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My Good Doctor: Two Pleas for Understanding

The following exchange began with a letter to the Forward from Dr. Marek Edelman calling on his fellow physician, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, to help initiate a joint Jewish-Palestinian movement for peace in the Middle East. Edelman’s letter and Barghouti’s response appear below.

Edelman, a cardiologist and human rights activist, is the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Barghouti is spokesman for the Palestinian National Initiative, a coalition for democratic change in the West Bank and Gaza, and director of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, one of the largest Palestinian nonprofit healthcare providers.

Dear Dr. Edelman,

I received your letter with a great pleasure, and understand and appreciate the sentiment with which it was sent. I too believe it is of vital importance that the progressives on both sides become involved in the search for a viable solution to our conflict and a just peace.

However, as doctors we must treat not only the symptoms, but also the disease — violence is a terrible symptom. But we must not forget that the disease is military occupation, which is eating away at the lives of both peoples. Change must come from the people themselves, since it is the people who will have to live the future. I believe that we can become agents of this change. The charge that there is nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side is favored by those who are not interested in peace. We need to start the dialogue of the peacemakers.

But it is also important to recognize some facts. Ten years have been wasted since the signing of the Oslo accords, and any reserves of trust that existed in 1993 have been destroyed. The foundations upon which we will create peace are shaky, and this needs to be acknowledged and addressed. The intervening years have seen a huge growth in the number of Israeli settlers on the land of what was supposed to be by now the Palestinian state. Any initiative that attempts to create the conditions for a lasting peace must accept that these “facts on the ground” are the prime obstacle to peace, and their expansion must be immediately halted.

We should focus not only on the sanctity of human life, but also on the dignity of each individual caught up in the conflict. The occupation is dehumanizing — both to oppressor and oppressed. We Palestinians must change but we cannot change as long as Israel refuses to relinquish its military grip on the occupied territories, her people and her resources. Israel, too, must change. The comforting attitudes of the past will be of no use in the future. A viable and just solution, which will lead to a peaceful future, cannot be built on the ongoing humiliation of our people, and naturally it cannot be built without both people having a strong feeling of security.

As Palestinians we must communicate with the people of Israel to tell them that we accept their right to live in the Middle East. And they must communicate to us their commitment to a viable Palestinian state that can develop to meet the needs of its people.

Finally, I believe trust will need to be built carefully. We cannot afford to string out a final settlement over another 10 years. Nor can we afford to accept words without actions from Israel — I doubt you would have stopped defending your life and those of your comrades in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising for an empty promise. You cannot expect this of Palestinians — peace must be built by people with an interest in the future; we Palestinians need to be assured that we have one.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti

Ramallah, West Bank

January 13, 2003

Dear Dr. Barghouti,

We are physicians, you and myself. We both took the same Hippocratic oath, we pledged to protect human life and we agree that shedding blood is an anti-human act.

The situation in the Middle East, the actions of both sides in the conflict, show little respect for human life. Unfortunately, the governments on both sides of the conflict cannot or do not want to understand that.

I shall not dwell on details. Most important is to stop the bloodshed. I am addressing you and the enlightened Israeli community, proposing to create a movement for peace and against violence. It can and should be an Israeli-Palestinian movement with the aim to exert pressure on the authorities on both sides of the conflict to demand a cease-fire and, in the longer run, a just peace acceptable to both sides.

Such a joint movement should be initiated at a meeting of persons, representing the Palestinian and Israeli communities, who believe in human life as the foremost value. If you are inclined to attend such a meeting, I would try to arrange it on neutral ground. I assume there are members of the Palestinian Authority who support your views on this issue. I know that on the Israeli side there are people who would join the movement, as evidenced by the peaceful demonstration on the anniversary of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

Society’s pressure on governments on both sides would influence the developments. The meeting that I propose could become the first step in a process inspired by moral values aimed at the cessation of bloodshed in the Middle East.

I am looking to you because up until now my attempts to come to an understanding with the leadership of P.A. have been to no avail. I hope that you and the progressive people in Israel and in the area administered by P.A. will set the process in motion.

Dr. Marek Edelman

Lodz, Poland

November 23, 2002

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