A few weeks ago, I sat in on a deep conversation with Mahmod, a friend of mine from school, and an Arab who lives in Israel. We talked about the current situation between Jews, Arabs and Palestinians in Israel and exchanged opinions about possible solutions. Up until then, Mahmod and I never exchanged more than a few words, and this was the first time I sat with him to an honest and open conversation, and got to listen to what he has to say about every part of the conflict.
Mahmod told me he does not like the way the Israeli government is working. He told me he feels like an outsider, a second class citizen. He told me that he finds the fact he was taught my history, and not his, at school, absurd, and that even if he is equal by law, he does not feel equal in his day to day life. When I asked what he thinks is the best solution, he said that while a solution must be found, it cannot be found unless all sides involved will sit and talk. He said that while he does not like the way things are, he does not approve the attempts to solve the conflict with the use of violence, and that this way- there will never be a solution. Before I got the chance to ask to what violent he is referring to, he said: "I am talking about both sides. I am against suicide bombing, but also against the Israeli conquest which caused all of this. I believe there must be liberation from this domination. However, there must be a better, non -violent way, for us to solve this issue and be liberated."
He is a political activist, and thriving for a change in Israel, which will make him an equal, not only as he is now- by law. This solution, to his opinion, is to turn Israel into a non-religious state. "Not a Jewish state, not a Muslim state, just Israel." In this hour-long talk, I found myself nodding in consent to many of the things he said, but we also found many disagreements between us. When we decided to "cut to the chase," and discuss the best way to solve this deep Israeli conflict, we found a common ground: looking forward, and putting the hurts of the past behind.
Who was here first? This question arises over and over again in almost every conflict-related discussion. On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly of the U.N voted for the partition of what was once supposed to be named Palestine into two states- one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Jews accepted this partition, while the Arabs refused it. They wanted the entire territory and were unwilling to settle. They claimed that before that, this territory was theirs, and it cannot be taken away from them. They claimed that their homes were destroyed and as the state of Israel was declared, many of their families were torn apart from their ground. To that, the Jews replied that even before the Arabs were there, this land belonged to the Jews, when it was given to them by God many, many years ago.
This argument can go on and on. We will never be able to settle it, because we will never know who was actually here first. But come to think of it- why does it matter? Many things happened many years ago: Africa was owned by Britain and France, the United States was divided, and Rome was an empire. As the wind of change blew and the world kept spinning, almost nothing remained as it was.
Now, I know it is very hard for us to let go of the past, but just think of all the pain, sorrow and hate that we've suffered from because of our insistence of clinging on to the past. Just think of how many lives both sides lost in the name of the argument of "who was here first?" Is it really worth it? Some might say it is. Those are the people who believe that the past is what defines who we are today, and what will make our future meaningful. But just think what would our future look like if we will continue fighting and killing in the name of the past? Will we even have a future?
In order to solve this conflict, we must realize that there is no answer to "who was here first?" because the world is constantly changing. We must put that question behind us, and look forward, facing the question we really must answer: "Who is here now?" Then, we must ask ourselves: "Who will be here next?" This does not mean we must let go of every part of our collective history, but only that specific part- the chicken and the egg part, which causes nothing but pain. Then, only then, we can start working on solving the many problems we have here, and start thinking of a solution. This takes a lot of sacrifice, I know, but if we do this, if we will look forward instead of backwards, we might find a way to solve this conflict, without losing who we are, and still have a meaningful future.