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50 voices 50 years | Amos Oz

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War in June, BICOM and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have launched 50 Voices, 50 Years, an exciting new collection of 50 diverse voices featuring contributions that reflect on the implications of this anniversary, its legacy for Israel and the Middle East, its meaning for Zionism and the Jewish state’s prospects for peace. Below is the contribution from 2017 Man Booker Prize nominated Israeli author Amos Oz.

We can try to dismantle the fear. Perhaps we can calm it down. Sharing some of the fear would probably cause no harm to the dovish Israeli left wing. There are good reasons to be afraid. This way or the other, a person who is afraid, justly or unjustly, should not ever deserve contempt, ridicule or disrespect. The debate over peace in exchange for territories should be neither scornful nor demeaning; it should take place while weighing one danger against another.

There is yet another mistake that some of my friends in the dovish left tend to make. Sometimes they seem to believe that peace is resting on a high shelf in the toy store. Father Rabin almost touched it during the Oslo accords, but was not willing to pay the full price and fetch the toy for us. Father Ehud Barak almost touched it at Camp David, but he too was not willing to pay the price, so he returned without peace. The same goes for father Olmert – had he been less tight fisted, had he loved us enough – he would surely pay the full price and bring us the long yearned for peace.

​This is all equally unacceptable to me. Peace requires more than one partner. As an Arab proverb says, “One hand cannot clap alone”. However, today we have a partner for negotiations. For long years, the brainwashers told us Arafat was too strong and evil, now they tell us Abu-Mazen is too weak. We are told that as long as Palestinians kill us we cannot make peace, and once they stop – that there is no good reason to do so.

​My Zionist starting point has been quite simple for decades: we are not alone in this country. We are not alone in Jerusalem. I say the same things to my Palestinian friends. You are not alone in this country. We cannot escape the necessity of dividing our small house into two smaller apartments. Yes, a two family dwelling. If a man would come, from either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and say: “This is my country” – he would be right. However, if he would say: “This country, from the sea to the Jordan River, is all mine and mine alone” – I would suspect the man smells of blood.

​Yes – to a compromise between Israel and Palestine. Yes – to two states. To a partition of this country, turning it into a two family dwelling.

​On both sides, some people despise the notion of compromise. In their eyes, any compromise seems to be weakness, perhaps even wretchedness. I for myself think that in family life, as in the lives of neighbours and nations, choosing compromise means choosing life. The opposite of compromise is not confidence, integrity or idealism. The opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.

The Palestinians are waging two distinct wars against us: on the one hand, many are fighting for the end of the occupation and their just right to national independence, the right “to be a free people in their own land”. Any decent person should support their struggle, without necessarily supporting all the means used to reach the end. On the other hand, many Palestinians are waging a war aspiring to destroy the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and state of all its citizens. This is an atrocious war, any honest man should consider abhorrent. The source of embarrassment, confusion and superficiality – here and all over the world, is the fact that many Palestinians are fighting both wars simultaneously.

​Even decent, peace loving and justice oriented people tend to fall for it. It is either that they adamantly defend the continuation of Israeli occupation, claiming that Israel is a victim of jihad and occupation is an act of self-defence, or that they denounce Israel, claiming the occupation, and the occupation only – is the source of all evil, and thus Palestinians are entitled to spill Israeli blood without restriction. We are thus witnessing two wars: the first exceptionally just and the other completely wrong.

Israel too is fighting in two fronts at the same time. The first is an undoubtedly just struggle for the right of the Jewish people to be free in their own country. The other war, however, is an oppressive, unjust and exploitative campaign, aimed at adding a few more rooms to our apartment, on the expense of the Palestinian neighbour, steal his land and deprive him of his right for freedom.

​The idea of a binational state is with some sense of irony promoted these days by both the extreme left wing, as well as some representatives of the looney right. I regard it as a sad joke. After a hundred years of bloodshed, tears and agony, you cannot expect Israelis and Palestinians to jump into a honeymoon bed.

​No. There are no prospects for the Palestinians and us becoming “one big happy family”. We need two states. The land has to be a two family dwelling. We, Israeli Jews – are not going anywhere. We have no place to go. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, either. They too have nowhere to go. In its essence, the fight between the Palestinians and us is not a Hollywood western and a fight of good against evil, but a tragedy of justice versus justice. It was a conviction I expressed fifty years ago and it is what I still believe today. Justice versus justice, and unfortunately, quite often – injustice versus injustice.

​The existential danger is the continued conflict with the Arabs, which is bound to turn into a conflict against most of the world. A conflict of that kind might endanger our very existence.

​Shortly after the great victory in the 1967 war, I wrote about “the absolute moral destruction that occupation causes the occupiers”. Many gifted others, including Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, shared the same ideas and later published them openly.

​ I am not certain we can terminate our quarrel with the Palestinians all at once. However, we can try. I believe the scope of the conflict could have been narrowed a long time ago. It is hard to be a prophet in the land of prophets. There are too many. Yet, my experience taught me that in the Middle East the words “forever,” “never” or “no way” mean something between six months and thirty years.

Amos Oz is an Israeli author nominated for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. You can read the other entries in the 50 voices, 50 years project here.