Once upon a time, Jews and Arabs lived together happily.
Not in Israel or
Palestine of course, but in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago we
called Pill Hill. When I was a child, Pill Hill was where all the doctors and
their families lived. “Bill Hill” is what we called our neighborhood, for the
patients who lived there and paid the bills.
In the 1950s and most of the
1960s, the largest group living in and around Pill Hill were Jews and
Imagine. We actually all lived together.
We went to the same schools, libraries and parks. We played
together, and I even recall attending Rodfei Shalom synagogue as a guest and
playing basketball and dancing at the JCC. Jews came to our homes to enjoy
mensiff, humous and stuffed grape leaves.
It’s because of that experience
that I know, deep down, despite Israel’s refusal to extend the freeze on
settlement expansion, the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to move forward
without it, not to mention Hamas’s role in this mix, that two states can
The only problem we had in the 1960s was that our peaceful
coexistence came to an abrupt end. Turns out that although some Americans hated
both Jews and Arabs, they hated black people more.
The end of this
Arab-Jewish nirvana came when realtors brought a black family into the
neighborhood to rent an apartment. Suddenly, all the white people wanted to sell
their homes, get as much money as they could, and then move. They didn’t say so
publicly, of course. They said it privately.
In the six months after the
first black family moved in down the block from my home, the entire neighborhood
went from 99 percent white to 90% black.
Those moving knew that what they
were doing was wrong. Many families did it in the middle of the night.
documented the experience in an online book called Midnight Flight: The Story of
White Flight in Chicago. It’s online at
Writing it made me feel good. Even
though I was just a kid at the time, I still experienced the collective shame of
what the adults did. What we did to black people was shameful.
of ironic that more than 40 years later, Israelis and Palestinians in another
neighborhood – in the Middle East this time – have decided they will not move or
leave their neighborhoods.
In fact, Israelis want to expand their
settlements. Palestinians are sticking around, too, despite the occupation and
their second-class status in Israel.
Instead of fleeing, white people in
Chicago could have passed laws to ban black people from moving in to their
neighborhoods. They could have passed laws to ban residents from selling to
black people. They could have passed laws banning black people from riding buses
or attending our schools.
Oh that’s right. White people did all
Although the experience then has some similarities with what we
face in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict today, there is one difference: White
people fled from the black people, but they did it with a heavy sense of
There doesn’t seem to be any of that among either Israelis or
Palestinians for the things they continue to do to each other.
Palestinians and Israelis don’t have two states because they don’t want to have
to acknowledge that shame. As long as there is a conflict, we can deal with the
everyday crisis by pointing fingers at each other.
If we don’t achieve
the two-state dream, we’re destined to have the onestate nightmare.
we don’t care because that nightmare seems years away, something we won’t have
to deal with, but our children will have to face.
For now, we Palestinian
and Israeli “grown-ups” are apparently happy pointing fingers.The writer
is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show
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