Zionism?

03.23.12

You Don't Make Peace With Your Friends

I was at the grocery store on Arlozorov Street one bright spring morning in 1997. Tel Aviv was gearing up for Purim, so I likely had hamentaschen in the cart, certainly challah and probably milk. I was, no doubt, staring into the middle distance when I began to notice a certain agitation animating the store’s elderly security guard. He crossed the store and began to speak in urgent tones with his manager, radio in hand.

In Israel, these are signs that “mashehu kara,” something’s happened—and by “something” folks mean: an attack, rockets, Israeli death at Arab hands.

The security guard, it transpired, had heard news of another suicide bombing – but this one was literally around the corner from my apartment. On that spring day, three young mothers, out for coffee, were killed at the now-infamous Apropos Restaurant.

I was then a correspondents’ assistant with the Los Angeles Times, so I rushed home, got my reporter’s notebook, and ran the space of three apartment buildings to the scene. Later that night, having walked past the blood and talked to witnesses and called family to say that yes, it was very near our house but no, we were fine, I sank to the floor in my hallway, suddenly weeping.

Of all the acts of terrorism that ripped through Israel in the 14 years I lived there, this one retains a particular power over me, its proximity to my home a reminder that Hamas was gunning for me and mine, as well. If the three mothers had been three mothers and a young married couple? So much the better. Three people, or twenty; young, or old—as long as they were dead.

I take Hamas very seriously, and I take their hatred of me very personally. I do not like them, I do not support them, I do not apologize for them. But with whom else am I to make peace?

I want Hamas and its various militant offshoots to stop trying to kill Israelis. And I want my country to stop killing them and their families.

Not because I like Hamas, but because I hate war. Not because I am unconcerned about terrorism, but because I understand that the dehumanizing oppression inherent to Israel’s occupation plays a decisive role in the choice many make to take up arms. Because this—this violence, this horrible, horrifying, unforgiveable violence that Israelis and Palestinians have meted out for decades—is what humans do to each other, all over the world and throughout history, until we decide to stop.

If Israel wants to stop living on constant war-footing, its economy, culture, and world-standing cramped and crimped by occupation and blood, its children raised into fear and ready to die, then it must make peace with the Palestinian people—all of the Palestinian people.

From the earliest days of statehood, Israel has tried to control which Arabs were allowed at the table: At first reconciliation-minded Palestinians were deported, and villagers turned against each other in a system of collaboration and cooption. Once the PLO was formed, we insisted on talking to Jordan, and then Hamas was encouraged as a counter-weight. Then the PLO became the moderates and Hamas the radicals, and since the early 1990s, Israel has made every effort to bomb and/or starve Hamas into oblivion.

It hasn’t worked. Much as we try to remold the Palestinian people into whatever it is we think we want them to be, they consistently and stubbornly insist on being autonomous human beings.

 And so, unlike many of my compatriots, I can only see the apparent failure of Fatah and Hamas to reconcile as very bad for the Jews indeed.

Nothing in this world is guaranteed, least of all peace, and people on both sides of the conflict rightly look to the failed Oslo Accords with trepidation. I maintain that with enough good will, Oslo could have been made to work, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that “good will” doesn’t often exist among people who hate each other.

Yet it remains true that the only way to stop killing each other is to stop. If we choose to examine the Oslo process and agreements closely and learn from the copious mistakes that were made, we can negotiate with greater wisdom and to better ends. Will it be easy or flawless? No. But fighting our way out of the conflict hasn’t worked, either.

If a Palestinian unity government is eventually formed, and Israel genuinely wants an end to war and grieving families, it will sit down with that government. Furthermore, if the United States genuinely wants to strengthen Israeli and American security interests, it will strongly encourage Palestinians to reconcile, and Israelis to negotiate. As it stands, the Administration is simply handing extremists shiny new recruiting tools every time it accepts Israel’s refusal to talk with Palestinians it doesn’t like.

I don’t like Hamas. I don’t know any Israeli who does.

But wars are not fought against friends. If we want this war to end, we need to talk to our enemies.