The Two Peoples of the Holy Land

The real divide is not between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those who fear peace and those who hate it.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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President Clinton presiding over the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
President Clinton presiding over the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.Credit: AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught, from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

— South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1949

It wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t always true that the Holy Land is divided into two kinds of people – those who fear peace, and those who hate it.

You’re not born this way. You have to be taught, because there is something unnatural about the idea that peace should be considered dangerous, treasonous, defeatist, lily-livered.

But we’ve been carefully taught. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians, as one. A rare consensus, which lands all of us, the peoples of the Holy Land, each in our own pain and our own grief and our own bitterness, each in our equally and oppositely legitimate aspirations and hopes and claims for justice, in the same mire.

It wasn’t always true that a majority of people – Israelis and Palestinians both – want to see a peace based on two states, yet are terrified of what haters of peace are capable of doing in response. But it’s true now.

There was rejoicing by both Palestinians and Israelis that September in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were announced. But much has changed. And the people who changed it, the extremists in our midst, have coined an entire Orwellian dialect to explain why peace is to be hated. More than war.

We know how they work. They intimidate us into silence and inaction, they guilt us into tolerating their intolerance, they blackmail us and hold us hostage with political machinations and obscene religious pronouncements, and because it’s so hard to just live here – and try to live a decent life – we’ve lost the strength and the faith we need to stand up to them.

We know that many of the extremists are willing to literally die to keep us from that peace. And we know that they are willing to take many, many of us - children, the elderly, the pregnant and infirm included – with them when they go.

They have taught the rest of us well. They have incinerated rush-hour buses and assassinated a prime minister and rocketed residential neighborhoods and massacred worshippers at prayer. They have carried out drive-by shootings and attacked children and uprooted whole orchards, all to get us to fear the peace they so despise.

They have taught us that there is only one thing certain about peace in the Holy Land: It will hurt.

In many ways, extremists made our children, the generation that grew up after the signing of the Oslo Accords, what they have become – distrustful of the idea that peace is possible, the concept that democracy is desirable, the hope that the future can possibly be at all better.

Fear is, after all, its own best engine. Fear makes us hesitate to take the very actions that can address our fears. Fear lulls and fools us into believing that things are so fragile and darkly hazardous that any step forward that we take to address them is a step into cataclysm and abyss.

Fear teaches us that No is a word of might and clarity and self-esteem and stature, while Yes is a word of vulnerability and uncertainty and deference and submission.

How do you fight fear? How do you deal with the monster hidden and lurking out of view under the bed, the shadow behind the closet door?

Maybe, for us, the first step is to open our eyes. Let there be sight. For our part, as Israelis, under our covers on this side of the walls we have built, we’ve only now begun – and not entirely of our own free will, to look at Palestinians, and at ourselves.

Recently, thanks in part to peace activists and a new world of available technology, we have begun to see on the evening news what happens when we send our soldiers, that post-Oslo generation, past the separation barrier and into occupation duty. We have watched as our soldiers – themselves fearful - have opened fire without apparent cause, arrested small children without legitimate cause, killed people without just cause.

We need to see this. We have to find ways to see what we are afraid of. We have to know. We have to know what lack of peace is like. And what it takes to keep it going.

We need to see more of this. Let a hundred cameras blossom. A thousand. Let there be sight.

Yes, we have every reason to be scared. Because all of us, Palestinians and Israelis both, know the extremists in our midst. We are, after all, family. We know with what passion our madmen and women hate that idea of a peace.

After all this, though, two other things are true:

1. If you still believe in the possibility of peace, you are as much a true believer as the fiercest extremist.

2. You fight fear by not being alone. We’re not alone. Incredibly, among Israelis and Palestinians both, there are still many more of us, than there are of them.

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