Drain the Swamp

My Sodastream appliance proffered the last portion of CO2 gas, this evening, to make me soda. Selzer, two-cents-plain. God’s most thirst-quenching drink, with a squeeze of lime. I walked to the supermarket with the empty gas canister, and by the time I will have drunk the present bottle, the full gas canister will be ready for making more refreshing soda on these sweltering Jerusalem days. The good life.

We Israelis are comfortable, our prime minister is celebrating his various triumphs, business rolls on, folks on my little lane are making supper, the kids are doing their homework. Like serving birthday cake in an old, leaky boat in the middle of an alligator-filled swamp. The plaque from my late father’s desk, now relocated on my shelf, says, “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

A Palestinian dropped a marble slab on one of our soldiers, Thursday night, and today I visited his grave, smothered in flowers. Ronen Lubarsky, the latest Israeli victim of the occupation. Sadly, most Israelis are either indifferent to this event, or they let fly a couple of curses and.. “may they be erased from the earth,” referring both to his killers and to all Palestinians. How few of us look to the roots of this needless death. Who of us wonders what would drive a young Palestinian man to crouch on a roof until he could kill someone, knowing how likely it is that he too will be killed.

The source of this swamp we are in, swatting away the mosquitoes of our restlessly dormant awareness. The source….the absence of a future-vision or leadership, the hardening of our hearts in daily interchanges, even with each other, the pushing in lines, on the roads, the smugness of people being sure they’re right, the down side of Israel. “Why are these people like this?” asked American Rapper Azealia Banks at the end of a recent concert tour here. “I don’t understand… the amount of times I’ve been purposefully coughed on, stepped on, cut in line is tooooo much . I need a strong drink….” Banks later tweeted: “I will never ever ever ever ever go to Israel again. I love my fans but y’all gonna have to fly out to come see me because y’all country is nuts.”

We are nuts, we live as though we are not poised at a precipice. We blind ourselves to the significance of the kinds of lives our neighbors are living. In the Palestinian neighborhood of Issaweeyah, three minutes from comfortable French Hill, it is the third world. Garbage everywhere, nearly unpassable streets, ragged children wandering the alleys during school hours, a grimness we Israelis don’t know.

We must awaken to the other. There is a deeply ethno-centric side to Israelis, and it is killing us. We can be warm, and kind, and sweet. But our existential reality is that we are controlling, violently, the lives of three million Palestinians, and we are prisoners in the jail we have created. Marketed to us as being for the sake of security. If we want security, we need to make peace. It’s really that simple. Not easy, simple.

Yoav Peck is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to build people-to-people solidarity

About the Author
Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project. Born and raised in New York/New Jersey, he holds a BA from Berkeley, and an MA in organizational psychology. He made aliyah in 1973, and was a member of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for 15 years, and has been living in Jerusalem since '88. He has three kids, and three grandchildren.