Pain, healing and peace

Violence on all sides continues most recently with a 17-year-old Palestinian fatally stabbing Ari Fuld who was living with his family in Efrat.

AN AERIAL view of the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AERIAL view of the Temple Mount and east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
So many years since Oslo and yet it seems that no one, not the Israelis, the Palestinians nor an American interlocutor is ready or able or even willing to stop inflicting pain and start seeking peace. Two peoples seem to have forgotten the equation and their history of violence, terror, oppression and occupation has erased a belief in the ability of either side to successfully negotiate, let alone achieve, a lasting peace. In its absence both sides retain the mantle of victimhood and continue to produce pain for the other.
Israel has taken full advantage of its power and continues to displace Palestinians through home demolition and an expanding variety of discriminatory laws, even as a friendly US government withdraws much of its financial support from the Palestinians in an effort to enforce submission. Resistance is futile, the old saying goes. But Palestinians continue to promote a culture of resistance through their boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, and the planned and unplanned violence that accompanies a plethora of small conflicts with Israeli soldiers and civilians throughout the West Bank flashpoints, where the state of Israel is imposing its will at the Gaza border. A key feature of BDS is the anti-normalization that disrupts many, but not all attempts to bring Palestinians and Israelis together in pursuit of anything from music, to education, to dialogue and ultimately to peace itself.
Violence on all sides continues most recently with a 17-year-old Palestinian fatally stabbing Ari Fuld who was living with his family in Efrat.
The leadership in Israel is promoting a course to replace the widely repudiated goal of peace with an increasingly aggressive policy of annexation that will, if it hasn’t already, make the opportunity to create two independent-interdependent states impossible. Just the other day Israel’s Supreme Court authorized the destruction of the Palestinian village Khan al-Ahmar.
The Trump administration is working in tandem with the government of Israel to isolate both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas from enough necessities to make life in the words of Thomas Hobbes, increasingly “poor, nasty, brutish and short,” unless they accede to a peace plan that will forever curtail the freedoms of the Palestinian people and eliminate any meaningful independence.
Many believe the peace process died long before the recent passing of one of its singular voices, Uri Avnery, who may have been the last of a dying breed of founders who lived the dream in decades of writings and civil action. There are still Israelis in the diminished Israeli peace camp and Palestinians who join them, or are busy establishing their own future like Ali Abu Awwad, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and other Palestinians and Israelis who together are building roots.
A number of Palestinians beginning with Ramadan Dabash have entered the local election, (in his case for Jerusalem City Council), in spite of the long-standing Palestinian edict against normalization.
PALESTINIANS DON’T vote in the municipal election even though there are some 180,000 eligible in east Jerusalem. But Dabash has opened the spigot in search of Palestinians who will ignore the command and vote to enfranchise themselves and their people and start a long and difficult negotiation-lobby for enhanced municipal services. Dabash was followed by well-known businessman and activist Aziz Abu Sarah, who declared his candidacy for mayor along with a slate of city council candidates who want to stop home demolition in Jerusalem. These candidates have little chance of victory but can begin a process of positive interaction in local government affairs that could change facts on the ground and ultimately present a better life for Palestinians one small step at a time.
There are Jerusalem Peacemakers led by Eliyahu McLean, Ghassan Manasra, Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa, as well as the late great peace scions Rabbi Menachem Froman and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, doing work every day to bring the faiths together on behalf of understanding and peace. A young writer, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, recently wrote the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered; One Woman’s Year in the Heart of Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem that may open some hearts and minds a bit. There are trials each day in Issawiya, Silwan and many of the other Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem that bring Palestinians and Israelis into conflict as the battle over the land continues.
Standing in contrast as a vehicle of community is the Jerusalem YMCA, which was dedicated in 1933 as a “spot whose atmosphere is peace where politics and religious jealousy can be forgotten.” Is it possible to forget the conflict long enough to learn something new? 
All of this and more is part of an inside game to redefine relations and get something, even while so much of the livelihood of Palestinians and Israelis remains at risk. But much will change with the end of the reign of Netanyahu in Israel and Abbas in the Palestinian West Bank. Time is running out for both leaders. What comes next may well be far more distressing, unless both governments find a way forward in spite of an American president who has raised the image of Israel and lowered its ability to make peace.
Is there room for a new and honest broker? What other things can happen to improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike? Are there Israeli and Palestinian leaders interested and capable of negotiating the final-status issues and producing a viable path to peace? There is an endless cacophony continuing the agony of two peoples caught in a desperate war to eliminate each other. We must overcome the inevitability of the next act in this tragedy by recognizing it and seeking something better together in Jerusalem, throughout Israel, the West Bank and even in Gaza. 
The writer was president of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]