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Commentary

Better to Mourn the Loss of Dreams

March 22, 2002|BRADLEY BURSTON | Bradley Burston is the news editor of the English-language Internet site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

NATAF, Israel — We buried the neighbor boy last week.

He went away to war to keep the war from coming home to his family. He went to war barely a month ago, and now his family, which made it a practice to be humane and loving, is shattered.

The cemetery in this village faces a handsome ridge of hills, the invisible, inescapable border of the West Bank. The villagers, Israelis, were in favor of that ridge being part of an independent Palestine. They believed that the villagers on the other side deserved respect, friendship, a state of their own. They believed in peace.

Now they do not know what to believe.

The war was just days old, on Yom Kippur 2000, when a Palestinian arsonist came over to this side to try to burn the people out. Later, a Palestinian gunman came over to the only road to this village to ambush unarmed drivers of unarmored cars.

Now this. He was only 21. A life, his entire future, lowered by ropes to the floor of a new grave. There have been hundreds and hundreds of these on both sides. All of it for nothing.

The Palestinians could have had their independence without a fight. Israelis could have had security without a war. But there wasn't enough time, or trust, to make peace work.

Now a war is being fought because no one on either side can fathom how to stop it.

The war seems already to have gone on forever. The Holy Land is an altogether different place now. Before, a critical mass of Palestinians and Israelis agreed that the peace process, though troubled, was irreversible. The demons of extremism and resistance to accommodation seemed to have been finally laid to rest.

Then the war broke out, and every last demon was let loose. Militants on both sides fostered the notion that the other side could be eliminated. Each side soon declared that the only language the other understood was the language of force. But the war has achieved none of the goals of either side, in part because the language of force is a language of lies.

The language of force tells well-meaning people that acts of vengeance are actually self-defense. That the killing of innocents is the price of a war that both sides insist was forced on them. That the bone-deep humiliation felt by Palestinians and the bone-deep fear felt by Israelis can be redressed by more force. That either side can be bludgeoned into giving up its dreams.

But as more and more villagers take the walk to bury the neighbor boy or the old man killed crossing a street or the infant killed in his mother's arms, the language of force begins to ring hollow.

There is nothing in this war for anyone. Still, there's a steep price in ending it. Peace means the abandonment not only of the language of force but of cherished pipe dreams that fuel war.

The truth is this: Neither side will allow itself to disappear. Neither will gain sole dominion over the land and its sacred sites. Ultimately, many settlers will be forced to leave their homes, and many refugees will be unable to return to theirs.

It will not be a simple matter to leave behind a century-old, religiously sanctioned belief in force. But if the events of the last few weeks are any measure, it is better to mourn for the death of pipe dreams than for the victims of a war that the language of force has succeeded only in prolonging.

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