"We, like you, are people"

Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 22:56:25 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

I am forwarding you a short piece that I wrote one week ago on the Israeli-Palestintian conflict. In particular, I was responding to the heightened violence of the past several weeks and the polarizing atmosphere that has come with that violence. This atmosphere even reached into the hallways of Yale Law School and onto its very walls. In this piece I refer to the "Wall," which is a forum for public discussion at the law school. I begin with a quote from Yitzhak Rabin. Thank you.



"Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians --

"We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people, people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms."

-- Yitzhak Rabin, September 13, 1993

Yitzhak Rabin spent much of his life as a soldier, but in the end he committed himself to a dream of peace: "We, like you, are people." This basic and beautiful reality has been lost to the people battling one another in the Middle East. What confuses and frightens me is that the situation has so deteriorated that such an obvious truth seems to need restating.

It pains me, as a Jew and as a human being, to see things that the Israeli forces have done in the West Bank: preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded, shooting ambulances even after granting them permission to proceed, destroying not just terrorist infrastructure but basic infrastructure and people's homes, harassing and beating and shooting at people. People simply should not do these things. And it pains me to know how Israel has treated the Palestinian people during the occupation -- the border closings, the bulldozing, the settlements, the checkpoints, the generally second-class treatment.

And it pains me as well to see the death and terror that some Palestinians have wrought upon Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Netanya and Haifa. It pains me that so many Palestinians, it seems, could consider suicide bombers to be martyrs, heroes, when they have committed such ruthlessly violent acts. I think what might have pained me most is the following: "On the Palestinian side . . . a survey conducted by An Najah university in Nablus found that 87 percent of Palestinians surveyed were in favor of continuing terror attacks." (New York Times, 3/18/02) How can so many people value life so little?

Perhaps it is because of a tragic inversion of the way people identify themselves. Let me explain. In the world I know, or would like to believe I know, people are human beings first, and their racial, ethnic, religious, or other specific identity -- Jew, Palestinian, American, Latino, black -- comes second. We must constantly remind ourselves that more connects us to our fellow human beings than divides us from them. To borrow from another Yitzhak Rabin speech (July 26, 1994), referring to Israelis and Jordanians (a majority of whom are Palestinians):

"We live on the same stretch of land. The same rain nourishes our soil; the same hot wind parches our fields. We find shade under the same fig tree and savor the fruit of the same green vine. We drink from the same well."

When we recognize ourselves as human beings first, the first thing Israelis would see when a Palestinian mother cries for a son killed because he defied a curfew to assist a woman who had just given birth is a mother crying for her dead son. The first thing Palestinians would see when an Israeli mother cries for her child killed by the explosives and sharp nails of a suicide bomb is a mother crying for her dead child. Certainly, some Israelis are demanding that the Israeli Defense Forces end the siege on Palestinian towns and cities, because human beings are dying. But not enough Israelis demand this. Surely some Palestinians are demanding that suicide bombing come to an end, because human beings are dying. But far too few Palestinians demand this.

Perhaps there is nothing inherently wrong about seeing yourself first as a member of an ethnic, religious, or other group, and only secondarily as a human being -- so long as you respect other people. I do not see what would be wrong if someone's first point of pride is that she or he is a member of a particular group, and that his or her humanity is a secondary source of identity. In practice, however, this does not seem to work. If people view themselves first as part of a specific group, they do not then -- as a secondary matter -- connect to the humanity of people outside their group. Rather, they deny that humanity altogether. It seems that we are and must be human first or we become human not at all.

And so, in the Middle East, humanity has slipped to second place, and second place becomes no place at all. (What terrible confluence of events could have caused this fall I won't begin to consider here, other than to observe that there is more than enough blame to go around. But we must turn to the dawn, not to the sunset.) Many Israelis have lost touch with the humanity of the Palestinians. They must have, or else they would have sought to minimize destruction and suffering in the cities their troops have entered. And many Palestinians -- and very sadly not only Palestinians, but many Arabs and others throughout the world who sympathize with their plight -- have lost touch with the humanity of Israelis - of Jews. They must have, or else they would not think that it is good when suicide bombers and gunmen kill Jews.

People cheering when Jews are killed -- we have seen such murderous hate before. Today (April 9, 2002) is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Such hate has resurfaced in a different place, a different age, a different context, on a different scale, but the same hate.

Those of you who know me know that I have a favorite quote, which I copy below, along with its twin. As you read them, I ask you to consider the following: we cannot build any single nation without building the world. However we identify ourselves, we must live together as human beings. Disrespect and hate, which today run so deep in the Middle East, and which have flared up in the flames of burning synagogues in Europe and even in the words on this Wall, are enemies of us all. Where we would build the world, disrespect and hate would destroy it. They are the enemies, not the Israelis, not the Palestinians. They are the enemies of us all. So to echo other calls on this Wall: do not stand by in their face, lest the fires they fuel take even more lives, burn even more dreams, force us even farther from a world already so difficult to create -- a world so many of us came here to try to help create.

I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much. -- Yitzhak Rabin, July 26, 1994

Don't say the day will come. Bring the day! Because it's not a dream. -- Shir LaShalom, Song for Peace

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