It has been a scorching summer in Israel: both sides have been playing with fire. Fire was set to forests all around the country, allegedly by Palestinian arsonists; then it was set to three Gazan workers sleeping in Or Yehudah near Tel Aviv, by Jewish youngsters. “Facing the Woods,” a story written by Abraham B. Yehoshua twenty-five years ago, suddenly took on a fresh meaning. It is about a Jewish student who is staying in a watchtower overlooking the woods, writing a paper about the Crusaders, and watching out for fire. A tongueless old Arab, who lives downstairs with a little girl, is assisting him in his job, yet secretly accumulating kerosene cans in order to set the forest ablaze. Eventually the Jewish student helps the old Arab set fire to the woods, and they find the ruins of the Arab village, which has been long covered up by the trees.
One interpretation of that story observes that the only language tongueless Arabs can speak is the language of fire. Why, then, should the tongueless, oppressed, battered, and dispossessed Palestinian speak in a language other than that of fire? Then the name Emmwas this summer began more and more to be heard. The inhabitants of Emmwas (supposedly the biblical Emmaus) and of two other adjacent villages were expelled from their homes in the wake of the battles of the Six Day War, four years after Yehoshua’s story was published. The villages were located in what the Israelis regarded at the time as a very sensitive spot, a cigarette away, as the Arabs say, from the Green Line, and the scene of heavy fighting in 1948. The villages were bulldozed, and, later, trees were planted on top of the ruins. The once populated hills of Emmwas became “Canada Park,” and Yehoshua’s student, who exists somewhere in every Israeli Jewish mind, wondered if one day this park, and similar forests, would be set on fire.
However, the Palestinian issue, in recent months, has not been on the front burner, so to speak, of the lame-duck policy makers in Israel or in the United States. The uncertain time preceding the November elections in both countries has somehow obscured the issue, which must wait for clearer days. But the Palestinians have always been notorious for bad timing. The intifada, long overdue as it is, erupted at a bad time. The PLO procrastinated far too long in taking a definite position on Israel. Finally, at June’s Arab summit in Algiers, Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat’s adviser and spokesman, came out with an explicit political extension to the intifada, a statement that called upon the PLO to hold direct talks with Israel, and implicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist. “All nations,” Abu Sharif wrote, “Jews and Palestinians among them, have the right to expect not only nonaggression from their neighbors, but also a political and economical cooperation of sorts.” Some Palestinian leaders criticized this statement, but Abu Sharif repeated the gist of it on August 13,…
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