Life In Israel: PUSHING OURSELVES BEYOND OUR NORMAL LIMITS
In Israel, Jews and Arabs live side by side on a patch of land no bigger than Rhode Island, a dot on the map surrounded by vast, hostile territories. It is a land of opposing agendas, of constant warfare, and of a desperate, excruciatingly sincere search for peace. In my novel, Israela, you’ll grow to understand the Arab/Israeli conflict in that region, the rift that exists between these peoples, and the mammoth effort, the fight for good that it is going to have to take place in order for them to live at peace with their differences. The question is: What will happen if these people don’t fight the good fight?
I used to consider myself lucky. I never really knew what my values were – beyond, of course, the need to be a good person; not to hurt or kill anyone; because it is only when our values are stretched beyond that line in the sand that we learn what we are willing to fight for. People in Israel are faced with that line in the sand, on a daily basis
IS IT A STRUGGLE TO BE HUMAN?
That comes as a surprise to us. Doesn’t it? - That we have to struggle to maintain our humanity. Think of Jewish and Arab Israelis lathering their bodies in sulfurous mud and bathing, separately, not talking to each other - especially during the violent times - yet side by side in the healing waters of the Dead Sea, a body of water so salty you can lie on top of it and read the paper. And people do, read the paper on the Dead Sea. Or, think of Arabs and Jews shopping for spices and fresh fruit, still not really talking yet side by side, in the open-air market-stalls and the malls , or standing with small children, cousins, aunts, their picnic baskets and their sandwiches at look-out posts around the country marveling at its beauty, as Israelis so much love to do. Think of the wounded and dying – both Arabs and Jews - being treated side by side in hospital wards, at times the perpetrator of violence actually lying by the side of his victim. Envision an ambulance, sirens screaming through the battle-strewn streets of Ramallah, rushing a little boy with a severe illness to his doctor at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Know that the following day that same doctor and his own little girl are murdered by a bomb in a Jerusalem coffee house.
A friend of mine slipped as she was crossing the road to the hospital in the north of the country. A strong female hand helped her up, “come,” a voice told her, ‘I’ll help you to the door.” My friend was looking into the dark eyes and covered face of an Arab woman. “Thank you” my friend said. “No problem,” said the woman, “we’re all of us human, aren’t we? -Humans just trying to get by.”
Think about all of this while bombs are being ignited around the country, at any time of the day or night, by faceless fundamentalists and their agendas.
I HAD ONE OF THOSE EPIPHANY-TYPE MOMENTS
It was in 2003, toward the end of the second intifada, the second Arab uprising, that was launched against Israel. I was at my kitchen table, I remember, watching the sky darken into night. I was thinking of the almost daily bus and train explosions Israel had been living through; of restaurants, coffee houses, and people - actual people - bursting into flames; of the funerals, the mourning. Images were flashing through my mind of people folded together in pain; of the wounded, the waiting, the praying. I was wondering about the constant threat hanging over our lives.
How can we bequeath this world to our children? I thought, a world in which civilizations are rushing toward hell in the proverbial hand basket, in which death, for some, is truly chosen over life? How can we move forward while sustaining our love of life? Our liberties? The equal rights for all that we hold in such high esteem? More to the point, I thought , is it true that equal rights for one group preclude those of the next? Are we violating that value? How? And, where do we draw the line?
The thought came to me that these horrors are not new. They are as old as history itself, and when I looked at life in Israel, I saw a fullness together with an incredible complexity that I wanted to share, and an earnestness - more than anything else a painful earnestness about choices made. I wanted to show this country and its people, its complexity, its sadness and the beauty of peoples’ lives, not through the black-and-white perspectives of politics or history, but through the eyes and experiences of everyday individuals like you and me.
Let’s listen carefully to each other, for in each others' stories, we find our own.