CHATSWORTH — Sasson Reuven, a former Israeli paratrooper, looked at the peace agreement between his country and the Palestinians with the ambivalence of a man who believes in offering an olive branch, while keeping a maced fist at the ready.
Reuven's mixed feelings about the historic mutual recognition pact reached Thursday by Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization leaders were representative of those held by many Israelis and American Jews.
To be sure, the agreement did not win universal support from Palestinians and Israelis. Opposition groups from both sides have vowed to derail the pact. But Reuven's willingness to give peace a chance in his troubled homeland is symbolic, because it represents the hope held by every soldier who has experienced the terror of combat.
"I'm fed up with war. Yes, I want the agreement. . . . But you tell me. Can I trust the Palestinians? (PLO Chairman Yasser) Arafat supports the peace treaty, but what about the other Palestinian political wings who still want to destroy my country? It's very, very hard to support (the agreement), but I will try because I want peace," said Reuven, a resident of Encino and an Israeli citizen.
Before coming to the United States in 1989--he married an American citizen and the couple have two young daughters--the 37-year-old Reuven was a member of an an elite airborne unit in the Israeli Defense Forces. He served on active duty between 1973 and 1976 and is a veteran of the sporadic clashes in the Golan Heights. He currently is an operations manager for a major U.S. computer company in the San Fernando Valley.
Like many others from Israel, Reuven knows the pain of having a loved one killed or wounded while serving in the tiny nation's armed forces. In Reuven's case, it was a 22-year-old cousin, a combat diver who died while serving in the military. Reuven's older brother, a veteran of the 1973 war, served in the same airborne unit with Reuven in the Golan Heights.
However, Reuven's decision to support the peace agreement also stems from concern for the safety of his parents, Iraqi Jews who still live in Israel.
"I don't want my mother to go to the market and be afraid that she's going to be hurt by terrorists. My parents have known war all their lives. Why can't they enjoy the rest of their lives in peace?"
Under terms of the agreement, Palestinians will be allowed a measure of self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War. But Reuven said the Israeli government can go a step further to assure the agreement's success, and at the same time rid itself of a constant problem.
"I don't need the Gaza Strip, Jericho and West Bank. Give them back to Jordan and Egypt and let them deal with these ongoing headaches. But I also believe the Israeli settlements should be allowed to remain in Gaza," said Reuven.
If both sides are serious about peace, and if extremists from both groups can be prevented from derailing the agreement, the pact could lay the groundwork for a new society, like the one that existed before Israel gained independence in 1948, Reuven said.
"Arabs and Israelis used to live like equals until 1948. We were like brothers. If there is a real peace, it can be like this again," said Reuven, whose family coexisted with Iraqi Arabs "before 1948, when Arabs and Jews began shooting at each other in the Middle East."
Still, doubts persist that the agreement will work.
"I don't support the Israelis who are protesting against the peace treaty, but I understand why they are doing it. Look at the other (Palestinian) side. Their groups are protesting too, and they are still dedicated to destroying my country. We must hope that peace will come from this, but we must also be ready to defend Israel," Reuven said.