Peace in the Middle East: Will Israel ever find Peace?

            May 2013    
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The Search for Peace on Mount Zion

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman

We sat with our friends on the rooftop of their apartment building, a glorious display of fireworks exploding over our heads in the Jerusalem night sky. In the streets below, thousands of men, woman and children cheered and sang in joyous celebration. Children on roller-skates passed mischievous teens spraying colorful, plastic string on passers-by while Israeli's danced until dawn. It was a night to be remembered and savored, one that only 50 years before seemed improbable. This was Yom Ha'Atzmaot, Israel's Independence Day in 1998.

It is fifteen years since my family and I lived in Israel and celebrated her 50th birthday.But Israel at 50 was a very different Israel than the one we now know at 65. In 1998, we were optimistic that the progress made since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 would bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Tragically, that momentum was halted when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. Today, peace seems less than remote: the wall being erected between Israel and the Palestinians stands as testimony to how far apart both sides are now from the hopes of peace that existed a decade ago.

When I first lived in Israel in 1974 during my junior year of college, I read a poem that has held a special place in my heart ever since. Written by the late Yehuda Amichai, considered by many to be the greatest modern Israeli poet, it describes an Arab shepherd who is searching for his goat on Mount Zion and on the opposite mountain, a Jewish man who is searching for his little boy. These few lines poignantly depict their angst:

    "An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
    Both in their temporary failure.
    Our two voices met above
    The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
    Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
    To get caught in the wheels
    Of the 'Had Gadya' machine."

The "temporary failure" that Amichai describes is what all of us fear most: the loss of what is most precious to us, be it our children or the animals we tend for our livlihood. Arab and Jew come together in their desparate search, fearful that what they love most will be lost in the death machine.

The poem concludes with an image of the two men laughing and crying, as the goat and the son are found together in the bushes. We witness for a second time, the coming together of Jew and Arab, as love and life overcome fear and death.

    "Afterward we found them among the bushes
    And our voices came back inside us, laughing and crying.
    Searching for a goat or a son
    Has always been the beginning
    Of a new religion in these mountains."

Amichai was no romantic. He saw Israel for what it was - and portrayed it through all of its grit, humor, tragedy and complexities. Almost 50 years ago, he had the vision to imagine a moment in history when the love for our children and what is most precious to us conquered the fear, anger, and hatred that has led two people, historically linked as brothers, to destroy each other's families.

Amichai refers to the sacrifices - the goat and the son - that are part of the narratives from which Judaism and Islam were born. A ram, found in the bushes, was offered by Abraham in lieu of sacrificing his beloved son, Isaac. And Ishmael, Abraham's other son, was banished with Hagar, yet survives to become the family from which Islam is born. From the beginning of Biblical time, sacrifices have been required in order to survive and there is hardly an Israeli today who would debate that a lasting, meaningful peace will require them. The Oslo Accords were premised on that belief.

Sacrifices cannot be unilateral; they must be made on both sides. Amichai's poem inspires us to believe that peace is still possible. When Jew and Arab search together to save rather than to destroy what is most precious to them, be it their children or their land; when Jew and Arab mutually agree to educate their children about the necessity and benefits of peace, rather than to deploy them as suicide bombers; and when love for life trumps hatred and revenge, then we will see a new beginning in the land of Israel.

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from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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