Monday, September 03, 2007

Fraternizing with the Enemy: Israeli and Palestinian Bloggers Meet

As some of you may know, I sometimes contribute to the Good Neighbors blog. Good Neighbors is written jointly by Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Sudanese.

As everyone knows, many of the governments of each of these parties hates one another; in particular, they all hate Israel, more or less. Furthermore, it is fair to say that most of the citizens of each of these parties hates one another, based on what knowledge they get from their government influenced media.

Nevertheless, people are often like people everywhere, some smarter than others, and some more self-aware than others. In the Middle East's case, there exists an entire undercurrent of people who don't buy into the hate story. They may not like what some foreign government or army does to the citizens of their country, but they also don't get swept up in the fervor of militancy.

The bloggers in this group are one such group of people. Thankfully there are many others like us.

I may be a bit of an unusual example of someone to belong to such a group, as I actually still have quite a number of right-wing beliefs. The only thing that really separates me from a classical right-winger is that I don't believe that suffering on the "other side" is irrelevant. I believe that their own government, and fanatics on "their side", are hugely responsible for this suffering [however, see below], but I don't think it's irrelevant, just because "they're" still trying to kill us, and always will be.

The other Israeli's on the site are, I believe, far-left in one degree or another, which means that they believe that a two-state solution, enacted as soon as possible, has a decent chance of bringing about a peaceful resolution to our current Israeli crisis. I certainly don't believe that.

Anyhoo ...

For some reason or another, Dalia, one of the Palestinian bloggers, suddenly called for a get together yesterday. It was to be our first meeting. As such things go, we ran into a few difficulties.

Of course, anyone outside of the country wasn't going to be able to make it. We couldn't meet in Israel proper, because the Palestinians couldn't go there. There were many places in the PA that we couldn't meet, due to legal and safety concerns.

A meeting in or on the outskirts of Ramallah was suggested, but I refused to meet there, as I am still terrified of what happened to the two Israeli soldiers who were mutilated several years ago. This is despite the fact that I know some Israelis go into and out of Ramallah every day without much difficulty.

Instead, we decided to meet in a location near Har Gilo. But here the Palestinians were terrified to meet me if I was wearing a kippah, which I always wear, for fear of a) being in the crossfire if some crazed fanatic decides to kill me, or b) being assumed to be a collaborator. After some deliberation, I decided to wear a baseball cap. It irks me to have to hide that I'm Jewish. But a small amount of compromise on certain issues is doable.

The Israeli bloggers who were coming were Yael from Step by Step, Tzedek, and me. The Palestinian bloggers were Ramzi and Daliah. Ramzi is a Christian Arab living near Har Gilo in the outskirts of Bethlehem, while Daliah lives in the Ramallah area, I think.

Ramzi picked a cafe where Palestinians and occasionally Jews from Har Gilo congregate. I picked up Yael and Tzedek at the Jerusalem central bus station and took them back to my apartment. I started some chocolate chip muffins thinking they would be ready before we had to leave, but we ended up leaving before they were done.

I took some games with me, naturally, including Backgammon, Checkers, and cards. Only later I realized that I had forgotten the dice for Backgammon. In any case, we didn't end up playing.

Ramzi and Daliah were going to meet us in their car south of the tunnels to Gush Etzion. They couldn't just wait for us at the side of the road. Palestinians sitting in a car at the side of a road are considered suspicious. If soldiers come to check them out, they may get stuck waiting two or three hours, depending on the mood of the soldiers who check them.

So they drove up and down once or twice. With the magic of cellular phones, we eventually met and drove to the cafe.

Everyone else at the cafe was Palestinian. It was obvious that I wasn't, and especially that Yael wasn't, but no one bothered us. We chatted about world politics, blogging, health, and all sorts of things. We took some pictures. I had a coke, the others had coffee.

When it got dark, Ramzi told us that he had already paid, which Yael and I protested. But when we then went to his house, I no longer gave it any mind. I say house, but perhaps palace is more the right word. It was large, stylish, and gorgeous.

Here we met Ramzi's parents. Ramzi's father used to be a doctor in Jerusalem, but was no longer able to work there as of several years ago.

Ramzi's grandfather is an exile from Jerusalem. Ramzi's father still refers to his old house there in the present tense even after 40 years of exile. The house we were in was only built recently and was his way of reconciling to the fact that he knew that they weren't going back.

From Ramzi's parents, I expected and got the usual litany of complaints about the occupation and the wall, and even some conspiracy theories about how the Israelis use the bombings to their advantage, blah blah. So, there were many points about which we disagreed.

On the other hand, I heard some things which I didn't expect. Their complaints were less about the fact of security itself, which they grudgingly understood, but about the apparently senseless acts of humiliation that they suffer.

Palestinians may be stopped and checked, ok. But why for two or three hours? When they are searched, they may be subject to pushing and discourteous behavior for no reason. Their goods are sometimes ruined in the name of searching.

Ramzi's grandfather was held up for over an hour on the way to the hospital while suffering a heart attack because of lack of the proper papers, even though Ramzi's father had them for himself.

And so on and so on.

It was difficult to hear. I still blame the fanatical Muslims for the need for security and checkpoints and searches, but I can't blame them for insulting, rude, and devastating behavior from Israeli soldiers. And these soldiers are my children and brothers. Why would they do that? I guess I've always known that some soldiers act like that and I just dismissed it because I felt that the general guilt falls on the other side. But the issues are separable. You can have security, and not have ill-behavior. You can have checkpoints, and not make it impossible for innocent families to travel to each other when they're not passing anywhere near Jewish neighborhoods. And if you must check them, why not check them courteously and quickly?

My general attitude about the situation's ultimate resolution hasn't changed. Christianity had to undergo a Protestant Reformation in order to change from a fanatical militant religion to the one it is today. It took many many years of bloodshed and schism. The same thing has to happen to Islam. Moderate Islam has to wage war for the hearts and minds of the people against radical Islam. Much blood will have to be shed. It will take generations. There is nothing any Israeli can do - not right, not left - to make peace with radical Islam.

I don't believe in hope. I think hope is the cause of our suffering. So long as people hope that they can achieve victory, there will be no surrender to peace. I want more hopelessness and willingness to compromise. Instead of useless politics, I believe in getting to work. I can't make peace with every Muslim, but I can continue to treat well and courteously everyone who treats me with respect. I can't trust absolutely - one never knows when the friend you make will come into the hands of someone who threatens to kill his entire family unless he goes out and kills a Jew. But I don't have to let that possibility make me indifferent to the humanity that exists on the other side.

When all was said and done, Ramzi was just like any Israeli guy, and Daliah was like any Israeli woman. Except that they weren't Israeli.

It was also nice to meet Yael and Tzedek face to face finally. I ended up having to leave early to return to my daughter at home, while Yael and Tzedek stayed to look around Bethlehem some more.

Oh, by the way, Yael: the muffins were great. Really, really great.


Update: corrected Tzedek's name.
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