By Ori Nir, APN's Vice President for Public Affairs
Responding to a somber Eid al-Fitr holiday greeting last week, a friend from East Jerusalem responded with a line from the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish. It says: “We have on this land what makes life worth living.” It’s a love song, a song of love for life as well as a song of love for Darwish’s homeland.
I re-read the poem, and was reminded of a different poem, written in the 1930s by an Israeli national poet, Shaul Tchernichovsky. It starts: “See, oh land, how wasteful we have been” and expresses pain at the sight of young, innocent life taken, buried in the womb of a forgiving, regenerative land.
The pain is unbearable. How can you not grieve over a child killed by a rocket in Sderot, over a family wiped out in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City? How can your heart not break as both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel are attacked by vengeful mobs, only for who they are, as mixed towns are torn, as hospitals are bursting with injured civilians, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, and as innocent children on both sides are terrorized night after night?
We are wasteful. We are wasting each other’s blood – and our own. Wasting time and opportunities to seek and find a path to peace. Wasting lives, literally.
But while the loss and the pain are overwhelming, the past few days also provided us with affirmation that Israelis and Palestinians have on their land what to live for. On Saturday, at more than 100 locations throughout Israel, Jewish and Arab citizens stood together to reject violence and call for peace. Peace Now activists took part in many such gatherings.
True, this is one of the darkest times in the recent history of relations between Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Dark enough to make you forget that several times in this recent history, Israeli and Palestinian leaders sat down to negotiate a conflict-ending treaty, and did come close to a two-state formula more than once.
In three weeks, we will mark 54 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. More than two generations have been born into the occupation, and only a sliver of the population that today lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean can remember what life looked like before the occupation or before the on-again off-again violent hostilities that have come to characterize the occupation since the mid-1980s.
The occupation, and with it the institutionalized system of discrimination, the reality of a privileged people – Israeli Jews – ruling over disenfranchised, stateless Palestinians, denying them basic rights, has become normalized in the eyes of most Israelis and their friends abroad.
Conveniently, many of us have turned a blind eye to the normalization of what is an utterly abnormal situation. We’ve made excuses. We’ve blamed everyone but Israeli leaders, the Israeli public and ourselves for the perpetuation of this disastrous disgrace, even as we’ve seen the norms of the occupation seep into Israeli society within the Green Line.
It is impossible to talk about a silver lining at times like this. Moments of crisis typically create both confusion and clarity, and we have an opportunity to use that clarity to advance our cause.
For us, American activists for Israeli-Palestinian peace and supporters of Israel’s peace movement, it is important to underscore what has become clear in the past month or so: the current situation is not sustainable, not viable, and not tolerable. Israel’s so-called “conflict management” policy in effect serves as a cover for deepening the conflict and making it yet more endemic. And the Biden administration’s benign neglect attitude toward the conflict is unhelpful.
Immediate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations may not be a realistic goal. But immediate and decisive steps to keep the path open for peace are vital. And they require determined US leadership. There is a plethora of such measures that President Biden can and should take now.
We will work to urge him to do that, and will do our best to provide him backing when he does. From stopping West Bank settlement activity, to strengthening Palestinian moderates, to reassuring Jerusalemite Palestinians that they are safe in their neighborhoods, to strengthening the infrastructure for Palestinian statehood, and helping Palestinians and Israelis fight the terrorist extremists on each side, there are many actions the Biden administration should take to create a horizon.
When Antony Blinken was nominated by then President-elect Joe Biden to be our Secretary of State, we sent him a letter laying out our suggestions for an effective Israel-Palestine policy. That set of ideas has now become an imperative. We need to tell Secretary Blinken that he and his aides must act immediately, to stop the carnage, to do the utmost to stabilize what is an inherently unstable situation, and to start systematically paving a path toward future resolution.
Addressing his tortured land as a beloved woman, Mahmoud Darwish ended his poem with this line: “O lady, because you are my lady, I am worthy of life.”
Palestinians and Israelis who share that land are both worthy of life. Peaceful, dignified, normal life. We are
well positioned to help make it happen. Let’s not waste our power. Let’s use our political privilege and moral
imperative to act.