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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

May Palestine Find Peace
February 2, 2000


Goodbye Palestine, sacred land, where brothers fight brothers in the name of the one true God. Goodbye to the soldiers on every bus, to the checkpoints and the barbed wire. Goodbye to the mosques and the synagogues, the churches and the grottos. Six weeks has not brought me closer to understanding you.

I've crossed daily between the worlds, who never speak to each other. I've been the neutral, surrounded by the kindness of Palestinians and of Israelis who completely distrust and often demonize one another. One day, I'm in the West Bank, and it's Ramadan. The Arab suqs bustle with sound, the muezzin calls to prayer, the fast is broken with sweets and merriment. The next day, I'm in Tel Aviv, a bustling city where everyone is dressed in the height of fashion as they drink Cappucino in the beachside cafes.

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Goodbye to the soldiers at every checkpoint.
On the Israeli side, I see the idealism battling itself. The dream was of a democratic, Jewish state on the "promised land" of the Bible. But Israel cannot be all three. It can only be Jewish if it is not democratic, as there are so many non-Jews who remain. And the "promised land" lies mostly in the West Bank, what is now slowly being giving back to the Palestinians.

On the other side, I see righteous idealism crumbling. The vow to drive the Israelis into the sea has, for the most part, faded to a desire for normalcy and peace. A generation now of refugees and growing up under occupation. A generation who has known no freedom.

Ode to the Temple Mount

Tassels and curls sway
to a muttered Hebrew prayer.
One wall still remains
White stones a reminder
of temples past
and the one God's wrath.

A muezzin calls
the Muslims all to pray.
A sea of bodies
floods the cobbled paths,
to fill the inner walls
of temples past.

A rock, nothing more,
this holy spot is marked.
A place of sacred sacrifice,
and of divine covenant.
A springboard to heaven
for a visit to the one great God.

Stone faced soldiers
Uzis at the ready
protecting those who worship
from those who pray.
The one great God
Turns away,
Unable to bear the sight.

Church bells chime
Tassels sway
women weep
Muslims kneel and bow.
But the stone alone
cannot hear.

And the peace process, while slowly bringing these groups together, is also tearing them up inside. Without a common enemy to rally around, their internal differences are coming out. Secular versus religious. Doves vs. Hawks. Those who want all of Palestine, and those who will accept partition in exchange for peace.

Some things I've seen give me such great hope for future peace--the co-existence holiday party in Haifa, the recreation of Bethlehem under the Palestinian Authority, the Seeds of Peace and Mural projects we've seen.

Other things highlight the irreconcilable differences. The housing demolitions, the anger. The settlements and the bomb scares. My Palestinian friends, even those who want peace, insist that the Israelis can't be trusted, that they never keep their promises. Of course, the Israelis insist the exact opposite--that it is the Palestinians who make false promises. I see the truth, that both sides are correct. For there is no one person--or one-hundred people--who can speak for "all Israelis" or "all Palestinians." So any promise Arafat or Barak makes, is held up to the millions of angry, frightened people on each side. The surest way that radical Jews or radical Palestinians can derail the peace process that they don't support, is to break its promises--Radical Jews go out and build more settlements, radical Palestinians set off bombs in Tel Aviv. The fragile peace falters, trust is eroded--and the aggressive acts succeed in their goal.

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Groups like the Seeds of Peace bring hope to this part of the world.
Every Israeli knows someone hurt or killed in a terrorist act. Every Palestinian knows someone killed by the Israeli soldiers. The résumés of Palestinian men almost invariably say how long they have spent in an Israeli jail--mostly during the Intifada--and what classes they took while imprisoned. They were not petty thieves. They were not random hooligans. Professors, students, and children were detained and abused, by Israeli guards taught to fear Palestinians as terrorists.

The work today is for the next generation. A generation that does not remember the Holocaust. A generation that has never known Israel not to exist. A generation willing to compromise their parents' strong ideals for true and meaningful peace. Is this generation the one? Is it ready?

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The beautiful buildings of Jerusalem.
The guidebook says, "If you come to Israel with expectations, they are sure to be fulfilled. But if you come with an open mind, you're sure to be amazed." I am amazed and confused. Hopeful and sad. I take my last walk, through the old city of Jerusalem, with tears in my eyes. There is a postcard here, of three Israeli soldiers carrying guns, crying at the Western Wall. It says only, "the brave." I wonder, if they are so brave, why do they carry guns? To be brave, I would think, means knowing the dangers, and still continuing on a peaceful path. It means taking that step to the enemy, carrying an olive branch, seeking a peaceful future. There is no bravery in domination.


grotto - cave
demonize - to inflict evil, harm, distress, or ruin
muezzin - a Muslim crier who calls the hour of daily prayer
suq - a marketplace in northern Africa or the Middle East

I leave here sadly, knowing the land and the people. I have thrown my heart into the mess. Whether or not I ever return, I will watch its history unfold. Will fear dominate? Will Palestine sink back into bloody war? Or will the brave step forward and work for peace?

"O pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee." Psalm 122


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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