By Jeremy Ben-Ami
Over the past two and a half weeks, all of us who care deeply about Israel and seek peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been profoundly moved by the tragedy of the three teenage boys kidnapped and, we now know, murdered in cold blood on the West Bank.
As a father of young children, my heart simply breaks whenever violence snatches young lives, and families and communities are senselessly plunged into mourning.
While the grieving and sorrow have barely begun for the families, the debate over how to respond is in full swing as is, of course, an emotional argument over how the Israeli government should and should not react.
Fear and anger drive part of the debate, with calls for retribution dominating the public discourse. Seemingly easy, emotionally satisfying, answers flow freely: Tear down the houses of the alleged kidnappers’ families. Attack Gaza to root out Hamas’ infrastructure. Build new settlements. Take revenge.
Less free to flow are efforts to place this tragedy in a broader context or to recognize the real and legitimate pain felt on the Palestinian side as well. There is no way out of this spiral of violence and conflict if we can’t start to hear and understand the pain on the other side too.
The New York Times this week ran a moving, but difficult, article about two mothers, Rachel Fraenkel and Aida Abdel Aziz Dudeen. It was written before the discovery of the body of Rachel’s 16-year-old son, Naftali, one of the three murdered teenagers. “I was praying maybe he did something stupid and irresponsible,” Ms. Fraenkel recalled thinking when police came to her door at 4 a.m., “but I know my boy isn’t stupid, and he isn’t irresponsible.”
A few miles away in the West Bank town of Dura, Aida also tried to stop her 15-year-old Mohammed from doing something stupid and irresponsible. She locked the door of the family home to stop him from going out to confront Israeli soldiers after days or house searches and arrests. He got out anyway by jumping out the window and was shot dead, with the key still under Aida’s pillow, when soldiers opened fire on a group of young Palestinians hurling stones at them.
Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren succinctly summed up the gulf between the sides in the way they look at these twin tragedies. “Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians captured on their way home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having provoked soldiers. Palestinians, though, see the very act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under illegal occupation.”
As President Obama memorably said in his speech to young Israelis in Jerusalem last year, we must try to see the world through the eyes of the other side. That does not mean accepting their narrative and abandoning our own. But it does mean abandoning the “we’re always right and they are always wrong” view of the conflict and trying to find a solution that begins with mutual compassion.
“Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day … Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land,” Obama said.
The most important sentence is the last. Until there is a two-state solution, this awful conflict will grind on and on and on, and there will be more tragedies – more Naftalis, more Mohammeds. It’s now two decades since the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin memorably said on the White House lawn that we have had enough of tears, enough of bloodshed. It was his guiding principle to fight terror as if there were no effort to reach peace and to seek peace as if there were no terror.
We at J Street too have had enough of tears and bloodshed.
That’s why we will never stop working for peace, for justice, for reconciliation, for compassion and for an end to this conflict.
May the memories of all our young people be for a blessing.