Encountering Peace: Our memories, their memories

A veritable roller-coaster of emotions, filled with soul-searching, introspection and thoughts about the future.

Palestinians at the Damascus Gate on 'Nakba Day' 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Palestinians at the Damascus Gate on 'Nakba Day' 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This is such an emotional time of year; Passover, Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day for the fallen of Israel’s Wars, Independence Day. A veritable roller-coaster of emotions, filled with soul-searching, introspection and thoughts about the future.
In the coming weeks Palestinians will be marking their national days – Nakba Day and Naksa Day. Nakba Day marks their catastrophe, the central theme of Palestinian identity. On this day they recall their exile from their homes, their personal and national losses and their dream of return. Naksa Day marks the day of setback, recalling the June 1967 war, the loss of the rest of Palestine and the displacement of more people from their homeland.
Palestinians will mark these days with study in schools, public ceremonies, posters in the streets, parades and demonstrations. Pictures of the large old keys many Palestinians have to their lost homes appear all over Palestine.
Those who lived through the period will come to schools and tell their tales. Palestinian radio, television, newspapers and social media will tell their stories and present their heroes. People will recall the sweet memories of the land they left behind with its orchards and gardens, olive trees and lemon groves. Their memories will enhance their desire for return and the feeling of victimhood will linger as there is no peace on the horizon, and no return either.
I spoke to a group of young Jewish Americans visiting Efrat this past week, where I had the opportunity to debate with one of the leaders of the community. He presented such an idyllic picture. He said the demographic predictions of an Arab majority between the River and the Sea are wrong. The Arabs, some of who call themselves Palestinians, he said, will never get beyond 40 percent.
We can grant them full citizenship and equal rights, because that is the Jewish thing to do, and everything will be all right.
They will never be the majority and we have nothing to fear. We don’t need two states between the River and the Sea, he claimed.
Nice dream, I suppose.
The one problem is: Why should he or anyone expect that the Palestinians are different from us? Why will they simply toss aside their memories, their dreams and their national aspirations? Why will they ever give up their struggle to have a state of their own, under their own flag with their own identity? We fought and will always fight for the territorial expression of our identity.
So will they.
I ONCE debated Danny Dayan, the former head of the Council of Judea and Samaria, and when I asked him why he thought the Palestinians would give up their national aspirations, he was more honest, or more realistic, with his answer. He said that the Palestinians would never give up their national aspirations, and that that was why we cannot give up preventing them from materializing.
Both of these settlers promise us a future of unending war with our neighbors. That is what results from their plans. Neither of them understands that the only way we will be free in our land and have a chance of living here in peace is to agree to allow our Palestinian neighbors to enjoy their freedom in a state of their own, next to Israel on a small part of our common land.
It won’t be easy for the Palestinians to give up the dream of return to their lost homes. It won’t be easy for the young people who have heard the longing tales about the orchards and lemon groves to settle for only a small part of Palestine.
They will have to adjust their aspirations to fit the reality that they too can’t have it all. The price of freedom for Palestinians is not giving up their memories. The price of freedom is to focus their dreams on building their state and making what’s left of Palestine for them into the best place they could want for themselves and for the future generations of Palestinians.
I celebrated our independence day this year, as I do every year, with joy and pride. Israel’s Independence Day is my day, I am happy to celebrate our achievements and I am glad we have our state.
I shared my memorial eve ceremony with many other Israelis and Palestinians, as I have been doing for the past eight years, in the amazing event sponsored and organized by two Israeli-Palestinian joint organizations: Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families Forum.
There were so many heart-wrenching stories of pain and suffering over our fight for this land. Ben Kfir, whose daughter Yael, a young soldier, was killed in a terrorist attack in September 2000, described the pain and the suffering he went through, almost committing suicide because the pain was too much. He even thought of taking revenge by killing as many Palestinians as possible at a work site near his home.
“I was so full of rage then, I would have done anything,” he said. But a small voice inside stopped him.
“Killing them would not bring my Yaeli back, nothing would.”
He said that killing Palestinians would just fuel the circle of violence and cause another family to experience the tragedy he went through.
“The tears of a Palestinian father are just as bitter, just as salty, as the tears of an Israeli parent. Neither the Israelis nor Palestinians are going to just give up; we know that by now. We [Israelis] only have one country, and we will protect and defend it,” he said. “But we’ve paid an awful price.... Is being right enough?” Palestinians who suffered great loss also spoke at the joint ceremony, with the same pain and the same tears.
We both look out at this land that we both love. We have all paid such a heavy price for it. Our dreams take us across the land, from the River to the Sea, so do theirs.
We, most of us in Israel, have adjusted our dreams and are prepared to not have it all. Most of us are ready for a Palestinian state to be established next to us. So are most of the Palestinians willing for their state to be next to Israel and not in place of it.
A majority of both people are ready for this solution.
Isn’t it time we stop allowing the minority on both sides to prevent us from the chance of living in peace? We will continue to celebrate our Independence Day. I hope that soon our Palestinian neighbors will also celebrate their Independence Day. Perhaps someday, our celebrations of freedom will be shared, and not only our memories and our tears.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.