I recently participated in two dialogues about the crisis in the Middle East. One was with Palestinian Arabs at a local university. The second was with Jews who have been longtime supporters of the Oslo accords. The dialogue with the Arabs took place in a large college gym. Some 2,000 students filled the stands expecting some kind of vicious spectator sport. Instead of two sides coming out fighting, they witnessed a strange conversation.
The Arabs acted as if I did not exist. No matter what I said, it was as if I were thousands of miles away. Never did they relate to any of my points.
I had made a decision going in that my focus for the evening would be the policies of the Palestinian Authority that advocated violence. I showed copies of school books published by the Palestinians calling for a jihad to liberate all of Palestine with maps of the hoped-for country that included not just the West Bank and Jericho, but Tel Aviv, Haifa, Safed and Beersheba. They didn't say a word about it.
When the moderator asked them about protecting Jewish holy sites and challenged them because of the destruction of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, they responded that the Jordanians did that. "We," the dapper Palestinian doctor stated, "will protect all Jewish holy sites."
I then asked about Joseph's Tomb and the ancient synagogue in Jericho and finally described the military assault that had been launched that very day against the Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem by the PLO. They had nothing to say.
The evening ended with a new understanding of the Palestinians. No matter what you say, what you suggest, you are not there. Never did they engage in any real conversation or respond to any point that I raised.
A few nights later I did a repeat performance. This time the panel was made up of Jews at an event put on by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The teach-in, a product of a co-sponsorship by several Jewish groups, put me up against three articulate spokesmen in favor of the Oslo accords. They all spoke a similar language.
We are in a politically weak position, they said. We cannot rule over the Palestinians. Jerusalem must be divided. Only after we give in to the PLO demands will we live happily ever after with Yasser Arafat. They at least talked to me. They were willing to admit that "there were problems." But the mantra continued: "Oslo, Oslo, Oslo." they chimed away. Weeks of violence did not sway their religious fervor for the peace process. It was irrelevant that the deal was land for peace. Today 90 percent of the Palestinians live on land they control. We gave up the land and there is no peace.
Under duress they admitted there were problems. The Palestinians' support of violence is "troubling." The school system of the Palestinians that prepares the next generation for jihad "needs to be looked at." "We made a mistake not looking at the culture of violence in Palestinian society," they said.
But one of the speakers suggested that we too have not kept all the conditions. The Arabs suffer from checkpoints and security checks; both sides have broken the Oslo accords, he lamented.
Comparing terrorists who kill Jews to the Israeli Army's security procedures astounded me. Jews are being killed. The Israeli Army has reacted with a limited response. It checks Arabs who travel outside Palestinian-controlled territory for weapons, and for good reason: Arabs kill Jews. Comparing the action of a country that seeks to protect itself to a society that teaches violence to children and sends its soldiers to kill civilians is beyond belief.
Here lies the strange commonality between both groups that I debated. The Arabs don't want to come to terms with the fact that Jews cannot give them more land as long as they advocate violence. They do not want to give up their dream of liberating all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The Jews who remain vocal advocates of the Oslo accords refuse to recognize these bitter realities. They still support the dividing of Jerusalem, the uprooting of settlements, and giving up more land to Arafat. But there is one important difference between the two. The Arabs seemed to keep alive the hope to rid the Middle East of Jews. On the other hand, those Jews who still support the Oslo accords are motivated by a true concern for Israel and the stability of the Jewish people. But good intentions do not buy peace. The harsh reality is that Israel's security and strategic position has been seriously weakened. Instead of sitting politically impotent in Tunis, Arafat sits in Ramallah, shooting at the citizens of Jerusalem with guns provided by Israel. It's time to wake up to reality.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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