Sound of Fury
The Messy Business of Peace, by Hanson Hosein
Tel Aviv, May 23, 2003
For the rest of the world, here's the story so far. Arab and Jew have been at each other's throats for more than a millennia. There can never be "peace in the Middle East" -- the Gordian knot of all oxy-morons. Which means that U.S. President George Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, are wasting their time trying to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to navigate down their "Roadmap to Peace."
And here's the litany of brutality to back up that view: suicide bombings, house demolitions, assassinations, home invasions, curfews and closures. None of these methods have kept the Palestinians in their place, nor pushed the Israelis into the Mediterranean Sea.
That said, anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in the continued occupation of the West Bank, or in the annihilation of the Jewish state, all say there's only one solution to the mess in the Middle East. And that's a lasting peace deal.
It's easy for outsiders to mistake fury for hatred. Because it's mostly anger and mistrust that keep Arab and Jew from making co-existence work. Otherwise, no one, is going anywhere.
Hassia Brin is an x-ray technician at the hospital in the northern Israeli town of Afula. The last of the five most recent suicide bombings in forty-eight hours ("a wave of terror" according to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) killed three people at the entrance of Afula's shopping mall. The town has had its share of terrorist attacks because it's so close to the West Bank. And Brin has seen the consequences of many a suicide bombing from her vantage point at the hospital. Still, she felt it was important to drive by the bombed out entrance of the Afula mall hours after the attack, and pay her respects.
"It's very hard for me," Brin told MSNBC. "I want peace. Everyone wants peace. I have many Arab friends, and we live together fine. We eat together in the restaurants." She pointed to the mall, close to tears. "This is very hard to see. But I still think we can live together."
They also die together. A Palestinian was among the three people whom the 19 year-old suicide bomber killed in Afula. And the physician in charge of the Afula hospital's emergency room is also Arab. Both part of that largely unreported demographic -- the one million Israelis Arabs (Palestinians who remained in the Jewish state after Israel was created in 1948) -- whom most of the international media ignore because they don't fit conveniently into the classic world-view of the Arab-Jewish conflict.
Neither does Nishan Balian. He's the third generation of Balians to run the Palestinian Pottery Shop in East Jerusalem. Balian pottery adorns exhibits in museums around the world, as well as the walls of the sacred Muslim site, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City. Since the latest Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, business at his store has dropped off considerably. People are afraid to shop on the Arab side of the city.
But Balian is doing a roaring business on the Internet. He sells to Arabs, Americans and Europeans on palestinianpottery.com. And he continues to ship his hand-painted plates and tiles to Israelis who live as close as forty-five minutes away in Tel Aviv through armenianceramics.com -- a necessary change in URL's for Israelis who are unable to relate "Palestinian" with anything pleasant in their lives right now.
"I believe in peace. I believe in coexistence," Balian said. "I believe in the two-state solution. I have very good Israeli friends. But I'm very pessimistic right now."
That pessimism comes from a view that the leaders on both sides are playing games by playing with fire. The Palestinians say they can't do anything to stop the violence until Israel throws them a bone by accepting the Roadmap to Peace. Israel says it can't accept the Roadmap until Palestinian terrorism stops. The current joke around here is that newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is a man everyone wants to have in that position -- except the Palestinian people. On the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, Abbas is seen as a weak puppet of the Israelis and the Americans. And the Israelis continue to believe that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat continues to pull the strings behind the scenes, giving tacit approval to the militants to step up their pressure on Israel, and on his new rival in the Prime Minister's seat in Ramallah.
Abbas sat down with Hamas leaders this week in Gaza. He asked the militant Palestinian group to stop its attacks against Israelis. Hamas responded by planting a roadside bomb near an Israeli bus twenty-four hours later in the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. Ariel Sharon used the continuing attacks as a reason to postpone his trip to Washington to meet President Bush -- a few Israeli journalists joked that the ageing Israeli hawk didn't want to go anyway. And while everyone braced themselves for a harsh Israeli military retaliation to the "wave of terror," it never came. Ostensibly because Sharon wanted to give Abbas a chance to do something about it himself.
But when it came for Abbas to try and "win the street" and make his first real public appearance in the Gaza town of Beit Hannoun, he was thwarted -- by Ariel Sharon. The Israeli Army has occupied Beit Hannoun on and off for months, trying to stop mortar attacks from that town against Israel. After Abbas met with Sharon in Jerusalem in mid-May, Israel pulled out of Beit Hannoun as a gesture of goodwill. But just hours before Abbas was to visit a few days later, Israeli tanks and bulldozers pulled right back into town. How was the new Palestinian leader supposed to rally people to his cause with the occupier's military hardware as a backdrop? And how can Abbas prove to Sharon that he can win the peace when Hamas' latest recruits continue to blow themselves up as close to innocent people as they can get, whether Israel eases its occupation or not?
It's a messy business, made even worse because everything on this small piece of the planet is somehow inextricably linked. Here, it's difficult to determine who is friend or foe, in the political arena, on the streets or at the entrances to shopping malls. Indeed many of the suicide bombers who succeeded in detonating their murderous load, were able to slip past tight security because they could easily disguise themselves -- as Israelis.