Letter from the Road #25

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon & Elizabeth Rabia Roberts


A Dream from the Holy Land


Consider the Holy Land, trampled and fought over for thousands of years, blood splashing on its stones, tears soaking into it, temples razed, Christ crucified, crusaders vicious and defeated, Turks, Egyptians, British, French, Arabs, Israelis – consider the lineage of enemies who have claimed this place and how their agony and antagonism lives in the dust and rocks here, their blindness as dark and present as ever.

Yet a solution to their conflicting claims has always been present, just as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian fight over sovereignty here is present and even obvious. It is staring both parties in the face. This one clear, nonviolent move from either side could precipitate a change in the polarized worldview that holds this conflict in place. Yet that move will not be made by either side, and the reasons why tell us a lot about the root fears of the Israeli and Palestinian positions, and about the root fears of human relations in general.

Listen to the vocabulary of the conflict: “two sides,” “two states,” “two peoples,” disengagement,” “separation barrier,” “apartheid wall,” “closure,” “bantustans,” “Green Line,” “’67 borders,” etc. The entire subject is conceived in divisive, polarized terms.

Imagine instead if the Palestinians suddenly gave up their claim for their “own” state. What if they stopped seeing the situation divided into “us” and “them?” Or, conversely, imagine if the Israelis suddenly gave up their claim for their “own” state. What if they stopped seeing the situation divided into “us” and “them?” What would happen?

This notion is sometimes referred to as the “one-state solution” or the “bi-national state,” and was suggested as early as the 1930’s. It has received renewed interest recently by some Israeli and Palestinian thinkers, but in general it is viewed as idealistic and dangerous.

Nevertheless, let’s imagine what might happen. Imagine the Palestinians unilaterally announce they are disbanding the Palestinian Authority because it has no authority anyway, not over its borders or its airspace or its resources or its streets. Imagine they say to the Israelis, we give up our insistence to have our own country, and we give up all violent resistance against you. The land you and we share extends from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, just as you always said. That is a fact. Here we are together. There are 4.5 million of us Palestinians, and 5.5 million of you Israelis. That is a fact. Our population is growing three times faster than yours. There is no way you can get rid of us. That is a fact. We are changing our struggle with you from one of national “liberation” to one of claiming our lawful human and civil rights, which we will do through active nonviolent means. Please know we want you to have your lawful human and civil rights too, and you have every right to insist on them.

Or conversely, imagine the Israelis did the same, gave up their insistence on a “Jewish” State and instead extended to all Palestinians between the Jordan and the sea full citizenship, equal rights and responsibilities. Imagine they said to the Palestinians, we are changing our struggle with you from one of fear and domination to one of cooperation. We ask you to join our government, our armed forces, our police forces, our hospitals and universities, our schools. Join us to build a peaceful, vibrant, and just society together, and help to protect ourselves – all of us – from extremist elements who would destroy this dream.

One state. Diverse ethnic groups, diverse languages, religions, parties, points of view. Living and working together on the same holy land. Why not?

There are a lot of reasons why not.

For the Israelis, at a minimum the list of reasons against such a move would include: 1) loss of security – we would be targeted by Palestinian militants and would have given up total control of the means to stop them; 2) we would lose our Jewish State, the chance to establish in one place in the world a totally Jewish culture; 3) we would soon be a minority again in this country, subject to the same prejudice and oppression we have suffered elsewhere.

The Palestinians would have a similar list: 1) how could we trust them? we would be oppressed by the dominant Israelis, kept in ghettoes and denied our human and civil rights; 2) we would have to let go of our claims for justice for all the things we have suffered at the hands of the Israelis – their confiscation of our land, their killing our families; 3) we would lose our Palestinian culture, and the U.S. would make sure we were kept subservient to the Israelis, even in one country.

It is not difficult to imagine Israelis responding incredulously to these objections by Palestinians: What do you mean? We have no interest in oppressing you! We don’t want to keep you in ghettoes, we know what that is like. The only reason we dominate you is because you fight us. We don’t want to destroy your culture or have you be subservient to us – this is against everything we believe in. As for your claims of justice, what about ours? You have killed us too!

Palestinians might respond similarly to the Israeli list of objections: Do you think we would continue to fight you if you protected our human and civil rights? As for your culture, we have no interest in destroying your culture or limiting your right to practice it. Throughout history, Arab cultures have been among the most hospitable for Jews. And as for becoming a minority, don’t forget, we Palestinians are the minority now, so we insist that our mutual national constitution would protect the rights of all peoples, whether they are in the majority or minority.

Of course, a further objection common to both sides would be, on the one hand, the question of “the Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and on the other hand, the question of “the Law of Return” for Jews anywhere to come to Israel as a refuge. Again, the symmetry of these demands suggests reciprocity: either an open immigration policy for all Jews and all Palestinians everywhere, or a standard immigration policy with applications, etc., with the proviso that all Jews and Palestinians facing oppression in their home countries would automatically be free to immigrate.

Such a move, by either side, would introduce a nonviolent aikido maneuver into this “mother of all conflicts” that could topple not only the opponent but the whole antagonistic and historical basis of the conflict – the opponent within each side.

Would either the Israelis or the Palestinians venture to make such a move? Not likely. There is too much investment in the old model of a win-lose outcome, one against another. The idea of one with another, or even one for another, awaits a future generation. As an icon of conflicts throughout the world, the war in the Holy Land is held in place by international forces as well. Its chronic paralysis corroborates our dualistic worldview. Its analysis in terms of aggressor-victim dynamics supports the anxiety to which we have become so accustomed. We have difficulty remembering the principles of physics, ecology, economics, and spirit which tell of our fundamental interdependence. Nothing survives for long separated from its larger community.

Meanwhile above the little town of Bethlehem the silent stars go by, as do the hopes and fears of all the years.

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