Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building Peace Through Understanding: Of and Beyond the Confrontation

New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner—after he had to defend himself against charges of pro-Israeli bias because his son was said to serve in the IDF, but before he accused Israelis of disliking Barack Obama out of anti-Black racism (got that??)—actually wrote (with help from a Lebanese correspondent) a pretty decent piece with an encouraging message.

It describes how prominent Palestinian lawyer and activist Elias Khoury, who lost both his father (a committed opponent of Israeli policies after statehood) and son to terror attacks by fellow Palestinians, controversially decided to memorialize his son by financing the translation into Arabic of the highly praised autobiography of Israeli author Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness.
In explaining his decision, Mr. Khoury said that literature was an important bridge and that he had a specific goal in mind with this book, a point he includes in a preface to the translation.

“This book tells the history of the rebirth of the Jewish people,” he said as he sat in his law office. “We can learn from it how a people like the Jewish people emerged from the tragedy of the Holocaust and were able to reorganize themselves and build their country and become an independent people. If we can’t learn from that, we will not be able to do anything for our independence.”
. . . .
Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher who wrote his own powerful autobiography of growing up in Jerusalem in the same era, “Once Upon a Country,” said in that book’s opening that it was upon reading Mr. Oz’s volume that he was struck by the parallel existences of Jews and Palestinian Arabs of the time.

“Weren’t both sides of the conflict totally immersed in their own tragedies, each one oblivious to, or even antagonistic toward, the narrative of the other?” he wrote. “Isn’t this inability to imagine the lives of the ‘other’ at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Mr. Khoury believes it is.

“If we don’t understand each other, there will always be suspicion and gaps that can’t be bridged,” he said.

Mr. Oz, who has come to know the Khoury family — Elias, his wife, Rima, and their two other children — through this project, said by telephone that their sponsorship of an Arabic translation of his book made him very emotional.

“This is the right book to travel into Arabic because it contains a nonheroic rendering of the birth of Israel and a description of Israel as a Jewish refugee camp,” he said. “Elias wants to build emotional bridges between our nations, and to do that you need to let each read the narrative of the other. Reading literature is like taking you into the bedroom of the other.”

Mr. Oz noted that in the book his father recalled how, as a youth in Europe, the walls were covered in graffiti saying “Jews, go to Palestine.” Then when he got here some years later, the walls carried the message “Jews, get out of Palestine.”

Mr. Oz added, “I am very eager for Arabs to read this to realize that Israel, just like Palestine, is a refugee camp.” (read the rest)
To speak in this way of empathy and reconciliation is not to pretend that they will come easily, and rather, only to assert that, precisely for this reason, they are all the more necessary.

Just compare this profoundly humane approach of Khoury's—one who has suffered at the hands of and understands both sides—with the historical distortions, bumper-sticker philosophizing, and hate-mongering of the BDS movement and its allies.

Is it really a difficult choice?

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