Before the 1967 lines retire, too
In a farewell column concluding 35 years at Haaretz, Akiva Eldar urges Israelis to keep the two-state solution alive.
On Saturday afternoon light rain greeted the long column of cars crawling through the narrow lanes of the Palestinian village of Jayus in the heart of the northern West Bank. At the head of the column was a battered truck dragging behind it a cart laden with black plastic chairs.
Little children gathered around the visitors, proudly showing off their knowledge of Hebrew. Curious onlookers looked out of windows at the strange men and women, most of them gray-haired and a few of them young. On one doorstep a mustached man surrounded by youths waved at the people arriving.
Yuval Roth, an Israeli man and a gentle soul who lost his brother in one of Israel's wars, introduced the guests to their host, the Palestinian man with the mustache: Naim Albeida, who has experienced much suffering and dedicated himself to peace. One after another the guests climbed up to the roof and made their way gingerly between the puddles on the eastern parapet.
Naim pointed to the valley on the outskirts of the village. "That's the separation fence," he said, indicating a yellow clearing in the middle of an olive grove, "and there, beyond the fence, those are our trees. The trees my father planted."
On the other side, through the fog, it was possible to discern red roofs. "That's the settlement of Tzofin, which sits on our lands," explained Naim with the dryness of a tour guide. Only the dripping of the rain on the roof broke the silence.
What can decent Israelis say to a neighbor when members of their own people have robbed him of his land and stolen its fruit? (Under the Ottoman law adopted by Israel, the state is entitled to transfer to settlers any land that has been "neglected" for at least 10 years. ) How can one bear hearing that the inhabitants of Jayus, among them Naim himself, have been barred by the Shin Bet security service from crossing the separation fence to work their own land? How can one listen to this without looking down in embarrassment?
It is not within the capacity of the enlightened sons and daughters of an occupying people to rescue Naim and his neighbors from the evils of the occupation. All that remains to them is to make it a bit more bearable. Two of the great-grandmothers on the visit to Jayus have been reporting to duty for years at roadblocks, to monitor Israeli soldiers' conduct as members of Machsom Watch.
The others volunteer with the Road to Recovery, a project of Yuval Roth's that provides transportation for sick Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza who need to get to hospitals in Israel. Yuval wanted them to meet Naim, a friend who is like a brother to him, and Naim's family, including his daughter Dalia, who is named after peace activist Dalia Golomb.
Naim embarked on a monologue in fluent Hebrew. For 24 years he has been a construction worker in Israel (apart from a break of eight years, the time when he was barred from crossing the fence ) and knows us from up close. He paused only to clear his throat and wipe away a tear.
"I have invited you here in order to talk to you about peace," he said. "Even when our peoples are fighting each other, we must not give up. Cousins also fight with each other and reconcile. If I need help, my neighbor will get here faster than my brother living in Jordan. What is it that I want, after all? To sleep in quiet and to think about a beautiful tomorrow. What have the children done wrong so they have to suffer? How has my wife, who is standing alongside you, sinned, to the extent that she has to wake up in the middle of the night and find armed soldiers facing her?"
Naim described a frightening encounter with Israeli troops that he said was a "routine incident."
"One day, about three years ago, I came home after a long day's work," he said. "I went to sleep early, since I get up at 3 A.M. to get to the roadblock. My son woke up to the sound of a military jeep that stopped in front of our house and didn't turn off the engine. We all went into one of our rooms shaking with fear. Every time we heard the door of the jeep slam and the knocking on our neighbors' doors, our hearts stopped beating. We were afraid that now it would be our turn. We sat like this in the dark until 5 A.M. You don't understand what this is doing to you. Nor to us. Nights like those increase the hatred for Israelis in our children's hearts. They grow up and transmit this hatred to all the Arab countries."
Then Naim introduced his son Mohammed, who is in his late teens.
"I really haven't invited you here to tell about my troubles, but I do want you to look at this fellow," he said. "This is my eldest son. When he was 15 years old they arrested him after he demonstrated against the fence when they uprooted our vital, living olive trees. Three months later they returned a new son to us, a son who doesn't want to hear about Palestine and Israel. A son who doesn't want to live. You are raising a whole generation to hate and seek revenge."
"What do we, the Palestinians, want?" he asked. "Only for someone to sit down and talk with us and for you to stop building in our land. For 24 years I have been building your country for you. Why don't you let me build my country? [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Yasser] Arafat of blessed memory - people I admire more than my own father - were killed because they wanted to save the children, yours and ours. Wars end eventually. It doesn't suit us to despair. We have a few years left to live. We deserve to live them as human beings."
This is my final column in Haaretz. I have chosen to devote it to Naim, to Yuval and to Dalia, to the volunteers at Machsom Watch and the Road to Recovery, all of whom took part in Saturday's visit. I also want to dedicate it to other activists or groups working toward peace: Dror Etkes, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, Gisha, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, B'Tselem and the New Israel Fund.
At the conclusion of 35 fascinating years at Haaretz, the time has come to attempt new challenges. In the Six-Day War I was in my first year of university in a divided and sane Jerusalem. I have devoted most of my professional life to an effort to keep the 1967 borders alive in the public mind. I have tried to deal with the "no partner" argument, to describe the curse of the settlements and to put the peace initiative at the forefront of the political discourse.
Having reached the age of 67, the age of retirement, I watch with trepidation as the 1967 lines fade away, taking with them the outline of a peace that is within arm's reach, the border of a democratic, Jewish and moral state - a country in which it would be pleasant to live the rest of my life. I watch with trepidation, yes - but not with despair.