by Abraham A. van Kempen
May I ever swim across the Dead Sea? At 63, it’s still thinkable. “No one sinks in the Dead Sea but don’t cross it unless you want to get shot”, I hear.
It’s truly God’s country with the right combination of sea, salt and sun that heal. In the spring or early summer, I arrive with patches of crocodile skin (psoriasis) and leave two to three weeks later with the blemishes cleared and the skin smooth. I also feel at home in the region as nearby is my birthplace, the Red Sea, the reason I’m named Abraham.
Last June, while floating on the sea and baking under the sun, I pondered about the Peace Talks. If they’re going to rehash the same things over again, we’ll again fall in our own traps. Can we this time get out of the box and go beyond?
What’s needed? Imagination and moral courage!
What’s there? A way out! What’s needed? Imagination! Imagination of a particular kind, a moral imagination! What’s really needed? Moral courage! Moral because we’re talking about humanity, the other, everyone! Let’s enrapture our moral imagination and summon our moral courage to break out.
Right now I’m in Auckland, New Zealand where my son and I did our father-son thing together. Here, the European settlers never uprooted, displaced and slaughtered the indigenous Maori people. In fact, like Abraham of old, they purchased their land from the Maoris, no different than the early Jewish settlers purchasing land from their Palestinian neighbors. There was a time when they honored each other, drinking tea and breaking bread together. Few still do.
In Rio, a few weeks earlier, Carlos our tour guide suggested: “We’ve got to do everything to understand the other; acceptance and tolerance isn’t enough …” Though his point moved me, there’s no way I will let myself understand the Holocaust or the Al Nakba (the Catastrophe) of 1948. In both, men, women and children were uprooted and displaced from their ancestral homes of many generations. Countless were interred in concentration camps and slaughtered; their properties, confiscated. Rebellion and reprisals followed to be reinforced with more State terror that has precipitated into endless and vicious cycles of retaliation and pain, to this very day.
After Rio but before New Zealand, I saw first hand the miracle of China. In one generation China has leapfrogged into the 21st Century. After 1945, it took one generation for Europeans to finally accept Jews as their equals. In the United States, one generation struggled and won to humanize civil rights for everyone, expanding the socio-economic landscape of America.
Fair and equitable boundaries and the freedom to move
Is there hope for this current generation to freely cross the Dead Sea? It requires fair and equitable boundaries and the freedom to move.
1) Work out a dignified partition. Create a homeland for everyone. Grant all believers of the three Abrahamic Faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam equal access to the holy sites.
2) Simultaneously, create something like a BENELUX (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) to promote the free movement of capital, workers, products and services between and within the respective states, to freely cross the divides in the region. Citizens of one state may freely work, travel and live in the other but remain citizens of their own countries. One may vote only in his or her own country. So, Israel remains Israel. Palestine remains Palestine. Jerusalem remains Jerusalem.
3) Invoke a regional reconciliation combined with practical war reparations similar to the South African Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. We’ve got to cut through the chase, the mining fields where it really hurt and talk about it and cry over each other’s shoulders and reimburse the other for any and all financial losses incurred.
Your enemy is your true and only partner
The right of passage combined with a mutual respect of boundaries is key. Abraham’s legacy is that he lived a life filled with profound courage and insightful imagination. He shared the Promised Land.
Your enemy is your true and only partner. Imagine a different future! Take a leap of faith! Trust the other! Accept the challenge!