondently and said that unfortunately this is all too true. It seems that liberal Jews in Boston, New York and San Francisco worry more about “the solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the people of Israel who are just trying to get on with normal life!
So what’s to be done? Give up? Resign ourselves to an endless ongoing unresolvable conflict? Continue ignoring the problem and just worrying about the price of cottage cheese, tomatoes and apartments? (which was the focus of the big social protest movement of 2011 which brought out into the streets hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrators for so-called “social issues” but not for peace!).
My answer is a resounded “no”! We must not allow ourselves to bury our heads in the sands, and wallow in apathy and despair.
If we learn anything else from the Jewish Holiday season now upon us, it is the mighty mitzvah of teshuvah, or “returning” to what we really believe and acting upon our beliefs.
So, let me state my belief clearly: I believe that peace is an imperative, not just a luxury. It will allow us to focus our energies not only on grossly inflated budgets for “defense” and “security” but on pressing social, educational and religious needs that have been neglected for too long. Only a genuine peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in the form of a two state solution will provide security and rights to both sides. Only a real peace agreement will end the hopeless cycles of wars with Gaza and Lebanon, which cause so much death and destruction rather than enabling life and development.
So, I say: let us return to the old slogan Am Shalem Doresh Shalom—”The People Want Peace!” Let’s see what we can do to reinvigorate not only the political peace process but also the Civil Society one of Peacebuilding which engages people in necessary and fruitful dialogue towards the goal of learning to live in peaceful coexistence.
By the way, I stopped eating falafel a long time ago.