As the Georgetown Israel Alliance hosts a series of events this week to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, I reflect on his legacy and realize that Rabin was neither the first nor last Israeli to work towards peace.
Just as Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban offered to give all the territories captured in Israel’s war of self-defense in 1967 in exchange for peace, and as Yitzhak Rabin started the Oslo process to give the Palestinians a state of their own, Ariel Sharon has recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and, through the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank, has taken a tremendous step in the promotion of that goal: a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
The magnitude of the disengagement is hard to grasp for the average observer. It is important to understand that Israel is giving up territories which have an enormous symbolic value for the Jewish people, since they represent the cradle of the Jewish nation and contain places of immense religious and historic significance. Israel is relinquishing claims to these territories despite the fact that, under international law they are classified as disputed (not occupied), thus belonging as much to the Israelis as to the Palestinians.
The vast majority of Israelis were willing to give this up, however, not only because they believe that reality demands a two-state solution, but because they have come to respect the right of the Palestinians to have a sovereign nation. Despite Israeli recognition of the Palestinian right to a state, Palestinians have merely accepted the present-day reality of the Jewish state, realizing that they cannot destroy it, but have never recognized the legitimate Israeli right to a sovereign nation.
In giving up these places for the sake of progress toward peace, Israel undertook an agonizing operation in which young Israeli soldiers forcefully pulled their fellow countrymen from their homes. This sacrifice and the pain it caused among all Israelis, even those who knew it must be done, deserves more recognition than it has received.
Overlooked in the process of withdrawal was the meaning of what was being implemented: Israel uprooted Jewish inhabitants in order to move toward the creation of a Palestinian state – a state that, in accordance with Palestinian demands for continuing a peace process, must be free of Jews. Just as Israel does not demand the expulsion of its 1.3 million Arabs (who enjoy citizenship and full rights) in order to come to a lasting peace agreement, there seems to be no logical connection between creating a Palestinian state and demanding that all Jews leave that territory. In reality, however, it is clear that a Jewish minority within a Palestinian state would never survive, but it is important to bring to light the demand that Palestinian territory must be free of Jews.
This is not a mere play on words. Terminology matters in a conflict as heated as this. Words are as important as actions because they are a window into the heart of a society, giving us a glimpse of a culture’s true desires and goals. I turn on the Israeli radio and hear pop songs of peace and hope, so numerous that they cannot be counted in this article alone. I read abundant Israeli declarations and speeches which repeatedly talk about peace, acceptance, equality and a future of mutual recognition.
I cannot help but be overwhelmed by anxiety and frustration as I listen to the messages coming from Palestinian society and the wider Arab and Muslim world, which call for the destruction of Israel or, more subtly, for a bi-national state, denying the connection between the Jewish people and any part of the land, and encouraging “resistance” and “martyrdom.”
In the realm of actions there is also a gulf between the two peoples, and besides the unprecedented magnitude of the disengagement, the Rabin memorial is also particularly fitting to illustrate this point. Ten years ago, when Rabin was assassinated, he was leading the largest peace rally in Israel’s history – a rally that united all Israelis: Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze. Yet, how can it be that I have never heard about a similar rally coming from the Arab side? How can it be that we continue to produce leaders that risk their lives by pursuing painful compromises in the interest of peace, and yet the Palestinians keep breeding suicide bombers and public relations specialists that are more concerned with propaganda than with solutions?
Why are we so willing to compromise while they keep insisting, through their words and actions, on our destruction? I think this week provides the best answer of all: because of our culture, our songs, our prayers, and because of the things we decide to honor and remember.
Because of people like Yitzhak Rabin.
Salomon Kalach is a 2003 graduate of the College and a student in the Communication, Culture and Technology Program.
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