Peter Rashkin  

Aug 24, 2003

Is war inevitable?

I just now looked at my previous message, and I was embarrassed by the superficial irony in the title ("Good times for an Israel news junkie"). I think it was inappropriate when I wrote it (July 1, Hamas cease fire just signed), but it sounds stupid today.

The bus bombing in Jerusalem last week. I think it was in Elana's neighborhood, where we walked. I haven't gotten to the video yet, but I may have street scenes from the very spot. I read the names, in the LA Times, of the Americans who had been killed, hoping not to recognize one.

Many -- maybe most -- Israeli Jews have lost a friend or relative to a terrorist attack. Some innocent person going about his or her business, taking the bus to school, waiting to get into a club or restaurant, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were going to have lunch with her tomorrow. You just spoke to him last week. Now, gone. For nothing. Of course security and the need to combat terrorism dominate Israeli politics.

Do we have to do this? In his guestbook entry and in our conversation, my brother Bob argues that we do, that when population outstrips resources it is our nature to choose up sides and slit each other's throats. Religion, art, philosophy are just a thin veneer. When there are twenty of us and enough water for ten, well let's just see who gets to drink. That's who we are.

Looking at history and current events, not to mention anthropology, it's hard to argue with the premise that we are an ingenious but violent species, and that as we have "advanced" we traded in our clubs for arrows, then for guns, then for bombs. But we are still the same animal, so what can we expect but escalating conflict?

When I think about all those "ologies" and "ographies," and the long dismal expanse of human history, this pessimistic view of human nature makes sense. When I think about walking in Jerusalem with Elana, going to Ramallah with Talal, sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe with Sergiu or walking around the kibbutz with Srul, it doesn't. I don't see these people killing each other for water, any more than I see myself doing it. I know, I know...we aren't really thirsty yet. But we have the capacity to plan, to conserve, to share. We have compassion for each other. We have the power and ability to live in peace and justice.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the quest for a world in which reason, justice and compassion trump the baser elements of man's nature is what brought my next interviewee, Srul Alexander, to Israel in 1972. Kibbutz socialism must have seemed like the most dynamic social experiment around. Thirty years have passed; he has raised a family and been active in kibbutz leadership. He says that the system had positive aspects as well as problems.

"Twenty-five years ago," he told me, "I would get up in the morning and milk cows, and I would think I'm bettering the situation of the kibbutz and the whole country. Now my focus is closer to home."

We discussed this and more in our first interview, which is now up on the site.

July 1, 2003

Good times for an Israel news junkie

For the Israel junkie, I've become, these are good times. Not a day goes by without some good meaty stories on NPR, in the LA Times, and in my email inbox, my primary news sources.

After the Aquaba meeting last month, I began to wonder if peace would break out before I got to finish my project and Make a Difference. Especially because I have just been so busy with other work and family and such that I haven't been able to move this project forward. Then there were some bombings and assassinations and such, and it looked like I didn't have to worry about Voices of Israel and Palestine becoming irrelevant.

Today the headlines are about the Hamas cease-fire and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. That's great. Those are good things. Maybe George Bush, in his drive toward empire, can actually impose peace in the Mideast. I really hope so. I remember that David Rubin and others told me they didn't see a hope for peace without outside intervention, which at this time almost certainly means the US. So be it.

I don't think it will happen. I don't think Bush has the integrity or determination to do what has to be done, which in my opinion is largely to hold Israel's feet to the fire and make it come to terms with the real facts of the occupation, and to take steps to end the oppression of three million Palestinians. I know a lot of people will disagree with this view, but that's how it seems to me. I was very pleased to hear Sharon use the word "occupation," and even more pleased when he said recently that the Palestinians have a right to a contiguous state. That's a very important word. But it will take more than words to end this conflict. I hope I'm wrong, and that the end will be soon.

Meanwhile, I'm pleased to announce the next interview in this series has gone on line. I think it's an extremely interesting and important one, but I'm awfully close to this material. You will have to judge.

The interview is with author, educator and Catholic parish priest Elias Chacour. I think Fr. Chacour is the biggest "celebrity" I interviewed for this project. (Not to slight you other big celebrities whom I interviewed!) I certainly have met a number of people here who know of his work. I was surprised that no one I met in Israel seemed to know who he was.

If you know of Fr. Chacour's work, I know you will want to check out this interview. If you don't, perhaps this would be a good opportunity to meet him.

April 2, 2003

Hello Friends

When I was in Israel, I learned that "Goodbye Friend," Clinton's eulogy for Rabin, is something of a dirge for the Israeli peace process, which seems to have also suffered an untimely death. I wonder, could "hello friends" be a benediction of sorts for a new peace process lurking in the hearts of the people?

I have just finished editing the first set of interviews, recorded in the first three days of our trip in Tel Aviv. It is a good place to stop and review. But first I want to express my gratitude to the people who consented to be interviewed for this project. And also to the friends here who "gave" them to me. Thank you all. Each of you has enlarged my understanding. I hope that by you here, others will have the opportunity to see things with your eyes for a little while.

Just look over the list of interviewees at right. The more I study it and live with it, the more amazing it seems to me because it is such a diverse group, so inclusive, and yet they (we) are all connected in a web of friendships and relationships. That's how they got on the list. A friend gave me their names, or a friend of a friend. I don't mean to belabor this, but I read the paper every day, I listen to the doesn't seem good to me. It seems to me that war is escalating and even becoming permanent, and of course I'm thinking about the US in Iraq, but for Israel and Palestine as well. And there seems to be no way out of this cycle of violence and war.

Or maybe there is a way; unlikely, remote, improbable, like the capillary oozing of water. Maybe the spreading web of friendship can tame the dogs of war.

I just read an interesting monologue by David Hare, VIA DOLOROSA. At one point he says: "We're all blind. We all see only what we want to. Don't we blank out the rest?"

How else to describe the different Israelis - the different worlds even - described by, for example, Sergiu Samuel ("No Arab village was touched, no Arab land was taken" in the West Bank) and Ran HaCohen ("Among the illegal things the settlers do is grabbing the hills and taking land illegally").

They can't both be right, can they? And yet I am absolutely sure from meeting them that they are both thoughtful, good-hearted men telling me truthfully how they see things. "Everyone has his truth," Abraham Huli told us.

Perhaps it's like the blind men and the elephant: each feels a different part of the beast and describes it differently. But I also think that Ran is right when he says most Israelis really don't know how terrible the occupation is. And don't want to know.

They do know about bus bombings, and they feel that they are under attack. "It's a war. It's not a picnic," Ronen Zadoc said. Abuses happen, but we have to defend ourselves.

A couple of weeks have passed since I wrote the preceding paragraphs, and I keep meaning to get back and "finish" this, but I guess it's not going to happen. Have to move on. I'm anxious to start editing the next batch of interviews.

For now, I'd like to leave you with a quote from POT PLANET by Brian Preston, who traveled to 12 countries to compare culture, law and practices regarding marijuana:

In the last chapter I urged people to get more international, to get up off their asses and see the world. I meant it, and I still do. Everywhere in the world, and that includes Muslim countries, when strangers meet face-to-face, they put aside larger disputes and judge one another as individuals.

Mar 03

Why is the international community so critical of Israel?

I remember one evening at Kibbutz Shumrat, Srul's 24-year-old son Tamir asked me this probing question, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

We were watching TV coverage of the ambush in Hebron in which 12 Israeli soldiers were killed, and I think Tamir, like so many Israelis, was feeling under siege. Look what they are doing to us. They hate us. We have to defend ourselves.

Tamir asked rhetorically: "Why is it that when Israeli tanks go into the West Bank, the whole world gets indignant, but many worse things happen elsewhere, and no one notices?"

I thought of that the other morning (Mar. 3, 2003) as I was reading the LA Times. In general, I think the Times' coverage of mideast affairs is excellent. Comprehensive and objective. I know some will disagree with me about this. But I maintain that if you read Page 3 of the LA Times every day, you will have plenty of good, current information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you think that Israel is under siege from its hostile neighbors and needs to take extraordinary security measures, you will find plenty on Page 3 to support that view. If you believe that the Israeli occupation is onerous and oppressive, you'll find plenty to support that view as well.

Here's what Page 3 looked like on Mar. 3:

I don't have a problem with this coverage. It's news. It's a conflict. Shit happens, and we should know about it. Next week a bus will be blown up in Tel Aviv or something, and the Times will cover it just as vigorously. Good for them.

But when I got to Page 5, I remembered my conversation with Tamir. There were a couple of paragraphs under "In Brief" about the massacre of hundreds of civilians by pro government forces in the Congo. "In brief" is right!

And you just have to wonder why the slaying of nine Palestinians by Israel gets half of Page 3, with a picture, while the slaying of 467 Congolese gets two paragraphs on Page 5. Is this what Tamir was talking about?


Jan 03

I'll have more to say here as I go along, but for now I want to recall a small item I came across in the Nov. 14 Jerusalem Post. A "kippa" is kind of "yarmulke," a head covering for religious Jews. Arad is in the desert (I think), not far from Masada, south of the West Bank.


Hi Friends,

I'm back from Israel, and it was a wonderful trip. I interviewed more than 30 people in Tel Aviv, the Western Galilee, Jerusalem and Ramallah. I came back with 44 hours of videotape and a head full of contradictions! Now comes the big job of reviewing the tapes and reporting on the interviews. My plan is to go through them in order and put up clips and articles as I process them. I'll hot up the list below as I go along. Please come back frequently to read my reports. I think you will find much of interest here...I know I did, and I am looking forward to sharing my conversations.

The voices presented here represent a broad range of experiences, impressions and view points. It is my goal to let them have their say, and as much as possible to leave my own conclusions out of the picture. But as it probably says somewhere in the Talmud, "A zebra can't leave his stripes at the door."

So, although I have tried to leave my opinions out of it, and to approach every interview with an open mind and heart, I have only been partially successful. And before I go any further, I want to thank all of you who consented to be interviewed, who gave me your time and attention. Especially those with whom I am inclined to disagree. Your perspectives, especially, have added to my understanding and feeling for this wonderful, terrible perpetual troublespot. I wish you all peace and happiness.



Voices of Israel and Palestine





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Nov. 24

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