The streets of the Holy Land tell a different story
By Hanson R. Hosein
JERUSALEM, Oct.11 — Millennial doomsayers must be having a field day with the scenario in the Mideast. Here it is the year 2000, and a brief visit by a hawkish Israeli politician to a sacred site in the heart of Jerusalem has set into motion a chain of events that threatens to suck other nations into a devastating war. Judging by the TV pictures, the Holy Land is burning and the End of the World has arrived. But today’s reality is less dramatic than the biblical vision.
DESPITE THE HORRIBLE images of violence, and whatever one might think of Arabs or Jews, this is not a struggle between good and evil. It’s hard to even say that the conflict arose because the Israelis hate the Palestinians and vice versa. Both sides willingly and eloquently make their case to the international media, both sides believe they are right and that their cause is just.
But Palestinian and Israeli people are also very hospitable and family-oriented. Most of them say they want to live in peace with the other. Many of them do business together, some even strike up friendships. So when it comes to understanding the Middle East conflict, a person should be forced to read between the lines.
Read, for example, the Jerusalem Post — an Israeli English-language daily. It regularly runs ads to raise money to help support the Jadah family. Omri Jadah, a Palestinian, lost his life while saving a drowning Israeli child a few months ago. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians showed up at his funeral.
Perhaps more realistic to recent events was an incident last week in which a carload of Israelis were attacked by an angry Palestinian mob as they were returning from a vacation. The Israelis were quickly offered refuge by a local Palestinian family who fooled the vigilantes into thinking that the Israelis were not hiding out in their house.
What about that recent Arab street violence in seemingly-civilized Jaffa so close to that modern city of Tel Aviv? Israeli police sources say that it was actually sparked by well-known mobsters who used the chaos to carry out their criminal activities, particularly drug shipments.
Would you believe that not every Arab wants to live in Yassir Arafat’s soon-to-be-declared state? Despite the riots in the Arab towns of Israel, whose inhabitants are actually full citizens of the state (albeit treated like second-class ones sometimes — which is a more realistic rationale for their anger), very few people have demonstrated any desire to move to a future Palestine. Even some Palestinian businessmen in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem breathed a sigh of relief when Camp David failed to return that city back to their people. They say they’re better off under a flawed but functional Israeli democracy than under the autocratic and reportedly corrupt Arafat regime.
Over the weekend, a leaflet was delivered door-to-door to many Palestinian homes, apparently from Arafat’s political organization, calling on them to “defend all the liberated areas by all means possible and turn them into a burial area for the occupation.” But last night was one of the most peaceful since this terrible conflict began. And it has to be pointed out that the leaflet only called for warfare inside the “Green line” — the Israeli-occupied territories — and not within Israel itself. The Palestinian recognition of the reality of the existence of the Jewish state, continues.
The reality today is that a tense calm has settled on the region. There are fewer tour buses parked outside the old city of Jerusalem, but despite the violence, tourists still come. Notwithstanding recent attacks by Israelis against Arab-run establishments inside Israel, the Minaret restaurant in West Jerusalem is open for business, even if most of its tables are empty. In East Jerusalem, the roads are now open and Palestinians are out shopping, happy for a reprieve in the fighting. At the El Dorado Internet Cafe on Salahdin Street, young men who look like they should be running a high-tech start-up serve high-end coffee and say business is slowly returning to normal.
If diplomacy fails here, things could quickly get worse. But this place is like one huge Middle East bazaar where the prices aren’t fixed, negotiations are conducted with passion, loud volume and deceit. You’re never really sure if you’ve gotten the straight goods. We may be headed to a violent resolution of this problem that has festered for over 50 years, or it just may be yet another unpredictable stage in this ongoing oddity we call the “peace process.” Whatever it is, we should all look very carefully before leaping to rash conclusions
NBC’s Hanson Hosein is based in Tel Aviv.