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Parallel Lives: Imagining a Different Future for Israel and Palestine

An excerpt from a new political analysis lays out reasons for hope in the idea of ‘parallel states’

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Abu Dis, 2003. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
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“We are not going to get rid of them. They will continue to live around us and in our midst.”

I wrote those words to open an article for Haaretz on the Parallel States plan as the 2013 Knesset campaign was drawing to a close. The sentiment was expressed in response to a comment by Israel’s newest political savior, former newsman Yair Lapid, in a rally for his Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party on October 29, 2012. “We have to get rid of the Palestinians,” he declared when asked about his peace plan. Lhipater—to expel, get rid of, dispose of. There is no ambiguity in the word he chose. Nevertheless, of course, people immediately began to “explain” his intention—“What he means, of course, is not that … ”; “He doesn’t really want to expel them; he means we have to get rid of the demographic threat”; and so on. Indeed, Yitzhak Rabin used similar language—he spoke of a desire to “divorce” the Palestinians, the centerpiece of Labor Party rhetoric at the start of the Oslo era.

But Lapid’s tone remained unchanged on election night on January 22, 2013, when he declared that he would not block a Netanyahu-led coalition by forming one with any “Hanin Zuabis” (a reference to the rising star of Palestinian Israeli politics and member of the Balad Party). What do these words reflect? They reflect a racism that is both commonplace and well entrenched; no Jewish Israeli political leader has ever used Arab parties even to cement their coalition, never mind block another one. Yet his attitude is also one that is becoming even more pronounced today, when a man routinely described as “well-read” and “worldly” (and not “right wing” or “religious”) can say such things as if they require no comment—and in fact it seems they do not.

Lapid’s comments are just one recent incident pointing to the increasingly blatant and unreserved racism across and within Israeli society. On a radio show I was asked what I think about the football team Beitar Yerushelaim, whose supporters are known to be rabidly anti-Arab and will not allow the management to buy Muslim players from Chechnya. I responded that, as an enthusiastic football fan, I do not see this as a football problem. This racism reflects the racism of Jerusalem and of all Israel. Yair Lapid knew exactly to whom he was speaking when he said what he said.

And so, as I began writing the column for Haaretz, this was the first thing I thought: We are not going to get rid of them. Stop the illusion. And anyway, I don’t want to get rid of them, because I like to live with some of them more than I like to live with some of us.

However intense the anger, hatred, and racism, the day will come when “we” will sit with “them” and discuss how to live together. That will probably happen not by choice, but by coercion, and the representatives from the two sides will not be the present ones. Those who represent us today are attached to one story alone, and quote from it only what they consider convenient.

 

Moving beyond selective history

For example, I read that from the famous eulogy delivered by Moshe Dayan for Roi Rothberg—who was killed on the border with Gaza in 1956—Ehud Barak chose to quote only this sentence: “This is the fate of our generation. The only choice we have is to be prepared and armed, strong and resolute or else our sword will slip from our hand and the thread of our lives will be severed.”

The rest of the eulogy, which was written in the spirit of a biblical lament, did not serve the defense minister’s purpose at that moment. This is the vast disparity between the leadership of our generation and that of the previous generation: ours are salesmen, mainly selling themselves, while they—despite all their blunders—were fired with a sense of mission. Even as he grieved at the newly dug grave, Dayan did not forget the other side to the tragedy and did not let his listeners forget: “Let us not today fling accusations at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their very eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers lived. We should demand blood [for Roi] not from the Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves.”

If that narrative does not speak to you, there is no chance that you will be able to breach the hate barrier. There is no reason to suspect that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is unaware of the course of history. But whereas Dayan felt the Palestinian side of the story in every fiber of his being even as he fought against it, Netanyahu is just insensitive to it. He refuses to see reality through the eyes of the other side, apparently on the assumption that seeing both sides will weaken him and us. But to be sensitive and mindful of what is happening on the other side of the fence does not mean forgoing the survival instinct. On the contrary: those who see the whole picture are assuredly more firmly rooted in reality. Certainly the chance of any two-state solution, even one based on divorce or “getting rid of” the other side, will be nil without seeing enough through the opponents’ eyes to recognize their history and the justice of their claims.

Indeed, in the same period in which Dayan delivered his lamentation for Roi Rothberg, an infiltrator from the Gaza Strip murdered my grandfather in his orchard, in the dunes of Palmahim. The citrus industry had just recovered from the nadir into which it had been plunged by the world war and Israel’s War of Independence. Following a lengthy period rife with despair and humiliations, during which my grandfather had to hide continuously from his creditors, buds of hope had appeared. One day, before starting to walk along the dirt trail that led to the road to Rishon LeZion, from which he always started his long journey home by foot and by public transportation, my grandfather went to start the pump engine, as he did at the end of every working day. He was killed near the dark structure that housed the well. An Arab worker nearby fled when he heard the shot, leaving my grandfather to bleed to death.

After the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, second in command of Hamas’s military wing, an earlier interview with him was broadcast in which he had rejected all possibility of Jewish life in the land of Israel. “I have no problem with a Jew who lives in the United States or England,” he said, “but I will fight every Jew who lives between the Jordan and the sea.” It used to be to our minds only on the Palestinian side, but of course more and more we see the same discourse in Israel. For a long time I didn’t like to make parallels between us and them, but now I see that we are not better than they are.

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Parallel Lives: Imagining a Different Future for Israel and Palestine

An excerpt from a new political analysis lays out reasons for hope in the idea of ‘parallel states’