A Strange Dichotomy

Having recently returned from the middle east, where I went to Ramallah and met Palestinians on their turf, I’ve been thinking about the risk I took, and also about the strange dichotomy that exists in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

In a recent interview, Yoel Benesh, an Israeli businessman whose company, Meditalia, manufactures sauces and spreads with ingredients purchased from Israel’s Arab neighbors, including Palestinians, told me about how his business has changed since 1996. His words highlighted the dichotomy that while much of Palestinian leadership is corrupt and intolerant, many ordinary Palestinians are decent and do want to coexist. Benesh told me, “I used to have Palestinian workers who I don’t have now. I had a great relationship with them.”

What happened?

“Israel started to close the border and for a month at a time, they couldn’t get to work, so I had to hire others. With merchandise it’s one thing. If something can’t get through, maybe it gets through the next day. But with workers it’s another matter.”

I am not one to bemoan the injustice to these Palestinian workers without placing blame squarely where it belongs: on the Palestinian terrorists and their backers whose suicide bombing campaign made it an absolute necessity for Israel to close the border. But talking directly with Benesh and others who have worked regularly with Palestinians, and interacting directly with Palestinians in Ramallah, I am able to say that it would appear there exist a number of ordinary Palestinians who would probably opt for peaceful coexistence, even including full acceptance of Israel, if they could have more secure lives physically and economically. How large this number of Palestinians is I don’t know, but it seems quite a few do exist.

On the one hand, there are the corruption and viciousness of elements of Palestinian leadership, the systematic, widespread, and well documented brainwashing of children to “martyrdom” that takes place in the territories and the desire of many of Israel’s enemies there, egged on by bad actors throughout the Arab Muslim world, to destroy Israel.

On the other hand, when one encounters Palestinians face-to-face, even on their turf, they can be warm, kind, and hospitable.

Traveling to the territories highlighted this strange dichotomy for me. I never forgot that while individual Palestinians can be lovely and progressive, there exists the underlying, and unacceptable premise in Palestinian society that Israel has no right to exist. In reality, this idea is unacceptable because we Jews are a Semitic people native to the middle east, because Israel is our historic homeland, and because most of the land that comprises modern Israel was indisputably legally acquired. Not to mention Israel’s numerous victories in defensive wars.

But just as it is important to understand the facts and refuse to cede our rights, the truth, or our security in the name of peace at any price, visiting the territories reminded me it is important to remember there is, quite simply, very little in life more important than life itself. The reality is, while Israel has been beseiged, and maligned, by its Arab neighbors for decades for the “crime” of existence, these are the neighbors with whom Israelis must live. And underneath all the propaganda–and let’s face it, the propaganda on the Arab side dwarfs that on the Israeli side–ordinary Palestinians have real, human concerns, as do ordinary Israelis.

Alas, human nature being what it is, most people follow the leader, and if the leadership is bullying and the society is not free, what can be the hope for peace? Still, grassroots efforts to bring together ordinary Palestinians and ordinary Israelis around common concerns deserve a closer look.

At lunch in Ramallah, I was seated beside a young Palestinian man, Khalid, who seemed diffident at first. We were served a bright green, sweet drink and I asked him what it was. “You don’t know naan?” he asked.

I confessed my ignorance, but said the drink was good and, since we were both guests of Daniel Lubetzky, who runs a food business that promotes cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, talked with him about the food: hummus, tabouli, grilled fish and bread. Before long we were chatting pretty easily, if not warmly. I said, “My understanding of what Danny does is bring everything to its most basic level, starting from a baseline of: most people on both sides don’t want to be shot or dismembered and don’t want such harm to come to their families. Is that it?”

He nodded and said, “That’s right.”

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