I have been following and keeping track of the Middle East conflict for many, many years. But it was only about two and a half years ago that I actually got an opportunity to visit Israel and Palestine. I spent about three weeks traveling around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. What amazed me was that even in this not- so-long stay, the mindset of the two peoples was so clearly apparent. It hit you in the face.
The Palestinians, in Israel or the occupied territories, were, by and large, angry, sullen and, so often, quietly ironic. Even their celebrations had an inexplicable quality of sadness. I remember telling an Indian friend of mine that, while I saw a struggle to find purpose and a sense of getting on with the world on the faces of the young Palestinian women, on the faces of the young men I only saw a willingness to die. It shook me. The struggle and the hopelessness. On the other side I saw young Israelis in restaurants. In shopping malls. It seemed they just lived for the moment. There was a sense of urgency, so often underlined by that quick glance over the shoulder to reassure themselves. And their celebrations so often had the tinge of assertion, of their right to be where they were: a kind of back-to-the-wall justification. So many of them immigrants, or the sons and daughters of immigrants. And rarely, very rarely, did I see a Palestinian in their midst. I saw young Israeli soldiers at checkpoints who looked at the ‘other’ but did not actually see. The meeting was curt, and dismissive. No eye contact. Why? Was it perhaps too painful? I hope so. I believe they felt were doing a painful job but it had to be done…they had no choice. The net result? I was witnessing a frightening historical irony. I was witnessing apartheid. And, I believe, hopefully, nobody wanted it. Trapped. Everyone trapped.
Am I saying apartheid? And exercised militarily, economically and socially by the very same people who should be the most fiercely opposed to it? It was incredible but true. I wondered why no western journalist had noticed it because it was so up front and in your face. Sometimes I almost wish that I am wrong and that maybe I have jumped to a conclusion too soon. But I would like to add that if I am right, the reason would probably lie in another myth that has played a devastating role in the minds of the people of Israel. I call it their ‘superiority of pain’ principle. My security needs are superior to yours. My holocaust is superior to yours, my history of pain is superior to yours. I believe pain is pain no matter who suffers it. And then comes the biggest myth of all. The belief among so many Israelis that ‘this land is mine, God gave this land to me’. What about the Gods of the Palestinian Christians and Moslems? Eighty per cent of today’s Israelis are the sons and daughter of immigrants who came after the horrors of the Second World War. And, amongst them, a very large percentage of immigrants who arrived even after 1980. And they know that they have taken over land at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. For them this myth is critical. Do they also know that it is unbelievably arrogant?
Advice to the Israeli people:
You have one powerful country that you see as your only friend. And, deep down you also know it is your friend so long as you serve its purpose. And, you have served its purpose. That is why it has served yours. Quid pro quo. But, quid pro quo for how long? Till the end of time? Quid pro quos don’t last till the end of time, only till better and more profitable deals are struck. Think about this.
I also know that in this interim period of quid pro quo, you have built up an impressive arsenal. Whether the International Atomic Energy Agency manages to reach you or not, I know you have wonderful weapons that can do wonderful things for your security. Your nuclear plant and scientists at Dimona have guaranteed that. But, the bottom line is, that you still have to deal with the Palestinian people. And, deep down you also know what you have done to them and to their lands.
I am also aware of your traumatic history with Christendom and therefore your needs for self-protection. But I would like to ask you a question. When you say ‘Never Again’ what exactly do you mean? Never again for the Jewish people or never again for all people? If it is the former, it has the distinct possibility of reducing itself into terrifying self-righteousness. If it is the latter, you will reach poetry. And, in poetry is the answer to your problems: the long-term solution. End of advice.