“Sad,” we shared, sitting in a circle, 18 of us, in an event organized by “Sulha,” minutes after viewing the film “Oslo Diaries.” Reflecting on the film’s rendering of those fleeting, precious moments in Oslo, between 1993-6, we needed to be with others. Shimon Peres’ words, in the last minutes of the film, still rang in our ears and hearts…..”When you decide to swim across the Sea of Galilee, and in the middle you tire, don’t swim back, swim forward….” And despite Shimon’s elegant coaching, when the Sulha facilitator asked people to express their feelings in one word, at least half responded with, “Sad.” You could see it in the drawn faces around the circle. The pain of re-witnessing such a missed opportunity, a moment when the possibility of a decent future was palpable.
The film takes us through the excruciating Oslo meetings, the breakdowns and breakthroughs, the fierce determination of the handful of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, the final victory of the signing of the accords. The viewers re-experience the elation of those days, the celebrations, Palestinians thrusting olive branches into the barrels of the tanks that patrolled their streets, Israelis hugging in the city-squares and weeping with joy. And then we watched the victory dissolve, dashed onto the rocks of the Hebron massacre, the murder of innocent Israelis in the suicide bombings in our buses and streets, and finally, the hate-filled campaign against Oslo, leading to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
This is a moment when it’s appropriate to be feeling our feelings about Oslo. We need to be feeling this sadness, together. We need, now, to give ourselves space and time to re-experience how badly we wanted and worked for peace, when we could smell peace coming.
For the settlers, it was not olive branches they were smelling, it was a frightening smell. This “peace” meant the end of their pioneering mission to regain all the land that was in God’s original plan. They were the new chalutzim, and they were fulfilling the will of an ultimate authority. They would not go gently.
History. At the moment, this moment, let’s ask: What is all this feeling useful for? In Hebrew, the word “why” is composed of two words, “for what?” How do we confront the passivity and cynicism that too often flow out of our disappointments?
By coming together, not going it alone. And by asking “for what?” This entails being accountable for fulfilling our personal vision in life. It demands that we have a personal vision in the first place. Next, the question is, “How much of my time on earth do I intend to spend intentionally working for what I believe in?”
One evening in 1969, as a Vietnam anti-war demonstration was winding down in downtown Berkeley, I threw a rock through the front window of a real-estate firm known for its ruthless treatment of tenants. At that moment, I became the only person, in that crowd of 100 activists, who was not shocked or surprised by the shattering of the plate glass. I was not surprised because I had become cause in the matter. A player, not a spectator.
Some of the most uncomfortable questions we are left with, as we recall Oslo, are, “Where does this leave me? Is abiding anguish a choice I am willing to make? If I love my grandchildren, why would I not be doing what I can to make the world I leave them a treasure of possibility?”