Gershon Baskin, an Israeli with deep roots in that country’s peace movement suggested a framework for resolving the conflict in the Middle East with maintenance of the “Jewish character” of the State of Israel.I am almost four years older than the State of Israel. When I set foot in Israel for the first time in June of 1965, I had recently completed my Junior year at Columbia College. To be honest, I was a rather naïve 21-year-old, while Israel was an adolescent 17. Stepping off the KLM “Jumbo Jet” on June 29, 1965, I was surprised and a bit dismayed to see blades of grass peeking through the cracks in the tarmac of what was then a rather ramshackle Lod airport. I remember the flies; I remember the lizards that nobody was quick enough to catch. I remember visiting relatives in Hadera and hearing the loudspeaker on a passing truck proclaim: EIN MAYIM MACHAR (NO WATER TOMORROW). For me the summer of 1965 turned out to be a kaleidoscope of shattered preconceptions.
For the majority of my ten-week stay, I worked at various jobs on Kibbutz K’far Menachem, which is located more or less in the center of a triangle formed by Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beersheba. For a few days I toiled under a very hot sun in the apple orchard and the cotton fields; but then I moved into the shade of the mishchatah, the slaughter house, where for the rest of the summer I assisted the shochet, the ritual slaughterer,in the kosher dispatching of thousands of chickens.
While working on the kibbutz, the only hint that Israel was having any trouble with its neighbors was the occasional overhead roar of French-built Mirage jets piloted by members of the Israeli air force. Two other incidents during that summer challenged my wishful thinking that all was well on Israel’s borders. They occurred at opposite ends of the country, as I was touring with two British co-workers during a ten-day break from our labor on the kibbutz. Having hitchhiked to Elat – which at the time had virtually no tourist accommodations whatsoever – and having slept under the stars on the beach at the lip of the Red Sea, the three of us were hiking on an arid hilltop almost within sight of the Egyptian border, when much to our surprise we came across a large cache of weapons concealed under sandy colored tarps – what appeared to be rifles and machine guns, a grim reminder that Israel was in a state of siege.
A few days later I was walking alone after dark on the outskirts of kibbutz K’far Giladi, the very same kibbutz at which twelve Israeli soldiers were killed by a Hezbollah rocket August 6, 2006, when I was stopped by an Israeli soldier in a jeep. Quickly grasping that my comprehension of Hebrew was weak, he informed me in very clear and strongly worded English that I was a jerk and was endangering myself by wandering towards the Lebanese border; he was equally explicit in directing me to proceed immediately in the opposite direction back to the safety of K’far Giladi. Despite his gruff manner, I find it hard to imagine that on that tranquil summer evening the Israeli soldier could have envisioned the sea of trouble that lay ahead: the Six Day War of June, 1967, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the incursion into Lebanon in 1982, not one but two intifadas with the attendant suicide bombings, the current tense stand-off between Israelis and Palestinians, and the insistent rumblings of a bellicose Iran. Certainly on that summer evening in 1965, I myself was both unwilling and unable to see the clouds on the horizon. I preferred to hold fast to my dreams of an Israel safe and secure.
This past Thursday, May 8, – nearly 43 years later – Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’ut, its sixtieth birthday. During those sixty years since that Friday afternoon, May 14, 1948, when Israel declared itself to be an independent state, Medinat Yisrael, the nation has had much to celebrate. Nevertheless and most tragically, during these sixty years of statehood, Israel has never known peace. The supreme irony is that those most knowledgeable about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute have long grasped the broad outlines and even many of the details of any future two-state solution to the conflict.
When they spoke at Temple Beth El in Providence last March 26, Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora, co-founders of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, spoke of how the pieces of the puzzle could possibly be put together. Baskin, an Israeli with deep roots in that country’s peace movement, and Siniora, a member of the Palestinian National Council since 1990, suggested the following framework: a return to the pre-1967 borders, with an approximately 4-5% exchange of territory to account for such “facts on the ground” as the settlement/city Ma’aleh Adumim just east of Jerusalem; the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the new Palestinian State; West Jerusalem as the capital for Israel, and East Jerusalem as the capital for Palestine; the Western Wall under Israeli
control, the Temple Mount under Palestinian control; maintenance of the “Jewish character” of the State of Israel.
The bad news is that the window of opportunity for effecting a two-state solution along these lines is rapidly closing. If the Israeli Prime-Minister Ehud Olmert and the President of the Palestine National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. with some pushing from the Bush administration, cannot close a deal while they remain in office, they will each most likely be replaced by uncompromising right-wing nationalists: quite likely Benjamin Netanyahu for the Israelis and a strongman from Hammas for the Palestinians. Should that be the case, then any “solution” could be delayed for decades.
It has been said that given all that has happened to the Jewish community over our long and sometimes catastrophic history, “we would be crazy not to be paranoid.” Nevertheless, the Israel national anthem, Hatikvah, means “hope”, the motto of the state we call home. Therefore, as Israel celebrates her sixtieth birthday, even though the odds might be long, it is altogether fitting and proper that we give hope a chance.