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March 10, 2016

Downtown Jericho is the third world. Bustling, dirty, honking bedlam, gaggles of girls in hijabs, arms hooked together, strolling. A group of us drove through tonight on our way to celebrate a friend’s marriage. We missed the actual wedding because of arrests and closures. This evening, in their lovely home, we ate scrumptious makluba, hot green peppers spiking the finely chopped salad, with yogurt to cool our mouths. We talked below a carved leather inscription from the Koran, proclaiming Allah as the one god.

After dinner, the five Palestinians and I, gnawing on seeds and fruit as Haled cooked coffee in the kitchen. They conversed in Arabic, I caught some of it and occasionally they’d pause to let someone translate to me. They argued educational approaches, but also spoke fervently of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, and about the constant harassment we Israelis are for them. Jamal (not their names) told of the tear-gas canister that hit the side of his face while demonstrating. Thanks to the month-long efforts of a Romanian volunteer plastic surgeon, no damage is visible, though his mouth has never been the same. They were demonstrating against Israelis’ closure of a road that turned the 7 km. trip to their village into a 40 km bypass.

We Israelis have no idea what life is like in the territories. We blithely ignore the banal daily humiliation and trouble of their days. We do not and cannot understand their language or speak with them. As Yuval Evri reports on recent research: “Very few Jews today know Arabic. While some 10 percent of Jews said they have a good knowledge of Arabic, only 6 percent can recognize the letters and 1.5 percent can read and write Arabic. Some 49 percent of Ashkenazim want Hebrew to be the only official language in Israel, and almost 60 percent of Jews whose background is in Arab countries want the same, and oppose the status of Arabic as an official language.” The numbers are troubling, he writes, “…because they signal a desire to erase the existence of the Palestinians in Israel, in the past and present…..”

I admit that Arabic music is sometimes hard for me to hear. The harmonics don’t fit my western ears, I’m unable to enjoy the quarter-tones. But that’s my problem, I remind myself. They are just playing what their tradition has brought them. What matters is whether I will stretch to put myself over there, in their shoes, in their ears. To appreciate that people listen to Oum Kalthoum for hours.

Where are the Israelis who will seek connection, rather than following the distorted lead of our politicians, right and “left,” who fan the flames of our horror and seek only to get “them over there, us over here.” The Pew study released this week shows that nearly half of the Israelis surveyed said that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” The next day, pundits’ bickering over the question’s phrasing disguises the horror in our hearts as we struggle to confront the meaning of this appalling finding. Our esteemed deputy foreign minister today declares that the Israeli government does not intend to engage in peace talks with the Palestinians in the near future. “Negotiations with the Palestinians are currently not on the government’s agenda,” Tsippy Hotovely told Israel Radio.

So what, might we ask, is on the government’s agenda? New barriers to wall off Jerusalem neighborhoods, and ambitious plans to “fight the current terror wave.” Wouldn’t an intelligent observer ask where the wave originates? This wave comes from the heart of the sea, the sea of anguish and hopelessness, the rage of helplessness. It’s not a wave, it’s a swell, and it will become a tsunami. We have yet to feel the full force of this current uprising. The first coffee shop bombing is around the corner. And negotiations are not on the agenda.

Offering no future, the government’s Pied Piper herds us toward the cliff. Already careening over the edge, like the guy who fell off the Empire State building and hasn’t yet hit the ground, we exclaim, “So far, so good,” and order another cappuccino.

                                                           Yoav Peck is director of the Sulha Peace Project


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One Comment
  1. Thank you for the excellent article! It brings increasing awareness to our neighbors and the horrible situation of Occupation.
    Recently, a wise friend said, in order for there to be peace, Very Strong Israel has to give something to the Palestinians. They do not have nuclear weapons, or the vast Military weapons that the Israeli army, air force and navy has. They have very little and are struggling to exist. I implore the Israeli politicians and all of Israeli society to give something to the Palestinian people so that they can live side by side with us in peace. If we keep taking, then more of the same horror will continue.
    Blessings to you Yoav and all those you know. Keep writing and sharing everyone needs to hear more and more of the reality present in Israel and Palestine.

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