In the mid 1980s, I had the privilege of living as an adoptive student for three years in Kibbutz Nirim, situated right next to the Gaza Strip. I used to work in agriculture and would head out every day at first light to the fields, many of which bordered the security fence with Gaza. I remember that we often saw Palestinian farmers on the other side, and we shared a distant bond over a common love for the smell of the moist earth. On a few occasions, we were even close enough to exchange a cordial “Sabah al khir” in Arabic and “Boker tov” in Hebrew. Back then, our deepest concern was that occasionally Palestinians would cross the feeble fence and steal agricultural equipment.
I had many friends and colleagues in the socialist community whom I remember fondly. It was a unique experience, very different from my middle-class upbringing in Mexico and the US. Back then, kibbutzim had almost no private property, most meals were shared in a community dining hall, and children would sleep together in a communal house separate from their parents. Even today, removed from the more radical socialist values of decades ago, the kibbutz is a place where people trust and care for each other and still leave their doors unlocked during the day.
Last week, as I heard the news of the murderous and cowardly attack by Hamas terrorists on the kibbutzim in the area, my heart broke with pain. I could only imagine the horrors that Nirim and other kibbutzim in the Eshkol and Shaar Hanegev regional councils, which are normally peaceful and quiet places where people are kind and gentle, endured. They were savagely attacked, and people, including children and elderly adults, were violently murdered, not as “collateral damage”, but with purposefulness, with hate, without a shred of compassion.
I am a progressive Zionist, a member of the World Union of Meretz. A person who believes in the inalienable right of self-determination for the Jewish people, and at the same time, committed to social justice and achieving a just peace with the Palestinian people. I have written numerous books and articles on the topic, and I condemn the occupation and many of the policies of the Israeli government. However, no occupation, no oppression, can justify the cruelty of a human being looking into the eyes of a toddler and pulling a trigger. That level of brutality is reserved only for those who have no soul, no humanity. And when I remember the rare kind greetings of those farmers in Gaza years ago, I cannot help but wonder what happened in the past four decades that turned those people into monsters.
In my latest book, published just a few months ago, I warned that the widespread conviction in Israel that the conflict with the Palestinians did not need to be solved and could be “managed” ad infinitum was wrong. Sooner or later, I wrote, it would explode in terrible violence. Little did I know that this explosion would happen so soon and be so cruel. As I said, the only path to ending the cycle of violence and sparing future generations from the pain we are feeling today is through seeking peace and making compromises. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat would call it the “peace of the brave.” However, like the famed writer David Grossman recently wrote, I worry that the lesson at the end of this dark road would be one of more intolerance, more hatred, and then more pain.
I understand that now is not the moment to elaborate on peace. Now is the moment to bring those responsible for this cruel and senseless attack to justice, to make those culpable for the atrocities pay for their heinous crime. But what then? We need to have a plan for the day after that can guarantee peace and security. If young Palestinians cannot envision a future, and if we fail to provide them with a glimmer of hope, it’s only a matter of time before a new terrorist organization rises from the ashes. Extremism is a hydra with a million heads.
At the end of this road, we have no alternative but to realize that it is time, for the sake of future generations and our children, to find a path to a just peace and leave the rancor and hatred behind.