Cease-fire, troop withdrawal, prisoner release, less incitement — all hopeful signs that we were moving forward on the “road map” to Middle East peace. Then, boom, another terrorist attack on Monday, in Kfar Yavetz, near the Palestinian town of Qalqilya.
The hailed path to coexistence, in the eyes of many, may just be the same old disappointing road of false starts and false promises — for Palestinians as well as Israelis.
Take Khalid, a 30-something Palestinian from Qalqilya. I got to know Khalid during his years of working in Israel as a landscaper. With the outbreak of the intifada, life changed drastically. As violence-induced closures became more frequent, his ability to effectively tend to his Israeli customers eroded, ending years of business and personal relationships and leaving him searching for ways to earn a living.
Khalid and I have been in touch during the last two years, although we have not seen each other. We speak regularly, and he recently wrote me a letter reflecting his thoughts on “the situation.” We spoke recently, after terrorists from Qalqilya killed a little girl on an Israeli highway.
“They think they punished Israel, but they punished all of us in Qalqilya,” he says, referring to the gunmen. “Believe me, they are the one’s who will cause us all to stay in this jail.”
For many Jews around the world, the conflict is simply “us against them.” “We,” of course, are the good guys and the Arabs, well, they are all the “bad guys.”
But for Israelis that have had personal relationships with Palestinians, it’s not that simple. We all know about the incitement-filled Palestinian educational system and the sermons in their mosques. But what of those who give us hope that some sort of peaceful coexistence is possible? Khalid may be one of those, but he, for now, is simply another victim of terrorism.
“The town is affected by social problems, the divorce rate has risen, families broken up because of no work and no income,” he writes me. “I plead with the world, especially the United States, to bring about a reconciliation with our Jewish neighbors and to lead us to a situation where two countries live side by side.
“Where are the God-given human rights that our leaders stripped from us, telling us that we wanted the intifada and we are the one’s who need to make sacrifices? We have nothing left to sacrifice. Our children have been killed, our joy is gone, our work has dried up. Everything is lost.”
“In the past, we were close to Israelis; we ate and drank and participated in their celebrations. If it wasn’t for the intifada, we would feel safe, but woe is me, woe is me, where are those days now?”
Khalid speaks of Israeli measures that include checkpoints, closures and curfews. “Israel has placed all of Palestine under siege. Every one has to remain in their towns, with no one being allowed to come or go. The truth is that Israel wants to ensure the security of its citizens, but how does the saying go? ‘The obedient ones are considered troublemakers.’ The innocent pay the price of a crime they haven’t committed. We are the ones that lose out.”
How, I ask Khalid, do you get by?
“I called several of the Jews I used to work for,” he writes, “and they didn’t hesitate to help by sending money and food. We placed our hopes on the Red Cross, but their money goes to their relatives, friends and acquaintances. I had the good fortune of receiving some supplies this week, perhaps because they were embarrassed or perhaps to cover up the thefts that took place. [The United Nations Relief and Works Agency] said they could help, but only those who had ten people in their family. But what of those families who have less than ten? I haven’t received anything because there are only eight members in my family, praise Allah.”
Khalid speaks wistfully of “two nations, the Palestinian and the Israeli.”
“We were neighbors and friends, people from both sides lived as one family, visiting each other,” he writes. “When I worked in Israel, I never lacked for anything.”
Today, the sadness in his words is unmistakable. “We started to march towards an honorable future for us and our children, but to my great sorrow this was a dream snatched from us over the echoes of explosions and bombs and the destruction that has wounded us emotionally, physically and economically.”
What will be of Khalid and his family?
On a recent security patrol near the Palestinian Authority-controlled “Area A” outside the Green Line town of Kfar Saba, I saw the clear and bright lights of Qalqilya. I knew I had to be there not because of people like Khalid, but rather because of those in Qalqilya who force fellow Palestinians to think in terms of hate and confrontation.
Because of them, Khalid, his family and many other Palestinians will continue to be the “other” victims of “the situation.” They are indeed under occupation, but the real occupiers may be the purveyors of terrorism — and not Israel.
Irwin Mansdorf is a psychologist living in Ra’anana, Israel.