This is an excerpt from Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians does not require them to agree on the events which comprise their respective histories. Instead, it necessitates a mutual acknowledgement of the injustices each has suffered.
In August 2005, the world witnessed an extraordinary event when, after thirty-eight years of occupation, the Israeli government pulled 7,800 settlers out of the Gaza Strip without any serious incidents. Many of the soldiers, sympathetic to the settler movement and the violent protests, did not want to be ejecting fellow Jews from their homes. Yet they performed their duties admirably and with great care so as not to harm the civilian population. The world saw the power of moderation transcending the forces of extremism, something which has rarely been seen before in Israel.
As I watched the coverage on television, I imagined how wonderful it would be if that same moderation was extended to Palestinian civilians at the military checkpoints. In my mind’s eye I saw an Israeli soldier apologizing to a Palestinian man twice his age for having to carry out a body search, or to an old woman obliged to wait hours in a long line in the hot sun. For one fleeting moment I dared dream of a day when both peoples would dwell side-by-side in peace. After all, Jews and Arabs are both indigenous to the Holy Land, and since ancient times have lived as neighbors, and often as close relatives through intermarriage. Why then in the 21st Century is our thinking not more sophisticated; why can we not create the same amicable living conditions that existed for long periods in ancient times?
The Palestinians are ethnic cousins of the indigenous Jews of ancient Canaan, and have shared a presence in this land for thousands of years. From prehistoric times this tiny area of the Middle East has witnessed a twisting continuum of factions, with one city or state rising and then falling. Empires have come and gone. More significantly, the fleeting power of people and ideologies has emerged and disappeared, sometimes almost with a trace. Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Macedonians, Romans, Israelites, Philistines, Crusaders, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and finally the British, can all claim strong historical connections to this land either through bloody warfare or benign conquest.
The multitude of ruins in the Golan Heights—contested since the Amorites first dominated it in the 3rd Millennium BCE—and Tel Megiddo—a town in northern Galilee where historians believe more battles have been fought than anywhere else in the world—bear witness to the vulnerability of the most powerful armies. Time after time the inhabitants have been slaughtered, driven into exile or subjugated under a new political power which held sway for a few centuries.
Who are the rightful claimants to this ancient land? Does the Jewish claim that they were driven out by the Romans two thousand years ago override the Palestinian Arabs’ claim that as descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Canaan, they too have a right to this land?
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