The following report has been written by Gabe Maldoff, an intern at Peace Now and a student at the University of McGill.
I’ve been in Israel for over two months now, and the longer I’m here, the more I find myself unable to characterize what I’ve seen and what’s happening here. It is a place of contradictions, where a few hours’ drive can take you from the rolling dunes of the Negev to the snows high above the Golan; where you can spend the day in the holiest city in the world, then party in one of the hippest; where time follows no chronology as it meanders from bustling shopping malls to budding, thousand-year old archeological sites.
Indeed, it is a place that seems at times to defy gravity. Cranes – the national bird, I’ve been told – pull buildings skyward amidst failing world markets and the regional conflict, ever present in the media here and abroad. In fact, that is one of the big surprises, that despite all we hear about in the news of violence, life here moves forward at breakneck speeds. Israel has become so successful, that one author, Gideon Levy of Haaretz, in his column yesterday, speculates that there no longer is an incentive for peace:
Cafes are bustling and restaurants are packed. People are vacationing. The markets are surging. Television dumbs us down, highways are jammed, and the festivals are blaring. La Scala performed in the park and Madonna is to follow, and the beaches are full of foreign tourists and locals. The summer of 2009 is wonderful. So why should we change things?
Having spent nearly a month living in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and traveling throughout the Palestinian territories, I’ve seen the unequal weight this conflict has on either side of the Green Line. For Palestinians, roadblocks, checkpoints, and the security barrier/wall/fence serve as ever-present reminders of their unresolved status. The creeping progress of settlement construction is visible on hilltops, even in the depths of the largest Palestinian agglomerations.
But in Israel, while the situation is an object of discussion and a plethora of opinions, its effects still seem somehow distant. Especially here in Tel Aviv, in the city of business and beaches, why do we need peace?
Well, besides all of the human-rights arguments and all of the demographic arguments for maintaining the Jewish nature of the state that seem distant from everyday reality, the economic cost of war is untenable for a society that wants to fuel its rising star. At a lecture with an executive of Bank Hapoalim, she estimated the direct cost of defense at 10% of GDP, and the indirect cost – that incurred by the lost productivity of soldiers and reservists – at another 10%. In comparison, the United States’ defense budget, large by most countries’ standards, sits at 6% of GDP. If Israel wants to keep things wonderful, things will have to change.
There is evidence, too, that people on this side of the fence are also growing weary of the fight. I’ve met mothers who can’t explain the fear they feel every day their children are in uniform, and I’ve met soldiers who count the days until the end of their service. There are still tourists who are afraid of taking buses, and security checks at the entrances of most establishments are small reminders that there were times when it wasn’t so safe.
So, that’s why we have to act now. Because, even though things are good, progress is the only way to maintain the current good times. We have to act now, in times of relative peace, so that violence cannot be used as a tool for advancement. We have to act now because people on both sides of this conflict, everywhere in the world, are tired of fighting.
Peace will not be easy, and it will not be quick. The distrust and cultural differences run very deep. But there are things we can do to lessen the divide. That’s why Peace Now is working hard to stop construction in the settlements. While it may not be the heart of the matter, to stop it will send a powerful message that we are ready to do what it takes, and from there we can begin to reconcile.
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” – African proverb.