Saturday, November 7, 2015

For Israels, seeing peace is seeing the end of the occupation

(This article first appeared in the Times of Israel on November 7, 2015)
In my last blog on this site, I made a profound statement. While I said that Israelis and Palestinians need to see the conflict from each other’s eyes, that is not the statement I am referring to. I said, believing that I would evoke some stark heartfelt emotions:
“Israel needs to have its first day  of peace.”
I was expecting a reality check from Israelis.  Seeing none amazes me.
No one said anything  to me or replied in a comment about this profound statement which I say again in a more humanistic way:
No Israeli citizen has ever seen a day peace.
No one has questioned me about this statement because in reality and fact, it is a true statement.
Since May 15, 1948, Israel has been in a perpetual state of war. It has not had one day of peace. In fact, in Israel, no day is free from the fear of war as even on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in 1973 Israel had to go to war, once again. For over 67 years, no Israeli citizen can say that he or she has lived through one day of peace.
This should be shocking to the conscious, at least I thought it should be to Israelis.  I do not know if most Israelis realize the stark reality of this statement.
The question that should be on every Israeli mind is, when will an Israeli child be born on a day of peace in the Holy Land?
By the same token, over 90% of Palestinians living in Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), having been infants or born after the 1967 Six Day War, know nothing but the Israeli occupation of their land.   And if we can look at those who are older than 67 years old, having been born prior to 1948, I would venture to say that 99% or greater of the people that make up the Palestinian/Israeli conflict have no recollection of what peace resembles in the Holy Land.   Those who have migrated to Israel, having come from peaceful countries may believe that they are living in peace, but in all reality, the atmosphere is one of war–a war that can escalate at any moment and for any provocative reason.
This leaves only a very minute percentage of individuals in all of the Holy Land that have ever seen a day of peace or have not been ruled by occupation and those minute people are Palestinians who are 55 years old or older.
This also is a profound statement for Palestinians. I do know that Palestinians whether they live in Palestine or beyond realize the reality of this statement.
The constant question on Palestinian minds is when will the Israeli occupation end.
Having the first day of peace in Israel while Israel occupies Palestine is not a mutually exclusive reality.   Israel cannot have peace while it occupies Palestine. Peace comes with the end of occupation. It does not come while the occupation endures decade after decade.
Thus the only opportunity for an Israeli child to be born in a peaceful environment is for Israel to end the occupation of Palestine.  This is the reality that Israelis must face.
If Israel wants peace, it must end its occupation of Palestine.
As a Palestinian, I cannot express this reality in more clearer terms to Israelis.  In case I have not gotten my message across, allow me to try a different means of expressing the reality.
The status quo of no peace and continued occupation cannot endure endlessly.  Like water that reaches its boiling point, the occupation of Palestine has reached that point.
The reality is that the population growth of Palestinians is such that Israelis will be the minorities in the Holy Land by 2016. Currently, the population of Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and in Palestine is said to be about equal.  With the birth rates of Palestinians greater than Israelis, it takes no great mathematical genius to calculate that the population of Palestinians will, in the very near future, be greater than the Jewish population.
Thus, how can Israelis, a coming minority, rule over the Palestinians, an emerging majority.  While Israelis do not like to be compared to the White rule era of the country of South Africa, the stark reality is that the same concept of a minority suppressing the fundamental human rights of the majority is again being played out before our eyes.
Israelis can put on blinders and not accept the coming reality. Israelis may want the status quo to endure perpetually. However, the reality is that Israelis cannot have a day of peace without coming to terms with their occupation of Palestine.
If Israelis want to live in peace, they must end the occupation of Palestine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Can Israelis and Palestinians See Each Other's Concerns?

This article first appeared in the Times of Israel website on November 4, 2015.
In a Times of Israel blog post, Aaron B. Cohen wrote about a Chicago mock mediation event that involved a small part of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and a dinner I had with him last week. In the article, he quoted what I wrote to him in an email as a prelude to the dinner. He challenged me, in the article, to post this statement on my Facebook page, which I accepted.
The statement which Aaron quoted was:
"Something went wrong along the way. Without putting blame on anyone — because each of us can point to atrocities committed by the other — we need to find common elements that bind us together. We can and should be able to find a solution to this mess but only if we leave our emotions at home or if we both understand each other’s emotions. What is missing is the human element. Each side is not seeing the tragic divide from the other side’s eyes.”
Saying that each side needs to see the conflict from the other’s eyes is not a hard statement to make.
If we are ever going to come to a peaceful resolution, we need to see the conflict from each other’s perspective. Rather, politicians on both sides are trying to appease their respective political base and thus statements which neither advance the peace nor calm the boiling tensions are made in the heat of passions and thus flame an already tenuous situation. This, of course, has tragic consequences.
The current crisis is a situation where the extremists on both sides of the conflict have, once again, ultimate control. The extremists on both sides continually destroy any hopes for peace, while the silent majority in the region composed of both Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and Palestine are standing idly by as mere spectators. This majority needs to recognize itself as the majority in Israel and Palestine and needs to join forces in order to isolate the extremists; and need to demand of their leaders to finally conclude a peace — not talk endlessly to no end.
Enough is enough!
I can say categorically that rockets launched at Israel are wrong. But can Israelis say that the siege of Gaza, Palestine is also wrong?
I can say categorically that when a Palestinian killed Israeli parents on October 1, 2015, it was wrong and I condemn it. But can Israelis say that the “price tag” attack by the settlers who burnt to death the infant, Ali Dawabsha and his father and mother in Durma, Palestine while sleeping in their home on the night of July 31, 2015, is also wrong and also to be condemned?
Can we not see that the “price tag” attacks by Israeli extremists settlers are terrorist acts just as the stabbing of Israelis on a bus by a Palestinian extremists?
Can we not see that the burning of Palestinian Christian churches is just as wrong as the burning of Joseph’s Tomb?
No one can deny that Israel needs security. But can Israelis deny that within the context of peace there is security?
Israelis need to have their first day of peace. Palestinians need an end to the decades old occupation and need their freedom.
Can both sides see the humanity in these statements?
Seeing the conflict from each other’s eyes is a must in order for peace to have any chance. The Palestinians know that the conflict was, is and will always be about the occupation of Palestine by Israel. The Israelis know that Israel needs to be a safe haven for Jews around the world after centuries of worldwide persecution.
The Palestinians have a fundamental right to acquire their freedom. Israelis need to understand this.
Israelis need to feel secure. Palestinians need to understand this.
Can both sides see the other’s concern?
For peace to have a chance, the Palestinian/Israeli majority needs to understand the conflict from each other’s perspective. They need to come together. American Palestinian and Jewish leaders need to join forces to bring the majorities in Israel and Palestine together. It is imperative that these two groups break their silence because the alternative is the continuation of the status quo — which is not a sustainable option, especially given the Palestinian population growth;
the continuation of more children on both sides being killed — which means more bloodshed; and the continuation of playing into the hands of the extremists — which means no peace.
The Palestinian and Jewish peace loving majority in the US and in the Holy Land must come together for peace.
Those who will undoubtedly criticize me for taking this stance, and perhaps Aaron as well, are thinking through a limited view, a periscope aimed at a dark tunnel, when they should open their eyes and see the panoramic landscape of the human dimensions involved.
Those who truly want peace need to stand up and be counted. I believe there is a majority of Palestinians and Israelis who want peace.
Alone they are each overwhelmed by the extremists on their respective sides.
Together, they can isolate the extremists on both sides.
Peace loving Palestinians and Israelis need to join forces.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Beauty of Belladdi Under the Ugly Occupation

After a 20 year absence from my ancestral home, I am here in the heart of Ramallah, Palestine a few minutes walk from the Manara, the town center. Though I lived in America for 48 years, leaving Ramallah, Palestine at the age of 6, I  feel I am at home. Belladdi!  My land! Though I physically  left, my heart and mind stayed here in Ramallah where I grew up next to the old City Hall, the Baba coffee house and the old Dukan (store) Isheeni.

I returned (should I say visited?) to Palestine in 1995 as a member of the Palestinian American Congress Executive Committee delegation. We spent our 10 days in Palestine going to several meetings per day vising political, social, religious, educational and business leaders, so I  didn't have the opportunity to visit relatives or to get the flavor of Palestine in general and Ramallah in particular.  In retrospect,  I should have stayed longer.

I am here now and as I frequently and fervently write about the political aspects from abroad, I longed to feel for myself the richness of my culture in Palestine. While sitting in the Nile Restaurant on 87th Street in Bridgeview, Illinois one gets a very small sampling of our culture but one does not really taste or feel or see or touch or hear the beauty of the language or smells the falafel cooked every 20 feet by street vendors or smiles as one street vendor shouts "Kaaik (round shaped toasted bread with seseme seeds) for one shakel (Israeli currency)" or appreciates the succulent figs and the yellish-green plums that simply fills your tastebuds with our culture. That is what I want to see, feel, hear, touch and taste and smell.

I have been here in Ramallah for two days now. The falafel sandwich made for me by Mahmoud whose restaurant is just a few doors from the Manara Square evoked my tastebuds beyond any sensation I have ever experienced. Maybe it was the mental anticipation, maybe it was the atmospheric surroundings, maybe it was being among my people, maybe it was my eyes that ate before I took my first bite or maybe it was my heart that reveled in the moment that enhanced the flavors of the falafel sandwich. Whatever it  was, that sandwich was so good, I bought another and I devoured both.

Still I have not filled my stomach. There is so much more to see and taste. Palestine is  a rich country, not by wealth from oil fiends but by the beauty of its hills and valleys; by its traditions and its  culture; and by its people young and old. The olive groves are beauty to the eyes as the mind knows that our culture deeply appreciates the oil that comes from them. Yes the culture has been influenced by the political constraints imposed by the merciless Israeli occupation and indeed our music and our theatrical plays have that political element deeply embedded in them.

Rocks are also enmbedded in the landscape.  Rock fences are a pleny and rocks, the symbol of our strenght, are everywhere along the roads.  Roads are forever winding in Ramallah and its suburbs. Around every  curve is another breathtaking sight. One's eyes are filled by the beauty of the land and the people.

I am seeing  and describing a beautiful picture. I have yet to see, however,  the refugee camps, I  have yet to be stopped by a checkpoint.  I have not been confronted by an Israeli Occupation Force soldier and I have yet to see the Apartheid wall.

In Ramallah, one can lose sense of the occupation. Businesses are flurishing, construction abounds and people are generally happy. Israeli occupational forces are no where to be seen. Life seems to be normal.

I feel engulfed by the beauty around me yet I know deep  inside that that beauty is a camouflage as the human spirit is not free. The ugliness of the brutal Israeli occupation remains.

A cousin showed me his haweeya (ID pappers that every Palestian is required to carry) and then laamented that Israel allows him to go to Jerusalem only during holidays. The people, my people are in a prison.

Yet, the people are happy as they go about their daily lives. As I was walking around the Manara on Sunday, I  noticed a vibrant happy people, though I wondered whether the many young men standing around were working or not.

As the per capita of PHds among Palestinians is the highest in the world, I wonder whether the talents of these young men were being wasted under the ugly occupation.  How much more talent can Palestine give to the world under a free and democratic State of Palestine?

I wonder as I see and taste the beauty of Watanni (an Arabic word for nationalism not easily translatable)?