Yalla Peace: A life with no shame

If we don’t achieve the two-state dream, we’re destined to have the one-state nightmare. Maybe we don’t care because it seems years away.

December 14, 2010 23:58
3 minute read.
Ray Hanania

ray hanania. (photo credit: Courtesy)

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 Palestinian Arabs.

Imagine. We actually all lived together.

We shopped 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 work.

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.

I documented the experience in an online book called Midnight Flight: The Story of White Flight in Chicago. It’s online at TheMediaOasis.com/flight/flight.htm.

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.

IT’S KIND 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 that.

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 shame.

There doesn’t seem to be any of that among either Israelis or Palestinians for the things they continue to do to each other.

Maybe 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.

Maybe 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 host.


Related Content

A BOY looks out through a window of a sukkah in Ashdod
October 19, 2019
Three Sukkot snapshots


Cookie Settings