The following is another column for the South Florida Jewish Journal by our khaver, J. Zel Lurie:
Cpl. Gideon Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza gunmen, who are probably connected to Hamas, on June 25. Will he be freed before this column appears in print on September 12, two and a half months later? The Egyptian Foreign Minister, whose intelligence service has been the intermediary, says it could happen “in hours or days.”
I don’t believe it, The kidnappers are not “normal” terrorists. They will not accept Israel’s promise to release prisoners after Shalit is returned, which was the procedure in previous exchanges. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Shalit will be freed and Israel will end the killing in Gaza.
While the Israeli and American media and public were occupied with the war in Lebanon, over 200 Palestinians were killed and over a thousand wounded in Israeli raids since the kidnapping on June 25. Not a day goes by without the killing of one to seven Palestinians, some armed, some not.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem keeps a careful count. It issues weekly briefing notes which are largely ignored by the media. Its weekly briefing notes for August 23-29 lists 21 Palestinians killed including one woman and two children, and 104 wounded.
In the same week a dozen homemade rockets and three antitank missiles were fired into Israel from Gaza. Two Israelis were injured.
In the same week five Palestinian homes were demolished by the Israeli air force. In three cases the families were warned by phone to get out an hour before the bombing,
The carnage continues while the poor Israeli soldier remains a prisoner. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on September 6: “Israeli forces killed five suspected Palestinian terrorists in the southern Gaza Strip (today).”
Meanwhile, Bitter Lemons, an Arab-Jewish Internet service run by two veteran peaceniks, Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Katib, revives the question they used to wrestle with years ago: Is peace possible? Can the Palestinians follow the example of Egypt and Jordan and sign a peace treaty with Israel?
Yossi Alpher, the former director of the Jafee Center for Strategic Studies at the Tel Aviv University, takes up the question of the vast difference between the Jewish and Arab narratives.
Jews and Arabs have contradictory histories. The Jewish War for Independence is the Nakba, the catastrophe, to the Arabs. Moreover, the Arabs deny that there was ever a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount/Harim al-Sharif. They call the Jews colonialists, denying them national roots in Jerusalem and in the Land of Israel/Palestine.
Likewise, whether or not the descendants of the circa 750,000 Arabs who left or were expelled in 1948, who now number about four million, will actually return to Israel, “Israel must acknowledge at the level of principle the right of return,” Alpher writes.
He continues: “If the descendants of those expelled in 1948 have, in perpetuity, the right of return, this is because Palestinians’ link to the land is eternal, whereas Jews’ link to the land is not.”
While the last Camp David summit meeting six years ago broke up over the lack of common ground on Jerusalem and the right of return, Alpher says that “a considerable majority on both sides appears today to agree broadly on issues like borders, settlements, security and economic arrangements between Israel and a Palestinian state.”
Agreement on basic issues of borders and settlements in a two state solution is possible, but they will not lead to peace, says Alpher, unless Palestinians can “adjust their narrative to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel/historical Palestine — and I see little likelihood of this happening in the foreseeable future.”
Alpher concludes with a plea for conflict management instead of conflict resolution. “We should find ways of coexisting with one another and with our conflicting narratives… We can reach partial agreements and solutions. But we cannot truly end the conflict.”
Ghassan Khatib, former Minster of Housing for the Palestine Authority does not disagree. He writes:
“The differences in the two narratives are deep and serious.”
On the Palestinian side, certain narratives need a lot of revision and debate. But the weakness of the Palestinian leadership “restrict the possibilities for debating and revising these narratives,” Katib writes.
He recommends that civil society institutions on both sides try to establish areas of debate on aspects of the respective narratives.
My conclusion from this debate: The Egyptians and Jordanians share the Palestinians view of their history. But they were able to make a cool peace with Israel. The Palestinians have gone the other way and have voted Hamas into office. That leaves the ever-present problem of the large Palestinian minority in Israel as distinct from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. One out of five Israeli citizens is a Palestinian.
Twenty years ago, the J. Zel Lurie Family Foundation I funded the first bilingual, binational school for Jewish and Arab kids in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, the Oasis of Peace. There are now three others in Jerusalem, the Galilee and Wadi Ara run by Hand in Hand.
I said at the time that a Palestinian state is a far off vision. But Israeli Jews must learn to coexist with the minority of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. We must educate the Jewish and Palestinian kids together. Each must become fluent in the other’s mother tongue. Each must recognize the humanity of the other. And each must accept the legitimacy of the other’s narrative and live with it in peace and dignity.