Between Nightmares and Pipe Dreams

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Palestinian children sit in the window of their home in Beit Hanun, in northern Gaza. October 27, 2015.Credit: AFP

According to Jewish sources, the most terrible times are a harbinger of wonderful times ahead. Like the contractions before childbirth, the days that herald the coming of the Messiah will be very painful. Their depiction in the Mishna, Talmud and midrashim are ghastly to contemplate: All kinds of terrible troubles shall befall the people – evil decrees, drought, famine, a blood-drenched war of Gog and Magog. But in the end, these shall all be swept away by the coming of the Messiah, which will usher in a return to the beneficent land and a life of peace and blessings there.

Unfortunately, the horrors we have witnessed in the past weeks and months surpass even those ancient descriptions: a baby is burned to death in his sleep in the West Bank village of Duma; parents are gunned down in front of their young children in Samaria; the relentless wave of terror attacks. If only it were possible to hope that these were the labor pains of a brighter future. But in the Middle East, such labor pains usually spawn monstrosities of violence and dreams of peace are killed at birth.

This fall, the dream of peace seems more far-fetched than ever. The latest wave of terror is destroying both the one-state and two-state visions: The former seems like a nightmare of coexistence at knifepoint and the latter like a pipe dream, because for many Palestinians there is no difference between the settlements of Kiryat Arba and Ofra and the Israeli towns of Kiryat Ono and Afula.

I have no doubt that the number of peace-seekers among both peoples exceeds the number of those who seek to fight, and yet we get trapped over and over in this bloody cycle. Sometimes it feels close enough to touch; sometimes it feels more distant than ever. Often, it seems that if it weren’t for this tragedy or that failure, the miracle would have happened and peace would have arrived.

I wish I knew how to reconcile this contradiction. I wish our leaders did. We can and should point a finger of blame at the prime minister, who hasn’t attempted to create any sort of hopeful horizon. But it must also be acknowledged that those who did try didn’t succeed.

Contradictory absolute truths

The reality here is more creative than the leaders, and comes up with countless absolute truths that contradict each other: The occupation causes terror, but terror existed here before the occupation; the territories must be evacuated in order to achieve peace, but no withdrawal has brought peace even a little bit closer; the absence of a diplomatic initiative strengthens terror, but terror was at its peak during the height of the peace process. How to reconcile all this and inspire hope?

Last summer, friends and I from the Women Wage Peace movement sat in a small tent outside the Prime Minister’s Residence for 50 days. We searched for common ground between us, in the belief that halting the violence is more important than this or that “truth.” We fasted as a way of remembering and raising awareness of the last war and preventing the next one, and we called for a regional alliance of moderates against extremists, the sane versus the insane.

Thousands of people from different segments of society stopped by to express their support. But then, weeks later, they had to make their way to another tent – the one erected in wake of the appalling murders of the Henkin couple in the West Bank.

It seems as if the first rains and the latest terror attacks have washed away everything we achieved in that tent. But then I remember hearing a father who lost his three daughters in the shelling in Gaza calling for an end to the violence, for reconciliation and not revenge. I met Palestinian women from Hebron who want to convince their fellow Palestinians to reach a compromise. I saw women who live in settlements declare that, for the sake of true peace, they would leave their homes. Where are all these voices now? Why are the moderate voices so quiet? We are the majority!

Sometimes I think the task of resolving the tragic conflict shouldn’t be left to diplomats or politicians, but rather to scientists. Maybe what’s needed here is the scientific viewpoint, from a far remove, to remind us just how tiny we are in the universe, how tiny the Middle East is, and even tinier the land is over which we are fighting. Maybe this humbling perspective would calm the zealotry, and drive home an understanding of what a terrible waste we are making of our allotted time on this planet.

The writer is an author and member of Women Wage Peace.