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At points, the discussion cited Zionism’s triumphant success in absorbing huge waves of immigrants as a source of inspiration for their own goal.
“There is room” in the land for all, Asher said “The [required] space is vacant; the country can support this number of people.”
Some conference sessions examined detailed plans that have been drawn for an era of Palestinian “return.” This reflected another parallel between how some on the right and left fringes look to the future: Both steam ahead with planning the details, even if the path to making them relevant is far from clear. For both groups, the objective of the details is to revive a lost past for future generations.
On the right, a not-for-profit organization in Jerusalem called the Temple Institute has even made, in accordance with biblical specifications, some of the vessels that it believes will be needed when the Jewish Temple is restored, including the menorah, the incense altar and the showbread table. The organization also completed the sacred uniform for the future high priest to wear. It has done all this even though most rabbis believe that the Temple, which stood on the sacred Jerusalem site now occupied by Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque, will be rebuilt only in a Messianic era.
In Umm-al-Fahm, Israel’s largest Arab town, a group of 18- to 30-year-olds has worked with an architect to develop a plan for resurrecting the village where their grandparents lived until 1948 as a town for the future. The project, initiated by Zochrot and some other nongovernmental organizations, envisions a town that they believe could welcome Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian Diaspora.
The Umm-al-Fahm visionaries, with the support of Baladna: The Association for Arab Youth, engaged an architect, Shadi Habib Allah, who presented his plan for the town of al-Lajun at the conference. The town would, in the activists’ dream, be developed on the site in northern Israel where a village of the same name stood until 1948. Habib Allah worked on the plan full time for three months.
The housing in Habib Allah’s plan is modern and Western-style to serve modern requirements. But with the hope of easing the transition for residents arriving from the Arab world, the town center is planned in the traditional Palestinian style, with low buildings, domes, stones and cobbles.
“People have heard so many stories from their grandparents, so we didn’t want to create a modern village of just steel and glass,” Habib Allah said. “There needs to be a sense of memorial.”
The plans embrace a future of coexistence, as well. Signage appears in Hebrew and Arabic, indicating that Jewish visitors are expected. Habib Allah hopes that a planned industrial zone could be a joint project with local Jewish communities.
Nobody has any easy answer for when and how any of this could become a reality. But Asher is in it for the long haul. “This vision could take 100 years, and it could take 150 years, but it’s very important to start laying the groundwork,” he said.
Bronstein offers a slightly clearer scenario. He believes that the Israeli public will never be won over for a grassroots change, but that in the absence of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pressure will mount on Israel to pay attention to the Palestinian call for “return.” He expects the leadership to realize that it has no choice but to respond positively to pressure and effect a change from the top, “something similar to in South Africa.”
Echoing Dayan’s right-wing conviction that one state is now the only option, he said, “The two-state solution has gone a long time ago.”
Contact Nathan Jeffay at firstname.lastname@example.org