There is a well-known story about a rabbi who was called upon to settle a dispute between two of his followers. The first man poured out his complaints to the rabbi, and when he finished, the rabbi said, “You’re right.” Then it was the second one’s turn. When he finished, the rabbi said, “You’re also right.” The rabbi’s wife, who had been listening to the conversation, said incredulously to her husband, “What do you mean, ‘You’re also right’? They can’t both be right!” The rabbi thought for a few moments, and then replied, “You know, my dear, you’re also right.”
If an alien were to land in our general vicinity, his response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would probably be like that of the rabbi in the story: You’re both right.
The Palestinian people are right when they expect and demand independence. The Palestinian father is right to long for a life in which he can sleep safe at home without fearing a midnight pounding on his door. The Palestinian woman is right to want to go from place to place without having to go through security checkpoints or risk arrest.
The Jewish people were also right when they returned to their homeland after a 2,000 year exile, establishing their own national home. Jews are right to fear hatred and persecution, right to believe that only by relying on their own resources, can they prevent the nightmare of another Holocaust. Jews are right to state that they entitled to all they have achieved through their own efforts. The Jewish people are correct when they point out that the world has totally unreasonable expectations of them, expectations that are never imposed on any other people. And they are also right to fear that if they give away some of their land today, then tomorrow the Palestinians might demand it all.
Friends and neighbors may say, “Why do you, the grandson of a refugee from Germany, offspring of kibbutz founders, army officer, and member of a religious community in the Galilee, feel the need to justify the position of our enemies?” I reply, “I don’t have to justify anything, but I do have to understand.” It is not hard to find untruths, gross exaggerations and significant holes in the Palestinian version of the conflict. But even the most extreme among us cannot deny that Palestinians lack freedom, live in very difficult conditions, declare themselves to be a people and are hungry for independence.
In the 90s I believed, along with many others, that we could find a way to live side-by-side. We had the feeling that it was beginning to happen, that it would come to pass soon. I remember that I was even somewhat concerned, during my MA studies in Boston, that peace would break out before I could return to Israel. What would we only give to be able to have such concerns nowadays!
The speeches of Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly might have been the last nails in the coffin of the dream of living side-by-side – if not actually in peace, then at least living without war. But this does not seem possible any time in the foreseeable future. Both speeches focused on why I am right/fearful/angry/threatened and why the other side is threatening/thieving/untrustworthy. From their own perspectives, they were both right. And with “right” like that, who needs “wrong”?