Yom Ha'atzma’ut: Hope


Ori Nir

On a recent visit to the doctor's office, the nurse asked me if I have recently felt depressed or hopeless. I paused and pondered the impact that developments in both Jerusalem and Washington have had on me. The nurse noticed my hesitation and said, "Oh, it's routine, sir. We are required to ask every patient about their emotional state." I had to think. How do you honestly reply without being sent to the psychiatric ward… Well, I said, "Hopeless? No, definitely not hopeless."

It's not hopeless. Not at all. Had I thought it was hopeless, I would have found something else to do.

Particularly today, perhaps more than any other day on the calendar, it’s important to keep this sense of proportions.

As the sun sets on Israel this evening, Israelis will make the annual abrupt shift from solemnity to celebration, from the collective bereavement of Memorial Day to the jingoistic euphoria of Independence Day. And the next day, they will wake up again to the doldrums of the conflict, the occupation, settlements, international pressure and no prospect for peace.

Yes, this is a dark moment in the ongoing effort to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. Yes, at the moment we cannot see a political horizon. We're stuck. But, believe me, I have seen darker moments. Up close. Having covered the first and second intifadas, having attended numerous funerals of Israeli terrorism victims and Palestinian victims of Israeli violence, having covered massacres and having seen the horror and agony of civilians on both sides as they weep over their lost loved ones, having spent hundreds of hours in chaotic hospitals and clinics, and having closely followed the disastrous results of the actions and inaction of intransigent, inept leaders on both sides, I am familiar with the darkest moments of this conflict.

DonateBut I have also seen encouraging moments up-close. I was there as Israeli soldiers withdrew from Palestinian towns in the mid-1990s, being pelted with flowers rather than stones. I was there to see Palestinian security officers and Israeli soldiers jointly patrolling in the West Bank, and stopping to break bread together and chat. I have covered several rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. I have spoken with thousands of Israelis and Palestinians about peace - and war. I know that peace is possible, and that people on both sides want it. I am convinced that if the leaders on both sides lead, both peoples will follow.

DonateThe constituency for peace exists. The big challenge, particularly on the Israeli side, is activating this passive, dormant constituency, energizing it and mobilizing it to demand action from its government. That is the mission statement of Shalom Achshav, Israel's Peace Now movement. Americans for Peace Now's mission is to emulate that Israeli effort, in slightly different ways, to rally support, in the United States, for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Like our friends in Israel, we are committed. We are not giving up.

We are not giving up because we are absolutely convinced that peace is possible. We are not giving up because our colleagues in Israel are very much still at it. In fact, they are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, including thousands of new members and an unprecedented buzz on social media networks, as well as impressive exposure in the traditional media. I spent about a month in Israel in the Fall and saw up-close what Peace Now is doing, how hard they are working. I met with young activists who until recently experienced the occupation as soldiers in the West Bank, and now, as students, are volunteering the little time they have between exams and papers to anti-occupation advocacy. As I see it, the most appropriate time to help them is now, when hope seems distant, and when the imperative is to keep hope alive in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians.

I believe that when it gets dark, what you need is more light. That's what we are trying to be: more light, a guiding light, which illuminates the path toward a powerful peace initiative once circumstances allow.

My heart is in this cause, despite the many heartbreaks on the road to peace. A famous quote by the Sufi guru Hazrat Inayat Khan says: "God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open." Well, I don’t know about God, but I’m familiar with the concept of a heart being repeatedly broken by disastrous politics. Many of my fellow Israelis and Americans have closed their hearts and minds to the prospect of a two-state solution. Mine is open, maybe more than ever. Because I know how crucially important such a solution is for the Israelis and Palestinians who I so deeply care about, who are scarred by constant strife, and who yearn for peace and deserve it so much.

With hope and conviction in my heart that peace will come, I will join my Israeli friends’ celebrations tonight. Yom Atzma’ut Sameach! Happy Independence Day!

Ori Nir

P.S. Don’t forget to join me tomorrow at 11:00 EST for APN’s briefing call with Prof. Shibley Telhami, on the eve of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ White House meeting with President Trump. The call-in number is 951-797-1058 and the code is 147414. A recording of the call will be available on our web site.