It was a careless remark by my builder that brought it home. A vile, racist, violent threat against our neighbors that I cannot bear to repeat and have told no one. A vengeful wish that shocked me in its depravity, coming from a man who is generally kind-hearted and quick to help those in need.
It was the ‘them’ of it that was most scary. He had turned them into a great, solid mass of people without individual identity, without age or gender, without faces showing expression, without eyes reflecting souls, without hearts yearning. Them. And that’s what we do in order to enable hatred. We segregate and relegate by focusing on the differences.
We call them heartless because they willingly and proudly sacrifice their sons in acts of mass murder. We call them senseless because all we hear from their side are words of hate, anger, defiance. We call them merciless because we signed a peace treaty together, but then they boarded our buses and entered our cafés and BLEW US UP. We call them brainwashed petrified instruments of extremist, corrupt leaders – and that’s how we know we can’t make peace with them. We stopped seeing them as people and started seeing only ‘them.’
And let’s face it, we can’t make peace with them because we have bigger problems than wars and the daily terror attacks that chip away at our sanity – as if finding an affordable apartment or having more disposable income will give us peace of mind as we send our children off to war, though we swore when they were born that in 18 years there would be peace already. We can’t make peace with ‘them’ because we are too busy being right about who was here first and if they left or were expelled and why nothing has been resolved for so long. We can’t make peace with them because we are trapped in a freeze-fight-flight cycle of survival.
There is no bigger problem in Israel today than the lack of peace, not just a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but peace amongst us Israelis; Jews, Arabs, Christians, religious, secular, right or left wing, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, tycoons, settlers, peace-activists, politicians. We are fighting wars on so many fronts in our restless country that it is hard to breathe, let alone aspire to freedom that is the gift of peace.
But we are all ‘them’. We differ, we disagree, we bend the truth to fit our subjective view, we gripe about our leaders’ immorality and corruption, we dream of better, of more, of belonging. We are all ‘them,’ and while we continue to turn our enemy into a faceless, heartless, senseless mass, we turn ourselves into a soulless, unfeeling, society too.
I’m not suggesting you go out and hug a Palestinian, but the long and complicated road to a peaceful solution could come just one tiny millimeter closer if you keep your eyes wide open to the humans behind the social stigmas on both sides of the story trying to make a life in a very difficult situation.