Today, the Ramallah-based Palestinian daily al-Ayyam is publishing an article I have written as a guest writer for the column of my friend Hassan al-Batal, a leading Palestinian analyst and an outstanding writer.
Hassan has been writing a column for al-Ayyam for many years, since he moved to the West Bank during the Oslo era in the mid-1990s. I have known him – or more precisely his writing – since the mid-1980s, when he started serving as the Israeli affairs analyst for the PLO magazine Falasteen al-Thawra. I, at the time, was Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs correspondent. I was impressed with Hassan’s courageous articles, calling on the Palestinian leadership to respond to the pragmatic trends among Israelis who were seeking peace with the Palestinians. I translated several of his articles for Haaretz, which was unusual. None of my colleagues at the time had translated articles from official PLO publications. This is the second time for Hassan to invite me to write for al-Ayyam and host me in his column. The first time was in November 2015. I am honored now as I was then!
Following is the article in its original English (al-Ayyam had it translated into Arabic) and a screenshot of the article in Arabic, which is available here.
My first story as Haaretz’s new Palestinian affairs correspondent in 1986 was a profile of Zafer al-Masri, the legendary mayor of Nablus. Mr. al-Masri was a generous, compassionate man. I remember our conversation turning to the importance of mutual empathy and compassion in relations between people. He noted that national communities too should treat each other with empathy. When Israelis and Palestinians will treat the other with mutual empathy and respect, we will get closer to the peace that we all seek, he said.
Several days later he was assassinated by Palestinian radicals as he made his way from his home to the municipality building.
At the commemoration ceremony, forty days later, I met a Palestinian man, a released prisoner, who was a preacher at a small mosque in central Nablus. He invited me to listen to his Friday sermon, where he too spoke about the importance of compassion and empathy between people and between nations.
Tragically, Israelis and Palestinians, as collectives, have little compassion and empathy toward each other today. We all know the reasons for that. As an Israeli who has spent thousands of hours with Palestinians, listening to them with an open heart, it pains me greatly. And I know that a long time will be required for these attitudes to change.
Years ago, I followed my American wife to the United States, and I now live in America. As I follow from Washington the disastrous relationship between Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, I draw hope from what I see among American Jews.
Most American Jews are progressive. Of course, liberal progressive American Jews deeply care about their Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel, but many if not most also care about peace and justice for Palestinians. They deeply believe in peace, equality and justice as Jewish values and as universal values and are therefore morally troubled by the plight of the Palestinians. They are deeply opposed to President Donald Trump and to the destructive policies of Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu. For example, according to a September 2017 poll, a large majority of American Jews (80%) opposed the way in which Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem (outside the context of Israeli Palestinian peace talks).
For the past eleven years, I have been working for Americans for Peace Now.
the sister-organization of Shalom Achshav, the Israeli peace movement.
Working for an American Jewish organization, I come in touch with many American Jews who are appalled by the occupation and who want to change the things they don’t like about Israel, the country that they see as their national homeland.
These Americans are natural allies for Palestinians who seek independence, statehood and peace with their Israeli neighbors. They deeply support the establishment of a Palestinian state, both because they think that Palestinians deserve freedom and independence, but also because they view it as a necessary condition to bring about change in Israel.
Progressive American Jews are politically active, both in the United States and in Israel. They are an important ally in changing the intolerable status quo on both sides of the Green Line. As an Israeli-American Jew, I urge Palestinians to proactively reach out to progressive American Jews and find common cause with them as partners to help advance peace.