Between Gaza and Jerusalem

Momen Faiz/NurPhoto/Sipa via AP Images

Palestinian protesters take part during clashes after protests near the border with Israel in the east of the Gaza Strip

The two scenes could not have seemed more different. In the mountains, the Israeli prime minister was celebrating the opening of the new U.S. embassy with his chosen allies, the imperious Armageddon crowd, who believe that the entire Jewish state is a mere vehicle to usher in the end of days. On the coastal plain a short 40 miles away, scores of desperate Palestinians lay dying in a vain attempt to storm the barrier separating them from the lands their ancestors lost in Israel’s war of independence, on the same day 70 years ago.

There is a common and lethal logic underlying both situations. The prime minister and his Jewish and Christian allies believe in a biblical Israel, with Jews occupying and dominating the entire land from the Jordan to the sea. If Jews cannot rule the mountaintop, where their biblical ancestors lived, what is their right to the coastal plain, where their enemies the Philistines were dominant?

Hamas follows a similar backward-looking logic in the name of an extreme interpretation of Islam. If the Jews can be forced to evacuate Gaza, they can be kicked out of Tel Aviv as well. The Jews are latter-day imperialist crusaders, and will suffer the same fate inevitably, their logic goes. Thus, we can send our youth to die in a vain attempt to storm the internationally recognized border of a sovereign nation, pre-1967 Israel, because the whole land rightfully belongs to us.

What all three members of the unholy coalition have in common is the cynical use of legitimate trauma in their own communities. Severe economic hardship, the Holocaust, and the mass displacement of refugees are combined with unrealistic end-of-days promises of returning to a glorious past, creating an explosive mix of inaction and desperation that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

I know that land well. I grew up on that border, in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just 400 meters from the border, where the wheat fields, almost ripe for harvesting, are now burning. My mother, my sister, and my nieces and nephews all live there. I can see Sajaiyya, the closest Palestinian refugee camp, right across the border, 500 meters away from them. It is my family’s home that the Palestinians are attempting to storm.

Since I was taken across that border, at age nine, after the 1967 war to meet the vanquished Palestinian children and saw the fear and dread of me, the child of the victor, in their eyes, I have known there is only one solution: to talk with the enemy. Most Palestinians are not Hamas, and most Jews do not believe in messianic Zionism. 

For my family and me, Zionism is not about recreating a biblical Israel or fulfilling the prophecy of Armageddon (which requires that we convert or die). Zionism is about creating a safe haven where Jews can live in their own sovereign country. Zionism is about building a just and progressive state for all, including people of all faiths. Or as my mother used to admonish me growing up, whenever we were scared, there is a Palestinian mother on the other side who lost everything and wants for her children just what my mother wanted for hers. She reminds me and my siblings every day that the only solution to this conflict is a compassionate one, where she and her Palestinian neighbors will live with dignity.

The way forward out of this impasse is clear: a different Israeli leadership that can talk to its enemies. It must begin by lifting the blockade that has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel is strong and it is secure. It can afford to make peace. It cannot afford ruling over millions of Palestinians in the name of the biblical past.

There is enough pain, shame, and blame to go around. It is time to stop living in the past, to stop dreaming about biblical Israel or the overthrow of the crusades. It is time to talk.

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