A Kindling of Hope: Bridging Gaps in the Middle East

Article excerpt

Every so often in the tense and troubled lands of Israel and Palestine, glimmers of hope appear. For a week in mid-November, the glimmers flickered a little more brightly.

Amir Peretz displaced Shimon Peres as leader of the Labor Party, giving new life to the peace movement in Israel. (And even Ariel Sharon, in quitting Likud, has taken a step away from extremists.) Condoleeza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, brokered a deal to open up the borders of Gaza. The parents of 12-year-old Ahmed Ismail Khatib, a Palestinian mistakenly killed by Israeli soldiers, opted to donate their son's organs to six critically ill patients in the hospital where the boy died, all of them Israelis.

So an act of politics, an act of diplomacy, and an act of humanity kindled hope in this region.

But things are never simple. Within days, the Israeli government had invited bids for building 13 new homes in the largest settlement in the West Bank, adding to the contested settlements that encroach upon the land designated for Palestine, and significantly tightened security checkpoints at Bethlehem.

For all the glimmers, one of the hard realities of this region is the huge gap in understanding between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine. At a conference in mid-November at the International Center of Bethlehem, there was much talk about the perceptions of land.

For Israel, said Jerome Segal, scholar, author, and head of the Jewish Peace Lobby in the United States, "to be a Jew is to be part of a people and a people has to have a place of self-determination." For historical and scriptural reasons, that place for Jews is Israel.

For Palestinians, the land is often the very specific place where a family has lived. The ancestors of Father Elias Chacour had lived in the village of Biram in northern Israel for hundreds of years. But as Jewish forces consolidated their victory in the 1948 conflicts that Israelis call the "war of independence" (and Palestinians call "the catastrophe"), Chacour's family was driven from that village. For them and for so many other Palestinians, the land is the particular place that they consider home. "We will not forget our land," Chaeour's nephew, also named Elias, said as he stood amid the ruins in Biram. …