The most distressing reality for Americans observing the Middle East is not the deadly struggle between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. What is most distressing, and even chilling, is the fact that no candidate for the U.S. presidency dares to display any awareness of the Palestinian perspective.
As anyone following the news knows, Palestinians and Israelis offer two entirely different accounts of the violence (and two different accounts of what has happened in the region since the emergence of the state of Israel in 1948). The siege at the Church of the Nativity is one more example.
Some 25 years ago I met with three major spokesmen of the Palestine Liberation Organization in my capacity as chair of Breira, a Jewish group supporting a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Two of the three PLO leaders were soon assassinated. My own life was threatened more than once by the Jewish Defense League.
Jenin—the name comes from the Arabic and Hebrew words for “garden.” As Moses was leading his people across the Jordanian desert, no doubt they dreamed of a place like this—green and fertile in the springtime, a place where olive and almond trees proliferate.
Secretary of State Colin Powell’s slow journey to Jerusalem gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon an extra week to continue his military assault on the Palestinian West Bank. If that was the purpose of his meandering schedule, Powell need not have bothered. Sharon still repudiated President Bush’s demand that he pull out his forces immediately.
Never in my life has the violence in the Gospel of John seemed so recognizable. Now it corresponds to the daily news: a man fears going out in public in Jerusalem, as Jesus did on that festival of booths. This simple act can result in either glory or destruction, depending on whether “the street” murmurs disapproval or approbation.
Whatever the motives behind it, the land-for-peace initiative floated by Saudi Arabia strikes a note of reason in the ever-escalating violence of the Middle East. Since September 2000 over 1,074 Palestinians and 375 Jews have been killed in rounds of provocation and counterprovocation.
It may have been just a coincidence that the Israeli army invaded the grounds of a Christian-run school in Bethlehem while the American media were focusing their attention on the six-month anniversary of September 11. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.
Some of my earliest memories are of gatherings at my grandparents’ small apartment in Milwaukee where my relatives would crowd around the dining-room table and talk passionately about Israel. Many had been involved in labor Zionism in their youth, before they immigrated to the U.S. from Russia.