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A Mideast Miracle Requires Our Will

April 07, 2002|BENJAMIN J. HUBBARD

I was 7 years old when told of the armistice. Grandpa's troop ship had turned around in the middle of the ocean, my mother explained, "because of the armistice," and he didn't have to fight in World War I.

"But what's an armistice?" I asked. She thought for a moment and replied, "It's when all the soldiers laid down their guns and stopped fighting."

My child's mind envisioned rifles and pistols falling from the hands of thousands of soldiers, as if some mysterious power had made them do so. Now, more than half a century later while painfully reflecting on the Israeli-Palestinian agony, I've recalled that scene and am praying for another armistice.

How quaint: as if the hundred-year struggle over this ancient, treasured turf--this Canaan, Judea, Palestine, Israel--will end with a miracle. But it needs a miracle, an armistice, so that I might tell my grandchildren that Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters laid down their arms and stopped killing one another.

So how will my miracle happen? To begin, everyone who loves or feels compassion for the Israelis and Palestinians and wants them to live in peace must resolve never to give up trying--in whatever way imaginable--to foster reconciliation no matter how long it takes. Some will pray, others will entreat leaders and their advisors on both sides through phone calls, letters, e-mails and in person, to step back from the mutual madness that has gripped the region and its people.

Still others will urge the Bush administration to get more involved, for only America has the influence to break the bloody stalemate. Key individuals in America--Jews, Arabs, Muslims--will need to tell their counterparts in Israel-Palestine that only painful compromises will produce a solution.

For example, many of the Israeli settlements, especially in the Gaza Strip, will have to be dismantled. And the Palestinian demand for a right of return to former homes or property in what is now Israel will have to be recognized, even if the most feasible long-term solution may be monetary compensation.

The United States, Europeans, Saudis and other Persian Gulf states will need to craft an economic recovery plan for the region, especially Palestine. (A Mideast common market could eventually rival Europe's.) The Israelis, Palestinians and Syrians will need to cooperate, in particular, on finding enough water for long-term survival. Additionally, the Palestinian refugee camps must be dismantled and new homes and lives created for their inhabitants.

The Palestinians must cease terror by suicide and their "death to Israel" mind-set, and the Arab world cease its cruel anti-Semitic rhetoric. Israel also must reach back into history and remember how it feels to be an occupied nation, as Palestine is today. The Romans held Judea and Galilee in a hundred-year grip until the revolt of AD 66-70 led to the destruction of the second temple and the end of Jewish statehood for nearly 1,900 years.

There are faint flickers of hope even now after the "Passover massacre" in Natanya and the locking up of Yasser Arafat like a caged bird in Ramallah. At the very time this worst of massacres occurred, the Arab League unanimously accepted the peace plan of Saudi Prince Abdullah that would grant recognition of Israel by all 21 Arab nations in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and some sort of redress for Palestinian refugees. It is a vague and imperfect plan but a start.

Will Palestinian and other Arab hard-liners ever give up their desire to possess all of geographical Palestine?

Not for the foreseeable future.

Will Israeli zealots ever want less than all of Biblical Israel?

Again, not for a generation. Will the Israelis ever be able to trust the Palestinians and the Arab world generally? Not for a long time, perhaps never.

But peace rests on guarantees and mutual benefits. Trust may follow eventually.

The skeptics will scoff at this dream of a Mideast armistice, of peace after all the wars. "It's all been tried before," they will say. But it's never been tried enough. Peace will emerge, weapons will fall from the hands of soldiers, if we really will it.


Professor Benjamin J. Hubbard is chairman of the Department of Comparative Religion at Cal State Fullerton, where he teaches a course comparing Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

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