Shanti Sena Stories: In Honor of Liat
2009 September 1
Today was the first day of school in Palestine. I leaned on an empty concrete gunpost to watch the teachers and students coming through the Ibrahimi Mosque checkpoint on their way to school.
After a few minutes, an Israeli soldier wandered over and asked me, "Where are you from?"
"Oh, I lived for two years in Los Angeles." I had already noticed his English was better than average.
I offered, "Southern California is a lot like Israel."
"I loved the beaches and the coast."
"My favorite is the mountains. I love to ski and hike in the high mountains around Lake Tahoe. Did you ever get there?"
"No. My favorite is Las Vegas - it is most beautiful at night."
I asked, "What do you enjoy here in Israel?"
"On the beaches."
"What is your name?"
"Where were you born?"
"Are you on active duty, or reserve duty?"
"I've decided to make it a career."
Then Odet asked, "Why are you here?"
"I am a pacifist. My father's people have not fought in any wars for almost 500 years. So about 1880 they were driven out of the Ukraine, along with the Jewish people. Because I believe love can be stronger than hate, when there is war and fighting, I should go and offer love and reconciliation."
So Odet asked, "What is your solution here?"
"We international peacemakers don't have the solution. A long-lasting solution has to come from the people here who have to live with it.
But Odet persisted, "But what do you feel is probably going to happen here?"
"The settlers are in control. They will probably succeed in blocking any two-state solution, except maybe a few bantustans. And I know two very knowledgeable Palestinian who both say they do not know a single Palestinian who wants a state governed by Fatah, even if it is reasonably free and viable. It looks to me like the settlers will get all of Palestine, but with the Palestinians still here. Actually, Gandhi would say that one state is better than two states anyway, because then everyone has to learn to live together, instead of just fighting recurring wars.
I continued, "So then it will turn into a very long and difficult civil rights struggle - at least a century, probably more. Israel will become more like America. Martin Luther King was the key to the progress America has made, including the election of Barack Obama. We are learning to live together.
Odet asked me, "How do you try to make peace in this conflict?"
"Make friends. Talk with both sides, like I am now. Watch the checkpoints. When we are here, soldiers seem to behave better, as if their grandmothers were watching. Encourage people to respect each other, to see the humanity in each other, to build friendships. And the occupation must end. Occupations are necessarily unequal, disrespectful, humiliating, inhumane. No people on earth want to be occupied.”
"Prime Minister Sharon evacuated four towns for the Palestinians in 2005."
"You mean settlements? Outposts? You mean Gaza?"
"No, I mean in Judea and Samaria." (Most Israelis refuse to use the words 'West Bank' or 'Palestine'.)
I replied, "I never heard about that. When Sharon 'disengaged' from Gaza, he did not give the Palestinians any freedom. They get only a small fraction of the food and medicine and fuel for electricity and water pumps they need. Essentially no one can enter or leave."
Then I asked Odet, "What is your solution?"
"I don't know... I want peace - I'm tired of violence. I know that 80% of Palestinians are good people, and want peace."
I interjected, "Just like Israelis."
"The problem is the 20% who want to fight. We have to start with the next generation. The older generation is hopelessly violent."
I asked, "How much violence has there been in the last four years?"
"Less - it's been fairly quiet."
I said, "I don't think there have been any suicide bombings since 2006. I wish Hamas would stop the Qassam rockets - they just give Israel the excuse to continue the occupation and the violence."
Odet replied quietly, "My girl friend was killed by a suicide bomber."
"Oh! I'm sorry. I am so sorry... When was she killed?"
"Near Tel Aviv. She was a soldier. She was riding a bus home from her service."
"How old was she?"
"What was her name?"
"Odet, I am so sorry. I will pray for her, and remember her."
"Thank you..." Odet paused.
"I went through a long time of pain and struggle...
I am getting better, now, finally moving beyond it, after all these years."