The tragedy of the past decade, the tentative hope of the next.
I was 11 years old, and it was my first time back to Israel since my family had left, when I was five. We decided to visit the Wall, and I remember, clearly, being surprised by how many soldiers there were, by the flood of olive green around the ancient, cool sandstone. I asked my parents about the soldiers and they shrugged and responded, “That’s just how it is in Israel.” It was 11:00 in the morning, and the date was September 28th, 2000. It was the day I began to be conscious of the political reality that gripped my birthplace, and it was also the day that the Second Intifada began. I began my personal struggle to understand and make sense of Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians in what was arguably the worst decade in the history of the conflict. True, they have all been pretty bad, but what made this past decade so painful was that it followed the 1990s, its glow of optimism and potential and hope shattered by violence- and not only violence, but violence laced with despair. But, that confusing September day at the Wall prompted me to begin to learn more, and to care more, my hopes for peace were born right about when much of the world’s died.
The past decade was marred by the blood and brutality of military raids and suicide bombs, by men with guns and murdered infants, by hopelessness and fury. The past decade was torn by war: war with the Palestinians, war with Hizballah, threats of war with Syria and talks of war with Iran, seemingly incessant war culminating in the horrors of the Gaza crisis, one year ago. The past decade was one of desperate half-fixes, of incomplete withdrawals, of separation barriers, and of flawed reliance on the fake panacea of democratic elections. The past decade was one of international polarization, of increased talking and decreased listening, of formulas of right and wrong, at fault and blameless. The past decade was one of American complacency, of Israeli repression, of Palestinian radicalization. The past decade was one of misery and of tragedy. And yet I refuse to believe that “That’s just how it is in Israel.” Or in Palestine. Or in our world.
We must enter this new decade not swaddled in nearly giddy hope, as many were at the beginning of the past decade, but rather cautiously hopeful, tentatively optimistic. Allow me, in a burst of such tentative optimism, to paint a picture of the potential the next decade- and indeed the next year- holds. Obama and Mitchell are preparing for a new, revised and strengthened effort to get the process moving in January. Bibi Netanyahu, to the surprise of many, seems somewhat serious about making peace. Moreover, [speaking very optimistically,] talks between Hamas and Israel over the release of Gilad Shalit could progress, and lead to a landslide of potential: Gilad would be released in exchange for about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. With his release, the Israeli government would lose their central rationale for the morally odious and strategically blind blockade of Gaza. (1138809.html) Moreover, chances are high that Marwan Barghouti would likely be released as one of the Palestinian prisoners. A reformed revolutionary with immense Palestinian street cred, there is a high chance he would take the reigns of the faltering Fatah. Barghouti also has a better shot than perhaps any Palestinian leader at forging a unity government between Hamas and Fatah- and only with such a unity government could Hamas be brought into the process as a negotiating party, and not a deal-breaker. Avigdor Lieberman, arguably the most internationally loathed figure in the Israeli ruling coalition today, is currently on trial for complex corruption charges: his removal would be have an impact both symbolically and politically, as he is the beating heart of his rightist, nationalist party. Negotiations with Syria, under already existent frameworks, could lead to peace between the two countries, and shift the dynamics of the region greatly. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process could get back underway, and perhaps this is the decade in which the dream of an independent Palestine and a safe, non-occupying Israel could finally be realized.
The aforementioned laundry list of positive potential, as a whole, is not staggeringly likely, but all of the developments mentioned are within the realm of possible, and the main point is that there is positive potential in the region for the new decade. If you are interested in learning more about this potential, or about the immense problems in its way, or simply continuing the conversation about the issues affecting Israel and Palestine, we are starting a new group on campus, J Street Middlebury. The group’s primary goal will be focused and sustained education, through meetings, an email list, programming, student and faculty presentations and discussion. Email me if you would like to join (email@example.com) and help shape this new group, the discussion on this campus, and perhaps the region itself.
Let nation not lift up sword against nation, may we learn war no more. Happy New Year, and may this decade be better and more peaceful than the last.
Addendum: I just discovered that on January 1st, the op-ed I wrote entitled “I am a Zionist,” was article.php?id=22400&ref=search.php published on the official English language website of the Muslim Brotherhood. How’s that for breaking expectations to start off a new decade?