I sit with a young Israeli in a hummus place in Jerusalem. He’s studying to become a doctor. He’s Israeli through-and –through, and speaks almost perfect English, indicative of the effect that the culture of the United States has on Israel. He says he learned most of his English through television, movies, and books. He’s taken me here to introduce me to an aspect of Israeli and Middle Eastern culture that I still don’t entirely understand.
As is usual in Israel, our conversation slowly ventured into the realm of politics, during which he told me something heartbreaking, something that has still stayed with me because it says so much about this country and its people and a hope for peace that still exists and persists, even through intifada and occupation.
“When I was younger,” he begins. “My parents told me that I wouldn’t go to the army, because the time I turned eighteen there would be peace. “
No parent wants to send their child to the army; no parent wants to dress their child up in a uniform and give him a gun. Even if army service gives them pride, even if they believe it necessary, the dream that one day it won’t be necessary still endures. The dream that one day there will be peace speaks to plenty of everyday Israelis who are tired of sending their sons and daughters to the army, who are tired of wars and fear and rockets.
Of course, he has been out of the army for years now, and a whole other generation of Israeli children has grown, served, and then left the army to continue their lives. The wheels keep turning and little has changed. The fear of intifada has lessened to a degree, and the wars with Hamas have become so regular that people are already counting down to the next one. This complacency with the status quo has led to little change in the last decade, and that hope for peace is starting to disappear in Israeli political circles, whether because they believe there is no partner for peace in Mahmoud Abbas, who is in his tenth year of a five year term, or because they reflect a wider trend of surrender to the status quo. Issac Herzog, the left-wing candidate in this past election, hardly ever said the word “peace”, instead preferring to talk about settlement construction freezes and vague, future “agreements.” Perhaps the best illustration of Israeli lack of confidence in a future peace is Yair Lapid’s declaration that he is not looking for a “happy marriage with the Palestinians” but a “peaceful divorce we can live with.”
* * *
I met with a young Palestinian, seventeen years old. The things he would ask me would force me to look deep within myself for answers I’d never thought I’d have to have.
“What would you do, if Palestinians killed your family?” he asked. “Would you become a soldier, would you want to kill Palestinians?”
I answered him honestly; I don’t know. I hope I never have to find out the answer.
“Well,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “The IDF shot my brother, and my uncle.” (His brother was not killed and his uncle is now wheelchair bound.)
“But,” he continued. “I do not hate Israelis.”
Strength. That’s the only word that came to my mind. The strength to deal with pain and still pursue peace. When people speak politics, when they speak of Green Lines and intifadas and occupations and building units, they very rarely stop and think of pain. Of real, human pain. The pain of losing a brother. The pain of losing a father, or a mother, or a sister. That pain is tough to remedy, and the memory is impossible to forget. It is not something simple to forgive. We have asked the Israelis and Palestinians to do the impossible, things which we could never do, things which I never want to be faced with; we have asked them to forgive. And though it is a nigh impossible task, Israelis and Palestinians both have risen to the challenge. And though the road is long and a solution is far off, there are people, on both sides, committed to peace and brotherhood. So long as they breathe to continue their good fight, we can learn strength from them.
The people I met here, whether they were Israeli or Palestinian, had one thing in common; they were people. And even if they thought peace was impossible or if peace was all they thought about, that common humanity ran through each of them. Being here, meeting the men and women and children who are dedicated to peace, who are dedicated to an end to the madness, have given me hope for a better future, whatever that may look like. It may look like two states, peacefully side-by-side, or a young Palestinians teenager, who, with strength in his eyes, refuses to let fear ruin him.