When peace prevails, there is always a very tough task ahead. When the papers are signed and the ink is dry, blood and memories are still alive. The peoples will always be asked, and sometimes they will also secretly pose the questions unto themselves: so why is it that we were fighting? And so long as they can’t answer that question (and the one which follows: why did we stop?) peace will never truly be.
In Israel/Palestine, the history is rich with hatred. No matter how much we try to refute this fact when we go so nationalistic, it is true. We learn to hate the Jews, and they learn to hate us. However, something needs to be clarified here: Palestinians’ hate for Jews is not anti-Semitic. As strange as this might sounds, I believe it! As a young boy of ten or eleven, I remember seeing overly dressed silhouettes climbing the drain pipe next to our first-floor apartment window, the loud noises banging on our metal balcony door. When asked to identify themselves, they said: “Iftach, Yahoud!” That’s how they labelled themselves and we grew up to hate them not as a religious group but as an occupying army and state. Whenever we called them Jews, it was not because we liked to use the term in a derogatory manner, it is because that is the name they brought with them when they came here, along with their M-16 rifles and khakis. We never forced them to carry yellow starts of David and neither did we boycott their shops. On the contrary, they forced upon us orange and red ID cards, and blue license plates for our cars (before they were changed to green later on), they imposed on us cheap labour and restricted our access to higher education and professional jobs. We hated them for that, but, unfortunately, with hate, just as with love, you forget why, and you only remember that you hate!
They hated us too, for all the wrong reasons, but they still did. They labelled us as terrorists when were trying to fight against being driven out of our villages and towns in 1948. The labelled those of us who stayed as traitors and fifth column. They claimed we want to throw them into the sea, something we, unfortunately, picked from their mouths and started vowing to!
For 90 years we have only learnt to do just that! The world looks upon us, and so patronisingly says that we should make peace when they were one of the main reasons behind this continuation of this hate. When they had a chance at solving the issue, the only suggestion they could come up with was separation. That only made matters worse not because Arabs were not interested in establishing their own state, and not because Israelis didn’t want peace, simply because both people loved the same land just as much, but neither of the two people could recognise the fact that the other side could actually have those same feelings for this land. The Arabs thought: how could those coming from Europe feel a belonging to this land? The Jews thought: how could those who had a discontinuous history that didn’t not extend 3000 years in the past, and was not supported by a divine promise feel for this stretch of soil the same feelings?
Both people loved, yet were so oblivious to the fact that the other side did just the same. We could not imagine to share this love although there was, and there still is, enough room for sharing! This is because both sides learnt to love, and yes you can learn to love. You can learn to love when you read for 2000 years of Diaspora: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” You can learn to love, when for hundreds of years you go out to the fields in the morning and you treat every plant as if it was your son. You learn to love when you see, as a boy of five, your grandfather caressing an olive branch as fondly as he strokes his wife. Yes, you learn to love, and in love you believe that no one can share this love with you.
Our love did not change; for 59 years we believed that this land is rightfully ours to go back to. And they believe they have renewed their presence, and they have no other home. So they only solution is the one we have never tried, to share: one country for all of us.
However, and I will stop the romanticising and get into the practicalities now, for one country to exist, there is a need for a massive investment in one unconventional area: history! We both have two versions of history that are irreconcilable. Palestinians can never accept that they have merely been blood thirsty terrorists whose only aim was to kill the Jews, and Jews would never accept that they came and based a state on a godly fable.
Ok, let us leave God aside for now because he has already created so much trouble ever since he did not clarify which of Abraham’s “seeds” he meant, and also since he did not tell the Jews to their faces that he changed His Mind and backed on His Promise, and also since he was the one who told the Muslims to fight for this land, without consulting with the Jews or at least letting them know of his change of plans. So excuse me all religious people, I will leave Him out simply because He will always be the One we will always fight about.
Now we need to agree that we both went wrong in one place or another we did. We need to start with the basic premise, our love to the land, and trace each step we took since then and how our steps started to clash. We will sit there, as mature adults and discuss, not which plot goes under what flag, but what was it that we should have done to avoid this long and terrible history.
In the end we will come to a story like this: We are two groups, whose ancestors lived here at various points of time. We valued both valued this place and “set it above [our] highest joys.” The Jews were forced to leave when they did not want to, and after much persecution and when the time was suitable, they decided to go back. They thought, since they lived here and then left, that nobody else was here. At least, that’s what some of their leaders told them. And they could not believe it when they saw that cattle roamed with their shepherds, and olive groves were planted and attended to and houses were inhabited.
Their reactions varied, some thought, that’s fair enough, we’ll share, and some could not comprehend these facts, and considered that those people were only there because they forced the Jews out 2000 years ago, which we all know is not true, and decided to restart the old war, and they did. The Arabs reacted the same, some thought new neighbours are always welcome, and other thought these people are here to fight us, so they got ready for the fight. Of course those who were ready to share did, and those prepared to fight did. And there was 1921, 1929, 1936 and eventually 1948. Palestinians were forced to flee, that’s a fact! Even those who left without there being any fighting they left because of the war. Israelis, in their newly established state, “naturally” tried to protect it from their perceived enemies so they instated an ethnic democracy regime which continuously refused to accept that Palestinians have a right to go back to were they used to live. Wars continued, sometimes cold, sometimes hot, and two diverging versions of history were ultimately built. Had those Jews who thought “fair enough, we’ll share” and those Arabs who thought “new neighbours are always welcome” prevailed, we would have only had one version.
It is very hard to accept this solution, especially after 90 years. But every year, new blocks are added to each version, and it is hard to take them off, imagine how much harder it will be in 10, 20 or 30 years? We would still be at the same point, with a far greater load on our shoulders, with far more scars.
From now on when I get the naïve question on what is the conflict all about, I will say, it is about love! And when asked about the solution, I will say, a new narrative!