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Choose Life!

by DEB REICH

Most people will say I’m delusional; that’s okay. I will say what I have to say anyway. When your opinion is way out on the periphery, it may mean you are delusional – or it may just mean that the so-called center has gradually drifted closer and closer to a very high cliff, and finally fallen off the edge, while the majority of the population follows along like a horde of doomed lemmings. In that scenario, someone needs to stake out a position at the other extreme and drag the locus of the center back from oblivion. So here goes.

After this futile, criminal, pornographic war in Gaza (Shmuel Amir rightly termed it a “hunt” rather than a war) and yet another national election in Israel ending basically in impasse, but this time with a distinctly fascist motif, we are no closer to sustainable peace in the Middle East. We need a drastic revisioning of what we are doing here.

So we start with this: Speaking as an Israeli Jew, I say that we (Israeli Jews and our friends abroad) ought to embrace EVERYONE who wants to live here among us, so long as they truly love the land and have some reasonable claim to it. This would not include, say, tourists from Zanzibar or Antarctica – but would naturally include the Palestinians, whose claim to the land is (or ought to be) beyond dispute and whose deep and enduring love for the land is richly evident to any observer not in a vegetative state.

I say we bring all the long-suffering, besieged, shell-shocked Gazans home to Israel now! They miss their homes. They want to come home. Let us welcome them! We can all move over a little bit and make room. Believe me, there is still plenty of room.

Dayenu! (Enough!).Enough suffering inflicted on the surviving families in Gaza who are hungry, thirsty, cold, frightened, wounded, traumatized for life, and bereaved. Enough. And enough suffering on the other side of the fence in Sderot and environs, too. (Their fates are inextricably intertwined; all our fates are inextricably intertwined.)

The generals and the militants have had their day, for the nth time – and at the end of it, as usual, all that we (any of us) have now, as a result, is war crimes and grief. War crimes and grief and fear. War crimes, grief, fear, hatred, and despair… with thousands of injured and disabled people bearing the burden most directly, forever.

Enough! Israelis are more afraid now than before, and more at risk, too. Time to ABANDON this insane strategy that we (any of us) can force people to love us, or anyhow accept us, by killing them!

Let us in Israel who have so much, open our homes and our communities to the victims of this insane war who have so little – exactly as we once opened our homes to refugees from northern Israel when the Katyushas were falling. Our traditional ethos is full of charity and generosity; we know all about providing refuge and succour; we have taken in wave after wave of refugees over the decades, most recently more than a million Russian émigrés deemed essential to our future, for whom we moved over and made room.

So let’s get going. Let every family in Israel who wants to live in peace in this region, open their home to a Gaza family until new housing can be built. Let the participating families declare a hudna between themselves. Now. Today.

You start by not picturing these neighbors as “the enemy”; picture them instead as families who have suffered a tsunami like the one that flattened coastal Indonesia a few years ago – and in fact, the order of magnitude of what they have been through is about the same. Presto! Reaching out to help suddenly makes perfect sense. Moreover, professional planners have already minutely addressed the question of exactly where Palestinians coming home to Israel could reside, eager to make their best contribution to a shared future. What is missing in Israel is not sufficient space, but sufficient imagination to envision how much there is to be gained by all concerned. Now is a good time to change that.

The Gaza disaster can become the turning point. Let the Gazan expatriates whose families came from Ashdod (Issdod) be matched with Ashdod-area families. Let the expatriates from Lod (Lydd) be matched with Lod/Lydd-area families – Jewish or Palestinian. And so forth. And let no time be lost! They have lost everything and their situation is dire. We in Israel have lost our moral compass and we want to reclaim it. Bingo!

Let the governments of the world, led by the USA, immediately stop sending Israel aid for military ordnance, and earmark it instead for a massive rehabilitation and reconciliation program.

Let all the tens of thousands of Palestinian professionals who are citizens of Israel, born and raised here – doctors, social workers, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, lawyers, engineers, teachers, designers, journalists – join gladly and wholeheartedly in this effort, finally and at long last, to bring their fellow Palestinians home from exile in Gaza. Let us bind up the wounds and become whole, together. All of us. Let us build a really wonderful society together, for the sake of ALL OUR CHILDREN. Rewrite the national anthem! Why not? It’s a SONG, folks. No song is holier than the life of even one child (anyone’s child).

The Gaza families who actually lived in Gaza before 1948 will want to stay and rebuild their homes and communities. Volunteers would doubtless throng to Gaza from all over the world to help them. Imagine them turning what was the world’s largest open-air prison into the world’s largest open-air Reconciliation Park – with facilities for tourism, education, environmental studies, cultural attractions, and museums (including a Palestinian Nakba Museum). Imagine Gaza as the reconciliation capital of the world – people in Israel could commute to work in Gaza for a change, instead of the other way around. Very refreshing.

This is a blueprint for a SHARED LIFE. If it sounds crazy, just ask yourself: Which is crazier — rampant slaughter, or rampant cooperation? Rivers of blood, or the free flow of joint prosperity? Rampant mass cooperation could break out here tomorrow – and in a week or two, or maybe a month or two, we would feel like we have always believed in it.

A political accommodation would follow the humanitarian one – probably some creative form of federation, with complete, reciprocal, national-cultural autonomy based on each group’s granting the other group the same perks it wants for itself. The technical restructuring follows the vision, not the other way around. There are several good plans, already fully elaborated, for political power-sharing here. Anyone can read them; they’re on the web. Once we dare to envision a shared future, we can make it happen. And if not now, when?

We Jews consider it rational and wonderful to rejoice in our emergence as a modern nation in the ancient homeland, after… not twenty years, not two hundred years, but two thousand years of exile!! Yet the idea of repatriating all those homesick Palestinian families, exiled from their homes a mere 60 years ago, is considered delusional. Something there does not compute.

So think it over and let’s put the guns away for good. Let the tribunals meet to apportion blame and responsibility, by all means, but as for the rest of us: we have other tasks. Treat the wounded, yes, of course, and heal the traumatized… And beat the swords into ploughshares and recycle the tank parts into computer equipment. Retool the death factories to make swimsuits instead of parachutes, irrigation pipes for farmers instead of M16 rifles. No time for missiles; we’ll all be too busy getting a life. The only phosphorous I ever want to see around here again is in a spelling contest for the kids (ALL our kids). Haul out the welcome mat for the long-lost cousins and let’s get busy – there’s a lot of work to do here. It’s not too late, even now, but you have to take the first step: Choose life!

DEB REICH is a writer and translator in Israel/Palestine, at debmail@alum.barnard.edu

Deb Reich is a writer and translator living in Israel/Palestine, based in Jerusalem and Abu Ghosh, and the author of No More Enemies (2011). 

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