The Solution to Israel-Palestine begins & Ends with Equal Rights

July 3, 2019
Mordecai Schreiber

(Schreiber is a rabbi, author, translator and publisher.)

My friend Kamal Nawash is from Jerusalem. I am from Haifa. He was born a non-Jewish Palestinian under Israeli occupation. I was born a Palestinian Jew under the British Mandate. When Israel was born, I became an Israeli citizen. When Kamal was born, he became a stateless subject. I was allowed to vote in Israeli elections, and when I went to pursue my studies and career in the United States, I had the right to return home to Israel at any time. When Kamal immigrated to the United States, Israeli law prevented him from ever returning home even though his family traces its roots to the time of Jesus Christ.

If Kamal is lucky, he may be allowed to visit Israel for no longer than three months. But he is not allowed to land in Israel. He has to fly to Jordan and travel by land, a journey that is nothing less than torturous. Moreover, as a Jew, I am allowed to express myself freely in Israel. Kamal has no right to free speech. As a case in point, I asked Kamal to co-author this article with me but he refused even though he has done hundreds of TV and radio interviews. At first, I was disappointed, but then I learned that Kamal feared that Israel would punish him by not allowing him to visit his native home ever again.

I find all of this quite bizarre, because when I first met Kamal in 2005, it was at a rally against terrorism which he organized on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. I later had dinner with Kamal and his father. I remember Kamal telling me that the only way Israelis can achieve permanent peace with Palestinians is if Palestinians were granted equal rights. He said any other solution is a waste of time and delusional. To prove his point, Kamal asked me what is the difference between Palestinians from Gaza and those of Abu Gosh? They are the same people, but the people of Gaza violently resist Israel while the Palestinians of Abu Gosh coexist peacefully with Jews. I immediately knew what he meant. The people of Abu Gosh have a better deal. They are citizens of Israel and have substantially more rights than other Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

Israel's story is a story of triumph and tragedy. In 1948, when the State of Israel was born, Haifa, my hometown, had roughly 50,000 Arabic-speaking Palestinians (Muslim and Christian), and 50,000 Jews. For the most part we lived in peace and harmony. I remember Palestinians from neighboring villages bartering rice with Jewish housewives for brown sugar. Some Palestinian Arabs spoke Yiddish and some of the housewives spoke Arabic. As a kid, I enjoyed visiting Palestinian Arab children in our neighborhood since I liked the hummus and the falafel their mothers made more than my mother's gefilte fish. It was a mutually beneficial existence.

In many ways, 1948 was a tragic year for both people. We Jews were mourning the six million members of their families in Europe who perished in the Holocaust, while and Palestinians were mourning the loss of their homes and families. An Israeli writer wrote that if there was a Jewish homeland in 1938 instead of 1948, those six million would not have perished. True, we Jews won our War of Independence, but there were really no winners in 1948.

For the next seventy years, many efforts were made by both sides, often with the mediation of the United States, to find a solution, but all those efforts came to naught because both sides have refused to feel the pain of the other side. Both sides have rejected the humanity of the other side. Both sides have ignored the teachings of their respective religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-whose prophets have all taught the same thing: compassion, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence.

And then came 2019. Israel once again voted for a new government. It turned out to be the same old government that has been in power for too long. This time, however, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with the encouragement of President Trump, officially closed the road to peace. Netanyahu had succeeded in brainwashing the majority of Jews with the slogan, "there is no one to talk to." In other words, the Palestinians don't want peace. They only want to finish what Hitler had started!

My friend Kamal once told me that we need each other, and he was right. The land of Israel/Palestine is indivisible and both Israelis and Palestinians have strong historical and religious attachment to every square inch of the land. We are both children of the same ancestor, Abraham, through his sons Isaac and Ishmael. Kamal has advocated for the creation of one united country made up of two federal states similar to New York and New Jersey rather than two separate countries. I myself favor a confederation, but the idea is the same and the road to peace must include a shared future where Israelis and Palestinians are bound together economically and culturally. I have no doubt it can be done because I lived it myself as a child, and because I know that our many relatives and friends in Israel and in the occupied territories are sick and tire of war and yearn for peace.

Mordecai Schreiber

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