Remembering Palestine

When I was a child, Palestine was a simple concept of fairness and justice. Today, things are not so simple.

I'd listen as my dad and his brothers railed against the injustices committed by the Israelis, who were celebrated in the mainstream American press with heroic status. My dad and his family lived in West Jerusalem, in the Romema district off Jaffa Road. There's a street named after the family -- Hananiah -- which went on for miles, but today is a small cul-du-sac next to the popular cafe Caffit on Emek Refaim.

They lost a lot in 1948. The truth is the Israelis wanted a "Jewish" State and by that they meant no Muslims or Christians. The Israelis got stuck with them, though. Not even destroying 400 Palestinian villages just before and after the 1948 war could extinguish the Palestinian identity in their new nation. Our community continues to grow.

Many people look at the conflict in a different way today, although it has only been three score, a lot less than the time frame Lincoln mentioned in his Gettysburg Address that I had to memorize in elementary school. So 60 years is not really a long time. Sixty-one years, now.

The conflict was defined before as two people fighting for the same land. The Israelis claimed they lost it 2,000 years ago and they wanted it back. They got it, with the help of the British, the United States and the United Nations that Israelis love to scorn and defame. The Palestinians claim they were forced out and they want it back, too. Why should Palestinians stop fighting for that land when their role models are the very Israelis who said they wanted their homeland back too? They waited 2,000 years. It's been only 61 for us. We can wait and get it back, too.

Things might have gotten resolved except that the 1967 war happened. Prior to 1967, the Palestinians were not in charge of the conflict. "Arab Nationalism" was in charge and it was a fight between Arabs and Israelis. In 1967, Yasir Arafat, a hero to most Palestinians, took the Palestinians out of the darkness and did to Israel what the Jews did to Palestine. Just as Arabs call the Haganah and Irgun terrorist organizations, the Jews called the PLO a terrorist organization, too.

Jews and Arabs are about the most emotional people on this planet. We love to call each other names with the spice of invective and a lot of emotion.

But 1967 did change how the Palestinians viewed the conflict. It made us look at the short-term, not the long-term, certainty that we would eventually get our land back. Again, the Jews waited 2,000 years. In that role model scenario for us, what was 61 years? Or, in 1967, only 19? We started to think that maybe we could compromise. Maybe the best thing was to divide the land into two states after all, a proposition that made no sense in 1948, but in the face of so much violence back and forth made sense today.

Yet even as we embraced the two-state solution, Israel never gave up its goals of expanding into the West Bank. They never really wanted the Gaza Strip, so it was easy for them -- relatively speaking -- to surrender what they took by conflict. The West Bank is different. They went in, took Palestinian lands and converted them into exclusive, Jewish-only settlements.

During the entire peace process (one that I participated in with meetings with Arafat, President Clinton and even Yitzhak Rabin, an Israeli terrorist who changed his stripes and won my respect) as we talked peace, the Israelis continued to expand the settlements.

The settlements are a real obstacle to peace. The Wall can easily come down. It's made only of cement. The settlements, though, are made of people. It'll be tougher.

But just as tough are the memories of the lands and homes that we, as Palestinians, once owned and still do own in our hearts, our minds and legally on paper in any court of law outside of Israel's system, which routinely strips Christians and Muslims of their land rights; I own 33 dunum of land under the shadow of Gilo and the Israelis are doing everything in their power to make sure I can't get it.

Palestinians will not forget. If we don't win back our land today, we will win it back tomorrow. Maybe we might have to wait 2,000 years. Maybe we don't. There's always the chance that justice will prevail.

Of course, if the Israelis were the smart people they claim to be, they might see that. They might see in the face of the Palestinians, the face of the Jewish experience longing for a land they felt they lost, too. That's the problem. Most Israelis don't want to see their own reflection in the faces of the Palestinians. But it's there. Maybe, if they were really smart, they would make a genuine effort to compromise and return the West Bank, instead of playing this deceitful game of offering land for peace in a strategy of gamesmanship of a buntastan puzzle that they have created.

There is a chance for peace. But you have to really believe in it. If you don't, I can promise this conflict is going to go on for a very long time to come. Despite the oppression, and the losses of war, the Palestinians have survived and they are growing in numbers and, more importantly, in strength.

If I were Israeli, I'd want to make a real peace today. And not risk ending up tomorrow the way the Palestinians have ended up today.