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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=10/16/00&id=96603

An existential exercise

By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, 10/16/2000

The right was right again: There is no one to talk to. There is truly no partner for peace. But - and this is the difficult bit to swallow - it is on our side that there is no one. The recent events have proven, even more convincingly, that Israel is still not ripe for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Supercilious jargon on the part of the prime minister about the lack of "readiness" on the other side and the cliches about the lack of suitable partners are a perfectly accurate description of Israel. Concentrating solely on itself and its own needs, Israel - both right and left - has been struck, perhaps more than ever, by a terrible blindness as to what is happening to the other side.

For most Israelis, the Palestinians are almost non-existent. They're like thin air. Likud Chair Ariel Sharon did not go up to the Temple Mount in order to harm the Palestinians; he went up ignoring their existence completely. He went up for internal political reasons, without giving a thought to how his behavior might affect them.

For many Palestinians, this disregard is worse than deliberate harm; it is even more humiliating. They know that their needs, their distress, their fears and their problems are of very little interest to most Israelis. Israel demanded that the Palestinians learn about the Holocaust in order to understand the motives and roots of the Jews, but the fate and history of the Palestinians is of no interest to the average Israeli whatsoever.

For the overwhelming majority of Israelis - again, both the right and left wing - the desired solution is separation: They want the Palestinians to play their parts in the form of thin air and not get in our way. There's only one small problem with this solution, aside from the whiff of racism that emanates from it: It's not possible.

It's easy to argue that each side has to concentrate on its own needs. We are Israelis and our needs are our foremost concern; let them take care of their own. Really? We have been running their lives for the past 33 years, with no little cruelty; and since this state of affairs is far from over, how can we now make them responsible for their needs?

More than 100 Palestinians, some 20 of them children, have been killed over the past two weeks; around 3,500 were injured and many of these wounded will remain crippled for life. But Israel is once again the victim, and in its own eyes, the only victim. Three Israel soldiers are being held captive; two soldiers were cruelly lynched; one settler was murdered in Nablus; and one citizen was stoned to death in his car. These are all terrible tragedies. But what about the other side? What about its victims? Are they unimportant? Are they not victims? Not as far as we are concerned.

A few, major traffic arteries blocked in Israel for a few days, settlers forbidden from driving at night, shooting at settlements - there is a strong feeling of unpleasantness among Israelis. But what about the losses on the other side, which are a thousand times worse?

Two weeks of tension and fear, a feeling of insecurity when leaving the house in the morning, a fear of traveling on a Succot vacation to Sinai or the Galilee - but what of the other side's fears, which have caused no less lost hours of sleep? Whose lives are in greater danger today? Who lives in fear? Who has buried more dead? Who has not been able to move freely for 33 years?

The other side is far worse off. One can argue that the Palestinians deserve what they got; one can even believe that they are to blame; but how can one ignore their plight? Ramallah, where two soldiers were cruelly slaughtered, has been under siege for two weeks and under occupation for 33 years. Over the past two weeks, the city has buried 12 dead and has rushed 424 injured to hospitals.

Does this justify a lynching? No. Does it explain the anger and the hatred? Yes. And the conclusion is: We must recognize the sources of the anger and work toward change. Nothing justifies a lynching, but there are reasons for the anger, the hatred and the frustration.

Ignoring the fate of the Palestinians begins, of course, from above. Many Israelis, even on the left, cannot understand how the violence erupted soon after Prime Minister Ehud Barak made his generous offers at Camp David. Barak presented Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat with an offer that the prime minister and many Israelis considered generous, but was impossible for any Palestinian leader to accept. In fact, by disregarding the needs of the other side and almost ignoring its existence - Barak hardly discussed things with Arafat - the prime minister offered either peace according to Israeli terms, or war. The only thing that remained for Arafat to do was to choose the only one of the two options open to him.

Now the right is rejoicing at having been right, while the left is seemingly mourning the loss of its way. However, the right was not right and the left has not lost its way, if it ever had one at all. The Israelis have simply continued doing the same old wrong thing - ignoring the other side, not seeing it, not understanding what a painful and historic concession the Palestinians have already made.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are here, and until Israel recognizes their existence and their needs, they will have to occasionally remind us of this fact by the only means at their disposal, until we recognize the truth, until we understand


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