By Deb Reich
02 September, 2006
from my great love for all my sisters and brothers and cousins and sons
and daughters in the Semitic family, at this hour of bloodshed and despair,
I call you to open your eyes and your hearts now, today, and see what
has been hidden from you - right before your eyes.
In Palestine and Israel,
our shared choice is not complicated, as the analysts and commentators
seem to think. Our options are starkly simple: to compete endlessly
at this game of mutual destruction until we achieve it (taking some
large chunk of the rest of the world with us, perhaps), or to cooperate
from now on at mutual co-living, co-creating, and co- advancement (thereby
crafting a precious new social paradigm for ourselves and all humanity).
I and others have suggested
a way out of our dilemma and I will present it again here, in my own
style, as simply as possible.
First, to those who remain
committed to violence, militancy, and arms, I say: Open your eyes! To
subdue your neighbor by force is to shoot your own grandchildren through
the heart – because no people remains subdued forever and when
they rise again, your children’s children will pay the price.
Equally true if harder to accept is that, however legitimate your uprising
may be deemed by any impartial judge, throwing off your neighbor’s
oppression by force means that you become him, and so the cycle continues.
Another aspect of this puzzle
has become clear lately: the unintended consequences of success. Israel
has succeeded in becoming a world-class military power, but what has
that achieved? The armed struggle has succeeded in making the Palestinian
independence movement a presence on the world stage, while also making
the world blind to the majestic dimensions of Palestinian civilian endurance
and heroic efforts at constructive nation-building – so what has
Let us consider, calmly,
our longstanding attempt in Israeli/Palestine to make this bit of land
ours at the expense of our cousins. Arguably, it goes back to the time
of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, so there’s little to be gained by
talking about 1967 or 1948 or 1929 or 1880- something or the Middle
Ages or the birth of Jesus as the ultimate reference point. Elsewhere
I have called this process “peeling the onion of blame”
– analyzing successive layers of history, backward in time, weeping
all the while - until left with a pile of onion peels and an ocean of
tears, and little else. Let’s abandon that approach!
Granted that groups of people
develop a passionate attachment to pieces of territory; this is natural
and perhaps universal. Yet nowhere in nature is it written that this
attachment must be one of ownership, or that this attachment can be
or should be exclusive. Indeed, many cultures that live close to the
land find the idea of owning it ridiculous (Does the flea own the dog?);
they know that our proper role is to learn to serve the land, to be
its stewards. In the tradition of the story of King Solomon and the
two women claiming to be the mother of the same child, the real mother
proved her greater love not by hanging on, but by letting go. If uprooting
olive trees one by one is like pulling your baby’s fingernails
out, one by one, how can we pretend to love this land? If bombing a
restaurant (in person) or an apartment building (from the air) kills
even one innocent baby, what would Solomon say about our love for this
land’s children? How can anyone pretend to truly love this land
when they demonstrate their love by strangling it with checkpoints,
soaking it in violence and drenching it in blood?
The way out of this trap
is to see that our attachment to the land need not be exclusive. Human
culture in the last fifty years has stumbled on a new and useful way
to view this question. Half a century ago, mathematicians began elaborating
a mathematical model for multiple parallel universes, suggesting that
the reality we know may be but one reality in an endless series of multiple,
parallel universes – not science fiction, but science. In creating
the Windows system for the personal computer, cyberpioneers translated
this notion into something useful for all of us: multiple programs are
open, all are equally “present,” but we are paying attention
primarily to only one at a time. Psychologists and anthropologists have
been telling us for years that life is about what we pay attention to:
that there are potentially many realities to be experienced and that
the one we live in is constructed by what our culture teaches us to
notice, and what to ignore. Mystics have said the same thing for centuries
but too few of us have gotten the message yet.
On a metaphorical level,
in the Semitic Middle East, multiple realities have long been a fact
of everyday life. Go to Tel Aviv, show any Jew a map of the land between
the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and ask: What place is this?
and be told: Israel. Go to Nablus, show the same map to a Palestinian
and ask the same question, and be told: Palestine. -What is that, if
not parallel realities?
the new paradigm
This line of reasoning suggests
that we can actually have our cake and eat it too. Instead of dividing
up this land in a way acceptable to no one, keep it whole and give it
to everyone. Greater Israel and Greater Palestine, in this model, simply
exist, simultaneously, in the same territory, with the same national
boundaries - in parallel universes: each with its own flag, anthem,
and membership in the UN. Each with its own government, foreign service,
and taxes. Call it a new form of confederation or the actualization
of parallel realities – the terminology is not central. Other
nations have crafted their own approaches to sharing (Belgium; Switzerland);
we can, too.
Many practical challenges
would remain about how to divide the pie in the here-and-now. These
are challenges that teams of professionals could address together at
length, but there are also tremendous immediate advantages. Perhaps
the most signal advantage is that the competing claims of religious
orthodoxies are served rather than ignored or discounted. Islam does
not have to concede territory it once governed; Judaism does not have
to relinquish the graves of the ancestors. Who dares to say that, if
the prophets of old were alive today, they would fail to embrace a new
conceptual paradigm that pointed the way to greater lovingkindness and
cooperation? What has prophecy always been, if not the embrace of new
If this model seems vague
to you, here is a simple illustration of the principle. Consider a modern
supermarket in a large shopping center. You drive there with your car
and park in a parking space which is used, the rest of the time, by
other people. It’s not your parking space; you don’t own
it; but you don’t need to own it. Then you take a shopping cart
which is not your cart, which is used by others all day long, and you
walk up and down the aisles of the supermarket, which do not belong
to you exclusively, and you take food off the shelves and put it in
your cart. After paying for the food and returning the cart, you pull
your car out of the parking space and drive home. Here, the metaphor
reaches its limit. You do want to go home in your own car to your own
house and you don’t want to find that someone else has moved in
while you were shopping; and you do want the food you have bought to
be eaten by your own family, not someone else’s.
In Palestine/Israel, there
is enough for everyone as long as we differentiate between sharing a
parking space or a shopping cart (painless), and driving someone else’s
car home with her groceries in it and feeding them to our own family,
or moving our family into her home.
We can have truth and reconciliation
commissions on the South African model to deal with defining what is
a land grab, and what is not; repatriation of the exiles, confession,
compensation, forgiveness, and all the other thorny questions. They
can be solved, but we need to put the basic paradigm in place first.
When we can see one another as resources rather than threats, we will
be able to solve anything. First comes the vision; then the details.
And at the risk of repeating myself: the vision comes from love –
not from anger.
Somewhere on the West Bank
is a hard-working Palestinian farmer whose son Ahmad dreams of studying
computer science, while Michal, the daughter of an Israeli scientist
friend of mine, studied agriculture at the Hebrew University and dreams
of working in organic agriculture. Why can’t Michal work with
farmers on the West Bank to make their produce more marketable in Europe,
while Ahmad studies computers at Bir Zeit University or – yes!
– Hebrew University, if he wants to? That is the future we can
have, together. If we visualize it, commit ourselves utterly to achieving
it, and labor lovingly to bring it into being – and if we do not
permit ourselves to be deflected by enticements from the realm of the
illusory and unattainable ultimate victory – then we can have
it. And the rest of the world out there, which is more than sick of
us now, sick of our bickering and bloodshed and brutality – the
world will stand and applaud. But first we have to get a grip, and do
Deb Reich is a writer and translator in Israel/Palestine.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Deborah Reich 2006. Reproduction with attribution is encouraged.