- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

When the dream of a Jewish homeland actually became real in 1948, my family rejoiced. Years before, as a child, I had been sent up the street carrying a blue-and-white tin box, to collect coins to plant trees in Palestine for the state to come. When the Six Day War broke out, bed sheets were placed on the streets in New York City, into which passersby including me and my wife threw money to support the Israeli armed forces.
But as a reporter, I came to know Palestinians in America, and I also met them during a trip to Israel. Some ruefully told me, "We are now the wandering Jews." Others, speaking of their zeal for education and their literature, said with bitterness, "We used to be called the Jews of the Middle East."
Researching the embattled history of the still-new Jewish state, I came across a question by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was born in Russia and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee before moving to the homeland. She asked: "Who are the Palestinians? There is no such nation."
But David Ben-Gurion knew who the Palestinians were. A founder of the Jewish state and its prime minister before Golda Meir, he came out of his retirement in the desert after the 1967 Six Day War and told a Labor Party convention as Howard Kaplan reported in the Baltimore Jewish Times that Israel, even without peace, must immediately return the conquered territories. Otherwise, Ben-Gurion predicted, that land, with its huge Arab population, "would eat Israel alive from the inside."
Unheeded, Ben-Gurion returned to the desert. The violence, inside and outside Israel, continued. Amnesty International and other human rights groups charged Israel with torturing and otherwise abusing its Palestinian prisoners and razing the homes of their families. Simultaneously, Palestinian terrorists murdered Israelis.
In Israel, I spoke to a member of a historic Israeli terrorist group, the Stern Gang. In 1948, she assassinated Count Bernadotte, who, with the Swedish Red Cross, had saved thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps. When he became United Nations mediator in Palestine, the Stern Gang targeted him because he wanted to internationalize Jerusalem.
His assassin had no regrets. "It was a war," she told me. "They killed us and we gave them an answer." But Count Bernadotte had killed no one. Meanwhile, as Palestinians developed their own human rights organizations to document Israeli oppression, there were also Israeli human rights groups that painstakingly reported abuses by their own government and still do. Lawyers on both sides, with whom I spoke, cooperated with each other. And in 1978, 350 Israeli combat soldiers and reserve officers sent "The Officers Letter" to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. They declared that holding on to the occupied territories would undermine not strengthen Israel. Eventually, there were 250,000 signatures on "The Officers' Letter" and what came to be called the Peace Now movement grew.
I talked to colonels in that movement who had fought in every one of the nation's wars. They were convinced, as they kept repeating, that a free nation cannot continue to be free and democratic if it rules over another people in its borders. I agreed with them.
In 1986, I spoke to Hanna Siniora, editor of Al Fajr ("The Dawn"), in East Jerusalem. Its anti-Israel stories and editorials were often fiery; but, in his office, Hanna Siniora saw the possibility, however chimerical, of a time when Israelis and Palestinians together could make the Middle East bloom as it has never done before.
"We Palestinians," he told me, "are very close to Israel in our thinking, even in our culture and roots. We are cousins."
But now, Palestinian mothers proudly sacrifice their sons as martyrs. And Yasser Arafat whose way of negotiating is to continually escalate the Intifada sacrifices hundreds of Palestinian youngsters whom he has never seen, and will never be able to see.
As Israeli settlers kill Palestinians, and Palestinians murder settlers, Imad Falouji, the Palestinian Authority's communications minister, tells Newsday that murderous resistance is "a Palestinian right."
Looking into the same future, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, a rabbinical council leader, calls for Jews to start "a chain of activities so that the country burns with fires from hilltop to hilltop."
Abba Eban, an architect of the Jewish state, said in 1969: "Unless you understand our memories, you cannot understand our policies." The Palestinians say the same thing. There was once, in Europe, a Hundred Years' War. There could well be another.


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