Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Dear Amanda,
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I know it is very difficult to read opinions that differ greatly to your own. To do so requires remarkable openness.

Last summer, my mother-in-law traveled to France for a wedding. She stayed at a remote farm in Brittany. Staying with her there, among others, was a close friend of the bride and groom, a young Palestinian man. He had been born in Lebanon and had spent most of his life in France. He knew my mother-in-law was Israeli and he avoided her.

Wishing to contribute to the preparations for the wedding, my mother-in-law made ma’amouls (you can read about her ma’amouls here) to be served at the wedding reception as appetizers. The young Palestinian tasted them, not knowing who had made them. He was probably the only one who could really appreciate them. They must have brought forth dear memories, because he made the effort of finding out where they came from.

Then he came up to my mother-in-law, an act that must have required a lot of courage, and complemented her, telling her that they were better than his mother’s ma’amouls, praise indeed from an Arab man.

And they talked. And while they talked he realized that he had more in common with this elderly Israeli woman, his sworn enemy, than with all the other people at the wedding. He asked her about his homeland, which he had never seen and knew little about. And she told him. She described the sights and the smells and the sounds.

And she said something else to him. She said to him that she was more of a Palestinian than he was. She was born in 1932 in a land that, at the time, was called Palestine. And so was her father.

She told him of her childhood in Tel Aviv, and of her father who had worked in the port of Jaffa, and of the Arab children she had played with as a child.

She had lived all her life in the land he called Palestine. She had given birth to her children in Jaffa. She had walked with the groceries from Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, through Jaffa, to her little apartment in Bat Yam, to prepare food for her family. In 1967, she had put black paper on the windows of that little apartment, in the days of waiting, to prevent enemy planes from seeing it, should they come in the night. And she had sat there, hugging her two small sons, her husband away at war, fearing that the end was near.

But still, in his eyes, he was a Palestinian, he who had never set foot on the land, had never smelt its smells and had never felt its sun on his back. And she was a foreign occupier.

She invited him to come and visit. She promised to show him the country he called home, to give him an opportunity to smell the smells and hear the sounds. I have no quarrel with you, she told him. We love the same country.

On both sides of this conflict there are people, Amanda, real people. No one asked the Native Americans how they felt about the establishment of the United States of America; no one asked the people of Andalusia in Spain how they felt about the Muslim invaders in the Middle Ages, and no one asked them how they felt about the Christians who came after, with their cruel Inquisition.

No one asked the Jews of Poland if they would prefer to die of starvation in Warsaw Ghetto or in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The UN commission that checked the situation in Palestine and came up with the 1947 Partition Plan probably did confer with leaders of both sides. And it made an effort to come up with a solution that would solve the problem relatively fairly for both sides.

The Jews of Palestine, at the time, saw the Partition Plan as horrendous. It gave them a tiny country, cut up in the middle, most of it arid desert. Beloved Jerusalem was to remain international, and difficult to reach. Hebron, holy burial place of the Fathers, was on the other side of the border.

But still they rejoiced, because they were ready for compromise and because they knew there were hundreds of thousands of shells of human beings, waiting in Europe, remnants of the death camps, that were desperate for somewhere to go, somewhere safe, somewhere that they could, at last, call home.

Justice is always about justice for one side. Someone always loses. Life is not about justice. Life is about muddling through and trying to get along with one another. And surviving.