An Arab for Peace

He was born in Jericho. He died in Jerusalem. He was buried in Jericho. His name was Saeb Erekat.

Since 1948, Saeb Erekat had been active in the Palestinian resistance to the new-born State of Israel. He was not anti-Jewish, if that makes any sense, but was a staunch anti-Zionist, the people who had “stolen his birthright and the lands of his people”.

Erekat was not a terrorist, not active in terrorist activities and always preferred peace to war.

Stricken with the deadly coronavirus and without Palestinian hospitals sufficient to care for his illness, he was rushed to Israel’s world renowned Hadassah University hospital in the Israeli capitol of Jerusalem.

Lying mostly unconscious he was treated with the very best of medical care. Israeli hospitals do not distinguish between Arabs and Jews, males or females, friends or enemies. They are dedicated to healing the sick of all and to protect them from impending death as long as possible.

Saeb Erekat received the best treatment that any hospital in the world could offer. His recent death caused sadness in Israel’s political government who saw him as an advocate of peace. But peace needs to be clearly defined.

There is an Arabic salaam and an Israeli shalom but too often the twain never meet.

In Arab Palestine, Erekat will be hailed as a national hero, a monumental figure in Palestinian history and a devoted personality in efforts well-intended but too often in failure to reach a satisfactory peace accord with Israel.

He never sought to replace Mahmud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority. He wanted rather to be a spokesman for the Palestinian cause and in that desire he was superb.

In his obituary in the Palestinian press he was hailed as a Palestinian politician, a moderate and a realist. Two true and endearing words.

Israeli leaders who had met with him over many years recognized him as a decent human being who demanded the rights which had been too long denied his people.

If he had succeeded president Abbas in a Palestinian free election I have no doubt that he would have won. Beloved by his own people he would have represented them in honor as their president.

Instead, he rejected that offer and chose to remain a negotiator for a “just and lasting” peace, leaving a presidential candidacy to the long-term prisoner in an Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti.

As a Jew, a Zionist, an Israeli citizen, a dreamer of peace, I extend my condolences to his grieving family in Jericho, a city which I had visited only once in 1968, and tasted of its luscious fruits. But regrettably, never the fruits of peace.

If peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and other future Muslim signatories to friendship could be signed, one need only to hope that we may witness a similar signing between us and the Palestinians.

There is, however, a very strong and major difference. We have never been at war with Gulf state nations. We have never occupied their lands nor made refugees of their citizens. Making peace was much easier.

That cannot be said of the Palestinians with whom we have been in conflict since 1862 when the first Zionist cities and settlements were established in Turkish Ottoman Palestine.

We have been in tragic wars with the Palestinians since 1947 when they rejected the United Nations proposal for partition under the British mandate, a partition which the Jews accepted.

1948 was the beginning of our independence and at the same time, the beginning of Arab terrorism and open war against us.

While Saeb Erekat partook action in the 1948 war, he dreamed that the 1967 tragedy for his people might somehow mark a beginning to the end of military hostilities. To this end, his words were a rejection of terrorism and a hope for an earned peace.

It was a dream which has not yet seen the light of day. There is no Palestinian braver and more determined than Erekat. He will be immensely missed by the leaders and citizens of Palestine.

Hopefully, we may see in his replacement someone who shares his dreams and hopes.

Someone like Saeb Erekat who was an Arab for peace.

Now that Bibi doesn’t have Donald any more, perhaps he can share a finjan of coffee with Abu Maazen! Greater miracles have happened in the past. Insh’Allah !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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