March 5, 1996
Israel is our homeland; Palestine is yours. Anyone who refuses to live with these two simple facts is either blind or evil.
Two and a half years after signing the Oslo Accords you and we have still to agree about the terms of peace. We still have to work hard, negotiate, persist with some issues, make concessions on some others. But, after three generations of fighting each other, we have at last agreed to start healing the wounds. This is what Yasser Arafat meant when he spoke at the ceremony in Washington about the “Peace of the Brave.”
Yitzhak Rabin was a brave man: he paid with his life for his effort. Shimon Peres is a brave man: both his life and his political future are at stake. Now is the time for Yasser Arafat to demonstrate that he too is a brave man—or to give his place to someone braver than him.
There are hundreds of clauses and sub-clauses to the Oslo Accords, but the essence is clear and simple: we stop ruling over you and suppressing you, and you recognize Israel and stop killing us. But up until now we have delivered and you haven’t. Israel is no longer controlling the lives of 85 percent of the Palestinians in the territories. The Palestinians, for their part, have not stopped killing us. In fact, more Israelis are being killed by Palestinians after the agreement than before. The symbol of your recognition of Israel—the cancellation of the Palestinian Covenant calling for our destruction—is still delayed. And this, after all, is a crucial part of the Oslo agreement. If Palestinians will not stop killing Israelis, the Oslo agreement will collapse, and Israel will have to ignore it—or some of it—and defend itself by force.
I know: the injustice, the humiliation, the misery, and the loss which your people have experienced, and for which both your people and mine are responsible, are not yet gone. But then the injustice and the losses inflicted on us Israelis by your fanatic and uncompromising leaders for many decades cannot be undone either. The purpose of peace is not to erase all past sufferings but to prevent further suffering. We must both choose now: either we learn to live with the traumas of the past and overcome them, or we go on fighting, thus creating even more traumas.
For fifty years now, Arab governments have tried to use the entire Palestinian people as a suicide bomber, sending your people to commit suicide in order to destroy us, while watching from their armchairs, rubbing their hands. Now most of the Arab governments are making peace with us, without shedding a tear over your plight. Are the Palestinian people really going to volunteer once more to be a living bomb, and to commit suicide—this time on behalf of fundamentalist Iran and its proxies?
No, my friend, I have not forgotten the fact that hundreds of thousands of you are still rotting in miserable refugee camps. Nor am I ignorant of the fact that Palestinian autonomy is less than an independent nation’s, or that problems such as Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements are still unresolved and many of your hopes still unfulfilled. Is there anyone among you who seriously maintains that everything could have been resolved in two years—or that two years could be sufficient to heal an injury which has been neglected and remained infected for three generations? Do any of you really think that you could possibly take without giving, or that Israel can give without taking?
You say that Israel has given you too little. Perhaps this is so. And yet it is a fact that Rabin’s and Peres’s Israel has given the Palestinians—and done for them—in two years more than the entire Arab world has ever given and done for them. Whatever the Palestinians have got now has been achieved for them not by Arab weapons, not by the superpowers, not even by bloody “Holy War,” but precisely by a narrow majority of Israelis who have, at last, reached the conclusion that military occupation and suppression are both immoral and useless.
If the Palestinian people refute those Israelis, it will at the same time be refuting its own hopes.
This is a moment of decision: a shaky majority of Israelis still support the Oslo agreements, but even within this majority there are some who are beginning to consider other options. Even our doves cannot bear a situation where “Land for Peace” means that Israel gives away land and gets less and less peace. Some of us are now looking into ideas such as drawing our border with you unilaterally, according to our best interests, disengaging the Israeli population completely from the Palestinian population, and defending ourselves from behind these new borders. It is unthinkable that Israel will go on living by its Oslo commitments while you Palestinians pay us with postdated checks, claiming that it is too hard for you to cancel the covenant, too hard to fight with Hamas, too hard to change the contents of anti-Semitic school textbooks, too hard to isolate your fanatics.
Of course it is hard for you; but, alas, it is quite hard for us Israelis to get killed every day. “We aren’t strong enough,” you say, but it is not just your strength which must be put to the test now. It is, first and foremost, your courage and integrity. Where are, today, the Palestinian mass rallies against murder and in favor of peace?* Where is, today, a Palestinian Peace Now? Where are your intellectuals, public opinion makers, clerics and poets?
If you and your friends remain quiet now, if you make do with mumbling half-hearted condemnations of the crimes and with offering private condolences over the phone to your Israeli friends, Oslo might soon become a missed opportunity. If this happens, it will fulfill the dark visions of your engineer and our doctor: Goldstein and Ayyash still threaten to return hand in hand from hell and bring hell upon us all.
Now it is your turn to rise and fight for peace.
Copyright © Amos Oz, 1996
Editors’ Note: The Wall Street Journal reported on March 6, after this article was written, that “there were pro-peace process demonstrations in Gaza yesterday, a first in a PLO-run area.” On March 7, The New York Times reported that “In Nablus on the West Bank, several thousand supporters of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah movement marched in a rally against terrorism….” ↩