Reaching across the divide (II)

by Akiva Eldar
Dear Salameh,

Thank you so much for your trust. I truly appreciate your effort to start this dialogue with an Israeli colleague while our people, instead of negotiating peace, are killing each other.

Our peoples are at a critical juncture, and we cannot afford to dwell on the wounds of our past. You will surely agree with me, my dear Salameh, that in light of the threats looming over our area and affecting peace in the entire world, the peace camp and the pragmatic forces must focus on searching for a cure for the severe malady which assails us from all directions - the malady of fanaticism and violence.

Nevertheless, in order for this dialogue to lead us to common ground, allow me to disagree with a few of your comments, mainly those pertaining to the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First of all, I was glad you mentioned the terror attacks led by the right-wing Jewish resistance against Arab civilians before 1948. To these I may add the vile attack by Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 believers at prayer in a Hebron mosque, as well as the harassment of Palestinians by the settlers.

My friends and I at Haaretz and other Israeli media outlets incessantly report the sins of occupation. The "Hagana" [the mainstream Jewish resistance against the British mandate] and Ben-Gurion's government fought the Jewish terror organizations and excluded them from their camp. Four hundred thousand Jews, myself included, demonstrated against the Begin-Sharon government during the first Lebanon War, till it was forced to create a formal investigation committee. All this because our army was in control of the area while Christian criminals massacred Muslims at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Dear Salameh, I remember the day, in the early summer of 1994, when King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the peace treaty between both our countries. A Jordanian newspaper editor who was introduced to me in Washington refused to shake my hand and respond to my excited congratulations on this historical occasion. Several years later, the Jordanian Press Association expelled a group of journalists who had visited the Haaretz offices in Tel Aviv. Most leading Egyptian intellectuals also boycott Israel and avoid contact with even the most moderate elements of Israeli society. The reason, or excuse, is always the Israeli occupation.

As you noted in your article, dear Salameh, and as you found out during our joint lecture in Washington in early November, I do not hide my severe criticism of the Israeli government's policy in the territories. But I do believe that the highlighting of failures and the allocation of blame are not the sole, or even the main, role of those who shape public opinion. Our main challenge is constantly to sound the alarm regarding the dangers of extremism and the threat of war looming over our area, while showing the benefits of reconciliation and the fruits of peace. A necessary condition for our success is finding the common ground between the Israeli peace camp and the Arab peace camp.

As you noted, Israeli governments have been indifferent, or even hostile, to peace programs based on U.N. resolutions, the Clinton parameters, the "road map," or the Arab League's Beirut resolution. Our politicians cynically use the terror attacks and the propaganda led by Arab fanatics as a black smokescreen. The role of our colleagues in the Arab media and elites is to help us lift this thick screen and show our readership that behind it are millions of people who long for a secure and peaceful life.

The Jewish minority which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbours from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority. But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their land, and deliberately murder their children, are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.

Your claim that Israeli occupation inspired the first Arab terrorists as well as international terrorism is far from accurate (unless the definition of "occupation" applies to Haifa and Tel Aviv as well). The PLO first recognized Israel and U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and renounced terrorism only as late as 1988. The Palestinian covenant, which called for the destruction of the Zionist entity, was only cancelled following the Oslo agreement, signed five years later. Unfortunately, the light which shone over Oslo is dwindling, in great part because of our leaders, who missed countless opportunities, but also because of indolent Palestinian leaders.

As your letter shows, the hurts of the past and subjective narratives are in the way, even when it comes to such true lovers of peace as yourself. Our peoples are handicapped. Unless our friends in the West will offer us crutches, immediately, we shall fall headlong. And when the East falls, it will not fall alone. Unfortunately, dear Salameh, the light will start shimmering in the East only if the West will awaken, and help the peace forces in our area to turn back the forces of darkness.


Akiva Eldar is Senior columnist for Haaretz in Tel Aviv ( This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 26 December 2006,
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Reaching across the divide (I)
Reaching across the divide (III)
Reaching across the divide (IV)
Reaching across the divide (V)
Reaching across the divide (VI)
Reaching across the divide (VII)
Reaching across the divide (VIII)
Reaching across the divide (IX)
Reaching across the divide (X)
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Other articles in this series

Reaching across the divide (I) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (III) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (IV) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (V) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VI) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (VII) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VIII) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (IX) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (X) by Salameh Nematt