There will be two commemorations this week in the Middle East. For Israelis, joy at the birth of their state. For Palestinians, sorrow for what they call the Naqba, or catastrophe.
And no doubt, all week, we will be reading the opinions of people on both sides. Each article will ask, implicitly or explicitly, which side are you on?
Consider these pieces in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, two views on the recent history of the region.
Saree Makdisi wrote:
“All that matters are the facts on the ground, of which the most important is that – after four decades of intensive Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories it occupied during the 1967 war – Israel has irreversibly cemented its grip on the land on which a Palestinian state might have been created.”
And now the other side, by Benny Morris:
“(After December 2000) the Palestinians unleashed an open-ended terroristic assault on Israel, its restaurants and buses and marketplaces. For Israelis, each suicide bomber was a microcosm of what the Palestinians intended for the Jewish state as a whole.”
Every time I read the two sides on the Middle East conflict, I can’t help but notice a strange resemblance in their narratives. There is the common sense of gloom, for one. There is, of course, the mutual finger-pointing. And there is the insistence that the core identity of the other is inherently violent, that the people over there are simply dominating by nature – and therefore must be stopped at all costs
Here is Makdisi:
“What room is there for the Palestinians in this vision of Jewish entitlement to the land? None. They are regarded, at best, as a demographic ‘problem’.”
“The problem was not what Israel did but what Israel was – a Jewish state, a democracy, an outpost of Westernism and modernity in a world that abhorred the West.”
Most Sundays, I would have just shook my head and flipped the page. I’ve heard it all before. We all have. Each side has a library full of facts and stories championing their cause, and demonizing the other side.
But on Saturday, at the Pangea Day Film Festival in Los Angeles, I saw things that flipped the script. I watched a segment of Encounter Point, a film about Israelis and Palestinians who are part of the Bereaved Families Forum. Each lost an immediate relative in the conflict, but they had decided that forgiveness was the weapon they would wield instead of revenge.
Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother read a letter she had sent to the family of the man who murdered her son: “Nothing for me is more sacred than human life. No revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back … We are looking for ways to create a dialogue, with a long-term vision of reconciliation.”
I watched a conversation between two members of Combatants for Peace, former Israeli and Palestinian fighters who are tired of the insanity of the cycle of violence and committed to building a just peace. Bassam Aramin spoke of the daughter he lost in the conflict, and of his commitment to peace. “Since 2000, we lost one thousand Palestinian kids, and at the same time one hundred and ninety-seven Israeli kids have been killed. These are innocent people. They don’t want to be part of this conflict. We have to protect them.”
As I read all the gloom and the blame from the traditional two sides this week, each more interested in pointing fingers at the other than pointing to the future together, I will remember the courage and hope of the Israelis and Palestinians I listened to this weekend.
That’s the side I am on.