dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

By Evelyn - 22 Aug, 1999

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US headlines were clearly far more watered down and the articles themselves seemed to say little of substance. While Al-Ahram has its bias, headlines definitely conveyed more urgency (and hence importance), and for the most part, the perspectives were well-substantiated. Significantly, being in this part of the world, we were getting a different kind of media filter, profoundly different from those that shaped my views and understanding of the "peace process" while in America.

To make up for the lack of and sometimes misrepresentation on the "peace-process" from an Arab point of view, we bought a book containing a collection of essays by Edward Said—a Christian Palestinian born in Jerusalem, raised in Egypt, and currently living (in exile) in America. Said is a well-respected literary and cultural critic, and perhaps the most visible intellectual voice for the Palestinian struggle. He contributes frequently to the opinion section in Al-Ahram, where many of the essays in his book 'Peace and its Discontents' first appeared.

From reading Said's essays, dating back to the (in)famous handshake between Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn in September 1993, it seems that not much has changed, and according to Said, have only gotten worse. Said is not opposed to peace, nor is he an advocate of violence. What he is against is the public manipulation by media and governments pretending peace has been achieved when in reality, the "peace process" is a sham; in his opinion the signing of the accords is a renunciation of the principal objectives of the Palestinian struggle. The Palestinians continue to live in a condition of dispossession under a system of "limited self-rule" that is imposed by the Israeli Jews and assisted by the Palestinian leadership—namely Yasir Arafat, of whom he is equally critical.

Said maintains that the primary injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian Arabs still exists: the Israeli's still have control over Palestinian security, resources (water, roads), borders, and freedom of movement. Palestinian laws and appointments must first be approved by the Israelis before they can take effect. The Israeli's exercise control over the Palestinian economy, keeping it at a very low level of viability in order to enforce its state of dependency on Israel. And finally, there is little if any hope of repatriation/compensation for the 3.5-4 million Palestinian refugees that endured losses to their land, rights, and livelihood in 1948 and 1967. It's hard to argue with what he presents, one-sided as it may be.

The Jewish kingdom existed 3000 years ago with Jerusalem as its capital. In the first century BC, the Jews were expelled from their land and exiled until, as some insist, the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. There is no doubt that throughout history, the Jews have been persecuted and/or exiled, forced to live only where they were accepted and often for only as long as they were welcome. I can absolutely understand their right to nationhood, their claim to the "Promised Land".

But for the Arabs (and Christians) too, the lands of Palestine are sacred. Though it is argued for how long, the Palestinian people have inhabited these lands for many many years (some claim dating back five millenia ago), prior to the creation of the Jewish state. History has proven to us in all regions of the world that empires rise and fall, and with them peoples are conquered—their land and livelihood taken from them. Jerusalem itself has been under the control of Jews, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs and the British at different points in history. Who then is rightly entitled the land of Palestine—those whose ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago, or both?

When a piece of land is so laden with religious and historical significance, and so integrally tied to the identity of more than one peoples who each believe God ordained that land to them, can there ever be peace? Can Jews, Muslims, and Christians ever live in peaceful co-existence as equal citizens of one nation, or does the existence of each of their "nations" necessarily exclude peoples of the "other". Is the only peaceful solution the Israeli and Palestinian leadership able to envision one that separates the existence of their peoples? Doesn't this smack of apartheid? Haven't we learned anything?

I am only a novice in trying to understand the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian relations and peace in general in the Middle East. Without a personal connection being neither Jewish or Arab, there is much I do not/cannot even begin to comprehend. But as a citizen of the contemporary world with an instinctual belief in the basic right of all humans to peaceful existence, I can't help but wonder why leaders cannot build a lasting peace founded on common principles of mutual respect and human dignity. Is it naive to think that Jerusalem could be a captial to two nations—jointly administered by representative councils. Or perhaps it could be a 'world capital', an 'international city' of historical importance to many peoples (as it is), but belonging to no single nation.

After searching in Jordan for the past two issues of Al-Ahram, we finally found it today. There was an opinion piece title "Two states, one holy land", in which the writer (an international lawyer who writes about Mid-East affairs) spells out a general framework for Jerusalem to be captial to an Israeli and a Palestinian state—its residents having a choice of citizenship. Though simplified, it described a scenario that gave the Israeli Jews the security they seek and the Palestinians the dignity they're entitled. It was encouraging to read that others still entertain the idea of a two-state capital despite the discouraging news of stalled talks yet again.

As we continue our travels into Israeli in a week, I will be doing more reading, more observing, more thinking, more writing. As I learn, it will be interesting to see how my own perceptions change in regards to current negotiations and future hopes for resolution of a century-old conflict.




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