This excerpt is taken from the Introduction to Israeli-Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. It defines the premise on which the book is based.
Long before my first visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank IN March 2002, my opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shifted several times. I attribute this metamorphosis in large part to the fourteen years I lived in Beirut, Lebanon. Between 1969—when I moved there as a self-absorbed, naïve young woman—to 1983, when I was forced to leave Lebanon because of civil war—I went from being a de facto supporter of Israel to having sympathy for the Palestinians. I became embarrassed at the extent of my own ignorance and set out on a life-long journey—which remains very much in progress—to understand one thing properly.
The Middle East was my obvious choice, and I quickly found all the areas of inquiry spreading out from there, as one expects from a deep study of almost anything. It became clear to me that the most stable times in this region have occurred when the inhabitants adhered most closely to the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you;’ or, simply, ‘live and let live.’
Whenever extremism, fanaticism or fundamentalism raises its obdurate head, the Golden Rule is quickly set aside and the bloodshed begins. Therefore, as an agitator for peace and cohesion among all people, I advocate the marginalization of extremism on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am convinced it is the middle ground which promotes sustainable safety, comfort and prosperity in any civilization. In various ways my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides attempts to demonstrate that most people gravitate to the middle ground.
Currently there are approximately five million Israelis and as many Palestinians—only two per cent of the original thirty percent Christians remain; the rest are Sunni Muslims—living in Israel proper and the occupied territories. Whatever the outrageous comments, it is clear that these two peoples are not going to disappear. Rather, they must find a way to make compromises in exchange for peace.
There has been a Jewish presence in the area of Palestine for thousands of years. The Holocaust made the formation of the State of Israel a moral imperative, and its continuous secure existence must be guaranteed in any final peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
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 subjected under a new political power which held sway for a few centuries. Who, then, 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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