A new atmosphere of brotherhood for peace

We still believe in humanity, in its strong spirit.

Demonstrators including Israeli and Palestinian activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace near Jericho last year (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators including Israeli and Palestinian activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace near Jericho last year
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The two of us were born into the previous reality, the one before 1967. The first was born a refugee, distant from his land. The other was the son of refugees in their new state. One was born into the euphoria of independence and the other into the tragedy of his nation and family. Since then, many years have passed. We have seen wars and bloodshed, we have been party to agreements signed and violated, we were carried away by hopes and burned by the fire of disappointment. And still, we are filled with optimism. Tomorrow will be better. And tomorrow – we have no doubt – our two nations will find the peace they so much deserve.
What is this peace? It is clear that we have distant dreams of something optimistic: total harmony between every human being. From nothing we will achieve this one of these days, for there are hardly any hostilities that continue forever. But until the day that we achieve this prophetic and final peace, we have work to do on the imperfect peace to precede it.
This peace cannot be based only on the political cynicism of power dynamics and narrow interests. We are talking first and foremost about a peace rooted in principles and values, peace based on justice, on the understanding that every human being is equal, and that therefore every person living in our shared space, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, is entitled to the same rights. Built into these universal rights of liberty and equality is also the right of self-determination for every nation and collective.
It goes without saying, of course, that this right does not allow any nation to define itself through the denial to another group of that same basic right. And in order that all of this will be clear to all, we want a sovereign Palestinian state, no more, no less. Simply one state, with all of the features, laws, sovereignty and powers. One that will exist peacefully and neighborly next to the State of Israel, which already has all of these fundamental features.
We cannot ignore any of the difficult issues on the table such as recognition, sovereignty, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. However, there is no reason to pursue them from within the same point of view which has not, until today, brought us any closer to the point we yearn for. We want to approach these circumstances with a renewed effort, but from a different angle.
Firstly – from within understanding and sensitivity: the starting line of any future peace has to be the acceptance of our past traumas as part of our present condition. Yes, I, Ahmad, know, understand and feel sadness about the Holocaust. These horrible crimes against humanity were committed by human beings against other human beings. My condolences go out to each and every one of the innocent Jewish victims of the crimes of the Nazis.
And I, Avraham, acknowledge the immense tragedy of the Palestinian People that was born along with the birth of my state. I feel regret and accept my partial responsibility for this devastation of hundreds of communities, an exile which has not subsided until this day.
From within this mutual recognition, we are requesting the creation of a better future for our children. We remember the past, and we respect the memories of the Other so that competition between our traumas should never occur. We are convinced that it is necessary to fix wrongs of the past without creating new wrongs, wrongs which would condemn the coming generations to more years of despair.
Our joint recognition is not only of the negative, of the tragedy and the disasters. It is also a positive recognition. It is not within our ability to change history, and therefore we have taken it as it was given. And it is from here that I recognize the right of the Palestinian People to this beautiful land and the beautiful places within it. It is also from here that I recognize the right of the Jewish People to renew its life in these places, because it is into this reality that we were born and it is this reality that we are working to repair.
We are asking that the paradigm which defines the relations between us be shifted. No more division, walls, fences and hostilities. Rather, a good neighborliness based on a shared space should replace them. The open spaces, the infrastructure, the nature we love, and even certain pieces of our children’s educational curricula must be unified and coordinated. And all the while, the regime, the culture, the internal social relations and the protection of tradition should remain intimate and separate.
In words that many more will understand: we want to create a two-family home. Partially private, for the Palestinians and Israelis, and partially in the public sphere, shared by all. That is to say, two sovereign and independent states for two nations that have a special relationship to one another that is mutually beneficial.
In depth, we understand that there are a lot of interests at play, both held by one nation or by both, both common and conflicting. We are not ignoring them, of course, but we wish to make progress in spite of them. No longer can we have a struggle wherein for one to win the other must lose, defeated and humiliated. Rather, we propose an arrangement of solutions wherein both sides succeed, perhaps not totally but certainly in most aspects.
Above and beyond political, national, economic and personal issues, there is another layer – an ethical one: brotherhood. Until the present day, the discourse has been arbitrary and forceful. However, in a discourse of brotherhood, decisions would be derived from respectful and compassionate interaction. Because all would be equal, listening and persuasion would be real tools to honestly confront our circumstances together. We believe that the relations between our two nations must change from the violence, disregard and damaging stereotypes that have caused serious damage to the conscience and notion of democratic liberties that we hold. Recently, we recognized that the two central values from the French Revolution – liberté and egalité – could not be realized without the recruiting force of the third, fraternité – differences that unite and fight together for the greater ethical good of all.
This is the new atmosphere of brotherhood that we are advocating. We are not, God forbid, heretics toward the brotherhood which exists between members of the same nation, community and tradition. This brotherhood, the brotherhood between those who share tradition and national identity, must be fostered and preserved. Still, we want to add another layer on top of this brotherhood. Not brotherhood for the sake of the “weak,” the “downtrodden,” or the “victim,” but rather brotherhood for all those who share the same land and sky, who dream such similar dreams in such similar languages.
As the Mahmoud Darwish writes: “When you wage your wars, think of the Other (don’t forget the peace-lovers) … When you return home, to your home, think about the Other (don’t forget the nation of God.)”
And like in the poetry of Tchernikovsky, we still believe in humanity, in its strong spirit. We have no doubt that from within this grave conflict, a new human spirit will be born, big enough for both nations. A new generation will arise, both among us and among them, that will break the chains of hostility, dull the swords, and make peace and be a blessing to both this nation and to the other.
In 50 years, two people, an Israeli and Palestinian, perhaps our very grandchildren, will write a summary of the past five decades that passed between this day and that. If, God forbid, our generation does not succeed to instill in our children that which is said here, their account will not be all that different from accounts of today: sad, depressing and sorrowful. But if we are to overcome and succeed, it will be an account full of happiness. It is dependent on the ability of wronged nations to overcome both their fears and wounds, but also those of the Other so that they might turn this iconic conflict into a solution that would be an inspiration for many other nations.
Dr. Ahmad Majdalani is a former Palestinian government minister, and is currently a senior member of the PLO Executive Committee.
Avraham (Avrum) Burg is an author, former speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency.
Translated from Hebrew by Max Finkel.