Monday, April 21, 2014

Comments on THIS Year in Jerusalem

            When I put together this evening’s seder, I tried to experiment a little with the repetitive tale of Moses, the Red Sea, and Pharaoh. Throughout the night, I placed anecdotal poems that exemplify the Passover themes of freedom and redemption. These poems, however, share a common author with a unique heritage. Mahmoud Darwish, who many consider to be Palestine’s national poet, wrote “Come From There”, “On Man”, and “The Dice Player”, but Darwish’s words, which speak to the plight of Moses, Miriam and Aaron in ancient Egypt, actually reflect the current-day struggle between the Palestinians and their Israelis occupiers. Interestingly enough, I expected to find plenty of poetry like that of Darwish, involving individual rights and the character of a nation. When I initially searched for Palestinian poetry about freedom though, I found much of it disappointedly militant. Darwish was one of few poets whose attitude toward Israel was not a frontal attack on the Jewish state. When asked about it, he said “I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews”, and for my purposes, that level of tolerance sufficed. Searching so extensively as to research former head of the Israeli state, Yassir Arafat, I found that even he, the man who worked with Bill Clinton and Yitzack Rabin in the Middle East’s most profound steps toward peace and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke distastefully about the Jewish state. Very distraught, I found my seder in ruins, with so few poems that spoke about peace between these two blessed nations who desire the same piece of land that is the size to New Jersey.
            The Internet is by no means the definitive voice of the Palestinian people. To characterize an entire nation based on a few hurtful quotations would be shameful and unjust.  In fact, a visit to the Human Rights Campaign’s page on the Israeli Occupation paints the same cruel picture, maybe even worse when those words reflect action and the ransacking of homes, the deaths of innocent civilians. The reality I endured in my grand experiment was that neither side in this conflict was completely justified. No one in this story of exile or self-determination was Pharaoh, and no one was Moses. Palestinians have used force against the Israelis, and the Israelis have taken advantage of their better public image and relations with the West to maintain an unfair occupation of a separate sovereign state. Ironically, both groups are so entrenched in their own beliefs that they fail to comprehend that they vie for the same result. Darwish’s words represent the larger goal of these two peoples juxtaposed in a tight-knit but volatile neighborhood, the right of religious and national expression, the blessing of freedom.
            With this dynamic in mind, a two-state solution, regardless of the minute details, makes the most realistic sense within the context of the conflict itself. Separating these nations would finally bring an end to the Jim Crow system by which Israel has paternalistically ruled Palestine for sixty-six years. Meanwhile, the Jews would retain their safe haven while maintaining a majority that allows for self-rule. Additionally, when a friend and I discussed Israel’s right to exist, he quickly dismissed the question. Brilliantly, he told me that Israel has a right to exist because it does exist. Whether one agrees with its reasoning for being a country or not, the institutions and generations of people who have lived and prospered there since 1948 are not merely a cluster of religious pilgrims anymore; it means something to be an Israeli. Destroying Israel is akin to dissolving France, Japan, or Australia. One could remove its flag and parliament, but the people and nation would remain in tact. Still, this argument pertains to the West Bank and Gaza. Palestine maintains the right to exist because it did at one time. Before the war in 1948, Palestine lived under the British mandate. Creating two states would lead to two autonomous governments, both of which, logistically rather than ideologically have a right to exist. With a two state solution, all peoples, Israeli and Palestinian would rule their respective nations, and once more the people of the Middle East could unite to altogether enjoy a nice smorgasbord of hummus and pita.
            On the contrary, like Moses, this story of mutual freedom is flawed. Within the context of the conflict, a two-state solution appears to be most efficacious way to please the majority on each side. Except there is a wall. Essentially, Israeli and Palestinians have agreed, with the whole world watching, that the only way to solve a 21st century conflict is to erect a 14th century-style wall. For all the solution’s great intentions, it also means that the only way that the world has decided these peoples can coexist is by not doing exactly that. We have concluded that the sole way to make peace between these people, apparently so narrow-minded and opposite of one another, is to divide them.  Darwish’s words, though, and the story of Passover do not prove this assumption to be true. I find the same hope buried within “I learnt all the words and broke them up/To make a single word: Homeland” as I see within “May all the Jewish people reunite in freedom next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.” To settle this peace process through such brutal separation and to leave it with such a legacy of hate renders it incomplete. Children will grow into old age without ever knowing someone from the “other” side. Perhaps, most startlingly these children’s entire perception of the “other” will be based on stereotypes, and although these nations could live in peace, the overarching goal of tolerance would dissipate. The two-state solution, for all of its perks, fails to function on its own as a comprehensive foundation for peace in the 21st century.

            So what is an American Jew supposed to do? K’vell about it all? Returning back to the Passover story, it is important to notice the grand Israeli irony. As we sit around the seder table, here and in Israel, we continue to stand by as we suppress another people. If anyone should empathize with the plight of the Palestinians, it should be the people who were once slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt. We need to acknowledge that neither side in this conflict is perfect. As flawed as the two-state solution may be, within the context of the issue itself, it is the most viable, temporary solution. Seeing its flaws, however, can lead to improvements in its implementation. To first achieve, the two-state solution would be a victory for the coalition for peace, but then, that same group must acknowledge the imperfections in this plan. We must educate each side, and treat them as the “equal” not the “other”, and we must advocate not for strict social and political integration but cultural tolerance. In the spirit of the Passover story, in the spirit of God, and for the goodness of humanity, both the Palestinians and the Israelis deserve autonomy and the freedom to rule a sovereign, democratic state, but by separating them, peace is as hidden to us as the afikoman to the seder children.

Links to Darwish's Poems:
"I Come From There" -
"On Man"-
"Dice Player"-