The words confused me then, frightened me later, and today, I’m sorry to say that I feel numb to them and other comments of their ilk. They are the reason that I believe the prospects of peace in the Middle East to be hopeless.
I was not yet 14 years old, spending the summer of 1995 at the Israel Basketball Academy, a right-wing Orthodox Jewish camp in Israel that focused on basketball instruction and touring the country. I wasn’t particularly interested in the politics of the trip – I was there to play basketball. I was the misfit. I wasn’t like my peers in terms of politics or religion. But one night I wandered into a conversation that some of my friends were having with one of our counselors, a fundamentalist Yeshiva student named Mo. Needless to say, Mo was not too pleased with Israel’s leadership at the time, a government presided over by Yitzhak Rabin. Mo made one comment that I’ll never forget: “Someone has to do something about him.”
Confused and disturbed, I wasn’t able to understand at the time how serious Mo was. I didn’t know enough about the history of the region, the profiles of those who came before Rabin and Arafat in the struggle for (and sometimes against) peace and the roles that people like Mo had played in manipulating the struggle time and time again. If I had known enough, I would have left the camp immediately. But I didn’t, so I didn’t.
Four months later, someone did something about Yitzhak Rabin. Though his name was Yigal Amir, you could exchange any bit of his and Mo’s ideologies to find the same end. Rabin’s assassination was the type of act the Middle East community had seen all too many times. And I don’t see an end to such actions in sight.
I’m reminded of words used by former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in his historic and brave address before Israel’s Knesset in 1977: “Before us today lies the appropriate chance for peace. If we are really serious in our endeavor for peace, it is a chance that may never come again. It is a chance that if lost or wasted, the resulting slaughter would bear the curse of humanity and of history.”
The problems I have with his statement are twofold: Firstly, while he was right in saying that Israel and Egypt had to seize that moment and make peace in the region, the eventual agreement signed at Camp David obviously had little staying power. And secondly, four years after offering the olive branch, Sadat suffered the same fate that would befall Rabin in November 1995. Shot down, not by a foreigner fighting for his country’s or people’s right to freedom, but by his own people in a cowardly move to restructure the country’s stance toward the peace process. It’s the same reason behind the assassination of King Abdullah I of Jordan in 1951, once again, by one of his own people. The chances were lost and wasted, and their slaughter bore the curse of the region’s humanity and history. And the chance may never come again.
This is why the peace process is hopeless. I see no way that it ever ends with both sides happy. An Israeli leader who brokers peace by giving up control of Jerusalem will surely suffer the same end as Rabin. There’s no doubt about that. And the Palestinian people, who have long showed their distaste for the process by taking it to the streets and the buses, will never accept a deal that does not include Jerusalem. It’s not an issue of who’s right or wrong. These are simply facts. Arafat and Sharon are pawns. The real power in the region lies in the hands of fundamentalists who see only black and white, good and evil, absolutely right and absolutely wrong. It lies with men who speak only with guns and bombs.
That’s what people don’t realize about this issue. Someone who believes the current struggle to be between Israelis and Palestinians doesn’t fully understand its magnitude. There are four groups fighting here and the real trouble comes from the two that are often forgotten – the militant Jews/Israelis and the militant Arabs/Palestinians. The fundamentalists who run the country from underground, who are smallest in size but unmistakably largest in impact. These are the leaders.
When I think about Mo these days, I wonder what he’s doing. I wonder what his politics are like. I wonder how he reacted on Nov. 4, 1995, when he heard the news that Rabin had been killed. I think about Mo and remember that for quite some time he was, by association, the most powerful person I’d ever known. And that’s what scares me. That’s what leaves me without hope.
Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.