Throughout my life, I have had little trouble acquiring friends. However, in Hebron, in the Israeli-controlled territory of the West Bank, I found a completely different atmosphere. Being of Jewish descent, I was hated by a large number of Palestinian Arabs, and being a Jew opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, for the sake and security of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, I was also hated by many of the Israeli settlers living in Hebron. It seemed very hard to make friends here, both for me and the population residing here. I recall an event which required the immediate attention of a local IDF patrol unit-a typical ownership dispute Both the Israelis and the Palestinians claimed possession of the ironically dubbed “Peace House”. The Israeli settlers barricaded themselves in the building, and after a few minor exchanges, leaving two Israelis and two Palestinians in critical condition, Israel Defense Forces manages to separate the two sides. In the past, Hebron had experienced far greater atrocities. In 1929, 67 Jews were murdered by an Arab crowd. In 1994, a similar event took place, only the perpetrator was an Israeli Jew, who killed 35 Muslim worshippers.
Hebron serves as a microcosm of a wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories are geopolitical n some areas and arbitrary in others. While the Golan Heights are retained by the Israeli government for the obvious military advantage it provides, the borders between Israel proper and the territories of the West Bank, both occupied and non-occupied, are unfortunately, perhaps even intentionally, ill-defined (although some parties on both sides would argue that the ownership of the entire area is in dispute, since it is in their firm opinion that the estate is theirs to possess).
Despite the religious and cultural importance that the Israel/Palestine provides to Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Muslims, I could never understand why this land has been, and continues to be, a land plagued with strife and sorrow. Even when given the genuine incompatibility of the claims each side makes, surely coexistence and reconciliation is possible. Why would these people insist on being their own malefactors rather than embrace each other, to diverse society, which has much to offer? To find the answer (albeit inadvertently), I had to travel thousands of miles to an almost unrelated environment. On a different trip of mine, to northern Tanzania, my guide took me to see the Olduvai Gorge, often referenced as the cradle of human civilization and revered by archeologists as the Holiest of Holies. As we were leaving the gorge, we stumbled across a fascinating site: a gathering of animals to a watering hole. Most of these animals were small and insignificant, however two groups stood out- a herd of elephants and a pack of lions.
This sudden suspension of hostilities and level of harmony surprised me. How could lions get along with elephants? Ask any school child what do lions do in the wild, and they will tell you that they hunt other animals for food, including elephants, whose thick, gray bodies would a feast for a pack. And the elephants, who are so defensive of their fellow that they will trample even a single human who dares approach one of them, would be equally hostile to the lions. And yet here they were, drinking water together, paying little attention to each other. This sort of détente parallels with a westerner drinking tea with the Taliban.
My heart lifted. Maybe, I thought, if such beasts could learn to put aside their differences, maybe we could too. We could recognize our similarities, sympathize with our youth, understand our need to come together, beat our swords to ploughshares, and recognize our common interests and common goals. Maybe, I thought, we could learn to love one another, to take each other’s hands in embrace, and cast out our hatred towards one another, and replace it with compassion and understanding. I began thinking about the future. A day will come, I thought, when humanity will unite to destroy all machines of destruction, to destroy all creeds of hate. The destiny of mankind is determined by the will of the masses, and if it is humanity’s destiny to live side by side with people of different backgrounds and ideologies, then it should be the vox populi to live in peace. Surely this is the best of all alternatives. Surely this is better than the dismal fate that we seem to be rushing towards, even wishing for, when we should be running from it.
But alas, all my hopes and dreams were suddenly dashed. After I asked my knowledgeable guide about the lions and the elephants drinking from the same water and supposedly at peace, he responded that the tension between them were actually very high. In fact, according to my guide, when night falls, the lions, who have superior night vision, will turn on and attack the elephants, who merely have eyes comparable to our own. My heart sank. As it turns out, the problem is not that we are not enough like these animals, but we are too much like them. We only cooperate with each other when we have to, but secretly conspire against each other, and make war when a good opportunity presents itself. While some of us act this way, like the lion, others act like the elephant, who pretends to himself that he is so superior to the lion, that he needs not worry about a possible rebellion from the lion, and then proceeds to cloak himself with ignorance and close-mindedness. In his mind, he is so strong, that he needs not to act. His awareness of his strength is his own deterrent. By being conscious of his strength, he hesitates to act aggressively, for fear of losing the moral high ground.
It came to me how undeniable the value of that strip of land in the Middle East we cal the Holy Land is. This sliver of land, no bigger than the state of New Jersey, is at the crossroads of three continents, the soul of three major religions, and is one of the only fertile lands for thousands of miles. Animals from all over the world are gathering to this watering hole. The lions and the elephants are sharing this land, for now. But as soon as the sun sets, the truce will end. The uneasy peace will be broken. The owner of the watering hole will soon be determined