Facing facts: we must learn to live together and live separately

The economies of Israel and the Palestinians are intertwined as is the cheek-by-jowl proximity of neighborhoods, villages and settlements.

July 11, 2019 13:48
Facing facts: we must learn to live together and live separately

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses Arab journalists in Ramallah on July 3. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)


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The majority of voters in this country do not want a two-state solution. The reasons are apparent:
First, the only “free elections” in the Palestinian areas gave a majority to Hamas, which neither recognizes Israel’s right to exist nor is prepared to live and let live.
Second, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and most of his corrupt coterie have never internalized the fact – unlike some Arab states – that Israel is here to stay.
Third, opportunity after opportunity for peace have been bypassed by that president who talked a good game until it came to signing on the dotted line.
Fourth, the constant incitement against Israel on the part of the Authority, its anti-Israel virulence at the UN and the EU, and the Muslim states’ anti-Israel stance proves that there is no one to talk to.
Fifth, the education system and often the homes in the Palestinian areas are fostering and festering grounds of hatred of Israel and of Jews in general.
Then there are the general Arab-Palestinian ordinary people. From my limited personal acquaintance and reports I have heard, the ordinary people just want a decent livelihood and a quiet life. I have the sense that the older (pre-intifada) generation is more accepting of the Israeli presence, while the 40-year-olds and younger are more radical in their opposition to Israel, according to age.
In addition, there is a mixture of respect and admiration for what Israel has made of itself. This is heavily tinged with jealousy, and with surprise that the law here can demand of Israel’s top leadership to eschew corruption.
Some sad anecdotal experiences: A few years ago, making my way toward the First Station using walking sticks to propel myself, a young Arab family came round the corner toward me. There was a little boy perhaps three years old with his parents. I have always loved little children, and have a few dozen of my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I waved at the little boy and smiled a “Shalom” to him. At which point, the child stopped, sought out a stone from the small corner lot, and drew back his arm as if to throw it at me. I stopped smiling. Gently, his father bent down and removed the stone from his son’s hand.
Was he just a toddler imitating others who throw stones at one another, or was he a child imitating those who threw stones at Jews? Either way, I felt pain at the little boy’s response.
Just a few weeks ago, in a more telling experience, I was at Hadassah Medical Center, on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. Located as it is adjacent to many Arab villages as well as to the Arab areas of east Jerusalem, half or more of the patients treated are Palestinian.
My treatment was brief, and as I walked out, I saw again the symbol of Hadassah laid out in a circular mosaic. It has a golden Star of David at its center with the word “Hadassah” in Hebrew across it, enclosed in a blue circle, with the Hadassah motto at the top.
I stood at its side, near the doors and watched the Mount Scopus kaleidoscope walk by. Some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, a bewigged woman supporting her bearded husband, a few employees heading for the coffee bar, some with stethoscopes around their necks, some with modish head-scarves often worn by modern observant Muslim females, some head-covered Jewish women, seemingly all in green scrubs – the women probably nurses, and possibly a few nurses’ aides or cleaners. The men dressed in scrubs or white, conversing loudly in Arabic, seemed more likely maintenance workers or cleaners. I saw few male doctors at the coffee bar.
Arab visitors usually come in pairs, at least, if not entire families. Now came three generations: grandparents, children and grandchildren. The women wore head-scarves and long gray dresses, shoulder to shoes. They were engaged in conversation, and a handsome young 10- or 11-year-old son preceded them. I watched and thought, “Do they appreciate the wonderful care they receive here?” And then I pushed the question to the back of my mind.
The little boy had walked across the Hadassah emblem, and as I steadily observed him, he turned around and walked back, while the older generations walked slowly, probably discussing the situation of the family member they had just visited.
The little boy walked back, retracing his steps along the external circle of the emblem, and carefully edged forward making sure his feet were trampling a good part of the Star of David. He was facing left, toward me, and our eyes engaged. I kept a poker face, not wanting to frighten him or rebuke him. He kept his face turned toward me, our eyes locked on each other’s. Neither the little boy nor the man over eight times his age broke eye contact until the family all walked out of the hospital.
Then my internal dialogue began. What does he know? He can only emulate what he has seen, perhaps in his village or suburb, perhaps on PA television. Question to myself: Shouldn’t his parents be grateful for the treatment someone in the family is receiving? Shouldn’t they teach their children to accept Israel’s reality?
After reflection, my answers to my own questions were clear. The Arabs or Palestinians should take equal treatment for granted as an inherent right of a person living under our flag, or receiving treatment under our flag. Just as a hospital in Israel is bound not to discriminate in any way, so should our co-citizens or co-residents have the natural right to full equality in the eyes of doctors and caregivers, as they should have in the eyes of the law.
What I did find unbearable was the behavior of two Gazan women, both of whom had been treated in Israel, to attempt to place bombs in the hospitals that treated them.
All of the above shows how complicated our relationships are with our Arab co-citizens and co-residents, and how entangled they must be in their sometimes caustic attitudes toward Israel and its institutions.
I also had thought, for example, that though “honor” murders are still common, vendettas between families and/or clans were disappearing. Evidence that this is not so can be found in news reports from within Israel, and I have learned from eyewitnesses of its continuation in the territories. Family and clan and religion take precedence over larger loyalties.
There is no doubt that most of our West Bank Arab neighbors would like to see the back of us. I strive toward reconciling decent treatment of all people with the reality that our values and loyalties are so far apart that the dream of peace fades. But that does not mean annexation of all of the areas. And it does not mean removing Palestinians from the lands. It does mean holding the line along the Jordan – for Jordan’s sake, and ours, and for the Palestinians, who would hardly welcome an Iranian occupation.
The facts are that the economies of Israel and the Palestinians are intertwined as is the cheek-by-jowl proximity of neighborhoods, villages and settlements.
We must find a way to live together and live separately, without racism as displayed by Bezalel Smotrich, Rafi Peretz and Itamar Ben-Gvir. It is time to call all the bluffs and twists, turns and spins of Netanyahu and his further-right partners. We have nothing to lose but lies, corruption and incompetence.
Open the windows. Let fresh air cleanse the atmosphere.
Let’s recognize the need, right-wing or not: decency, humanity and humility should guide competent and honest ministers and an uncorrupt and capable prime minister. 
Avraham Avi-hai has worked under or with the honest and devoted leaders of Israel up to and including Yitzhak Shamir, leaders whose political views ranged from moderate Left to hard Right. He lives in Jerusalem and can be reached at 2avrhams@gmail.com


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