Says the President. And he’s right. But does everyone really know it to be true? I mean, it is true. Israel has to halt its settlements. For that matter, it has to tear up about half the existing settlements, at a minimum, and it almost certainly needs to agree to allow East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state, even if it remains under nominal international jurisdiction of some form; and in short it needs to do about fifteen things everyone knows are politically impossible without earthshaking changes in the Israeli political landscape. And the same goes for the Palestinians.
But does everyone know it to be true? When I was 12 years old and living in a neighborhood of Jerusalem called Katamon, I remember walking to school every morning and looking with bafflement and vague trepidation at the ultra-orthodox kids, their pale faces, hunched shoulders and dangling ear-locks, under the black brims of their hats, walking to their separate National Religious Party-funded ultra-orthodox school. And they looked back at me with the same suspicion and incomprehension. What did they know to be true? What was being taught to them in those schools? Whatever it was, it led them to steal land from Palestinians and call it God’s will. What do they know now? Have they learned anything different?
And what did we know? What did they teach us in our schools? They taught us that Israel had been established in 1948 in righteous fire and blood, that the Jews (as in that scene in “Exodus”) had asked the Arabs to stay, that the Palestinians had left of their own accord because their governments had told them the Jews would be driven into the sea in six weeks and they could come back after it was over. They taught us a lie. And we never thought to wonder: if it were me, would I really have behaved that way? Why would Arab governments have asked Arabs to leave? Why would Palestinians have obeyed? Does this make sense? The name of our neighborhood, Katamon, was an Arab name; the oldest, most beautiful houses were Arab houses with rounded arches and painted ceramic tiles. We never thought to ask: who owned this house in 1947? Why did they leave? Why didn’t they come back? Did I suspect the truth, deep down, but repress it because of the guilt it implied? One hopes so. The alternative would be that the truth I “knew” was only the lies — that when those ultra-orthodox kids, now grown up, steal Palestinian land, destroy their olive trees, stone them and beat them up, they are “acting on what they know to be true”.
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