by Apo Sahagian
11/15/2012. It’s almost midnight. I have my mellow music on and I’m flipping through news articles poured all over my Facebook newsfeed. My Palestinian friends post on the suffering of the Gazans, with pictures of murdered children and ruined homes; they accompany such images with words of determination that the Palestinian people will reach their inevitable victory. My Israeli friends talk about their fright when having to run to find bomb shelter knowing a second too late maybe their curtain call in this long-ride we call life; they compensate their fear by reminding their fellows that the Israeli Army will defend them and needs the support of the entire people of Israel. Somewhere above me, I also hear the looming spin of an Israeli military helicopter, and in the far off horizon, I’m pretty sure I heard a bullet release itself from a barrel of a Palestinian-held gun. But Gaza is far from me, so these sounds do not seriously disturb me as much as when I think of how this conflict will play out.
While the scholars and policy-makers talk about predictable conclusions through two-states or one-state- or even confederations of some sorts-, I think of some other ending. An ending that will not take into consideration the other side. An ending completely based on acting unilaterally to solve the conflict once and for all through the extreme use of force that will absolutely decapitate the enemy. I’ve had many conversations with people from both sides who label themselves as pragmatic. But they don’t exercise the same pragmatism that the scholars and policy-makers do: that of having to live side by side since there is no other alternative. No, these different pragmatic minds paint a future where only one side is living…while the other no longer exists.
To even discuss this bleak possibility pains me, but there are some issues that cannot be reconciled across the divide. Palestinians do not recognize the right of Israel to exist; whether the Palestinian leadership does is a political decision that has not been nurtured by the masses. Israelis do not recognize the right of Palestinians to exist as a people; whether the Israeli leadership unwilling does is an imposed decision that does not reflect among the masses. In light of these deep dark truths that are often taboo to speak about openly because of political sensitivity- or for the sake of peace- the end of the conflict is dark and sad. But I will novelize the end; actually, the two endings.
The river crossing
At 3 in the morning, on a dawn many years from now, Palestinians will receive a knock on their door. Tired and rubbing his eyes, Ahmad will open the door, disgruntled at the intruder who ruined his warm sleep. But he will find an Israeli soldier by the name of Shlomo waiting for him rifle in hand and ready to get things going. This is Operation Mending 67, where Israel- after years of having to deal with Palestinians- has decided to simply expel them all across the Jordan River. To many in Israel this had to be done back in 67, but after missing the opportunity, they have learned the difference between occupying land and occupying a people. They have come to the conclusion that its preferable to be blamed for occupying empty land than occupying an active people. So Shlomo will order Ahmad to wake up his family, dress them up, pack only essentials needed for the trip, and hurry on down to where the rest of the neighborhood is being gathered by Shlomo’s brothers in arms. Loaded on to buses, Ahmad along with family and nation is being transported to the Jordan river. There he will be instructed to give one last farewell to his homeland and embark on a journey that many among his nation had undertaken many years before. No worries, you will be alright, Shlomo will comfort Ahmad with a pat on the shoulder. This is it. This is how it all ends. Ahmad will pick up his 14-month old daughter in his arm, and together with his 6 year old son and beautiful wife will begin their journey east to an Arab country that may or may not accommodate them. That’s not Shlomo’s problem. As far as he’s concerned, he no longer has problems as he gazes upon the swarms of Palestinians being exiled from the land they struggled for decades on decades causing frustration to Shlomo’s people. However, after the last Palestinian has set foot on the eastern bank of the river, Shlomo can give a sigh, relax, turn around, and not look back evermore. Problem solved. Israel will live on.
The ocean crossing
It’s 6 pm, the sun is setting, rendering the sky with that purplish vanilla splendor that could only soothe people. But Shlomo is not soothed at all. He’s at the Herzliya Marina harbor, on the docks along with many of his countrymen. They’ve been dragged here by that ever-growing number of people called Palestinians, and these Palestinians have decided that its time they assert their right as the majority in the land. They are concerned that Shlomo’s presence in their new country will be an impediment to their security, so Shlomo needs to be expelled along with his entire nation of Israel- that rundown state that used to be only a few days ago. Ahmad has a gun in his hand and he makes sure that the authority given by that weapon is full enforced upon Shlomo. Ahmad orders Shlomo to walk to the end of the dock along with his infant son whom was born in a country that no longer exists, his daughter whom will not know the happiness of graduating kindergarten, and his wife who is in too deep of a shock and grief that she still has a hard time comprehending the situation. Ahmad points to the small boat and gestures to Shlomo to get on. Shlomo abides knowing that he’s got a chance many don’t; others have had to simply swim on. But Shlomo needs the boat for his family, so he jumps on and helps his family get in. No worries, you will make it reassures Ahmad faintly, this is the only way. And Shlomo begins to paddle, wanting to outmaneuver the overwhelming number of swimmers whom might flip his boat in a panic wave to save themselves. He knows Cyprus is the closest island of sanctuary. From there, he will begin his hard journey of finding a new home. Ahmad won’t have that hardship. He has just freed his home. Problem solved. Palestine is free.
The good ending
These two stories were the result of conversations I had with Palestinians and Israelis who do not have a hatred for the other side, or even aspire to get the whole land for their people. They simply read the socio-political landscape in a way that they believe is the truth but no one is willing to admit it. The bottom line is: Someone has to leave.
Yet, no matter how awfully and grimly true that bottom line might sound like to some, negotiations between both sides can actually yield a future where no one has to leave, and everyone can stay. That is the good ending, the preferred ending, the desired ending- but the ending that is being eroded from the future. And its erosion will not culminate in a one-state where Jews and Arabs will enjoy equal rights. Those who live with such romanticized ideals for the future should remind themselves of the animosity and blood spilled in the conflict. The amount of carnage and death will not allow Palestinians and Israelis to share a one-state. It’s either two-states where each one can have its own sovereignty and determination, or a normal state on all the land where only one of these two people reside without having to deal with the daily presence the other. It’s a deep dark road ahead, and I cannot promise you that I see even a ray of light.
The helicopter is still hovering above me, the distant gunshot is resolute, the articles are abundant and diverse, and I am haunted by where this is all leading to: Shlomo’s knock on my door, or Ahmad’s order for me to “yalla, to the sea.”