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Issue Date:  September 5, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

Hoping for an elusive peace

In her book Revenge: A Story of Hope, American journalist Laura Blumenfeld tells a deeply personal story of transformation in her quest for revenge against a Palestinian shooter who wounded her father, a rabbi from the United States, in one of the senseless acts of violence that flow into a river of violence in the Middle East. The shooting occurred in 1986; she went looking for the shooter a decade later. Her book was published last year.

In the torrent of violence that has been unleashed on the world in just the year since the book came out, the wounding of a single American a decade and a half ago seems hardly noteworthy. Blumenfeld knew Israel, knew the intractable thicket of conflicts there. She covered the region for The Washington Post. She also ultimately argued clemency for the shooter in an Israeli court. What she discovered about revenge, about cycles of violence and about the transforming nature of person-to-person contacts is one of the few paths to hope. It is noteworthy if only for the inspiringly unconventional conclusions she reaches.

The book came to mind as I read this week’s cover story by Paul Jeffrey, another journalist who comes at the task of describing the tangles of political conflict with eyes open. He has lived in Nicaragua and Guatemala and now resides in Honduras. He knows the rage that builds in desperate people; he knows the heroic lengths to which people will go to reclaim dignity; he knows how badly vulnerable populations can be used by both sides in a conflict.

In a note to me, he wrote the following about Israel and the Palestinian Territories: “I found the place fascinating, complex and totally depressing. It isn’t going to get better any time soon. It may get horribly worse when someone figures out how to use a nuclear weapon. But for many people it is already incredibly harsh.”

The night before he left Israel, he said, he heard the bus bomb explosion that killed 20 people, including six children.

Earlier, he said, he had “watched a Palestinian guy get beaten by a soldier at a checkpoint simply because he persisted in politely asking a question. The Palestinians around me just watched with straight faces, but you could see in their eyes the anger at such humiliation.”

I have spent hours in conversation and letter-writing with U.S. Jews, who would say a number of things in explanation. That the extreme right in Jewish politics does not represent their view. That the manipulations of Yasser Arafat have consistently doomed any chance of peace. That moderate Jews will say at least privately and often in public that the answer to the problem has been known for years -- an end to settlements, two separate states, stringent limits to the law of return.

But the conversation that counts never approaches such fine points. Someone blows himself up, another section of the wall is constructed, another settlement expanded, and any hope of progress disappears.

~ ~ ~

At the end of her book, Blumenfeld notes that in the two years since she had spoken up for the Palestinian shooter in an Israeli court, the two sides had “exchanged some of the bloodiest, ugliest blows in their history. More than ever, peace seems elusive.”

On a shuttle to the Kansas City Airport Aug. 24, I met a young Jewish wife and mother who was returning to Israel. When I asked her about the peace process, she responded forcefully that the road map was absurd because nothing was being done to alter the way Palestinian kids were taught to hate Jews. If that didn’t happen, very little movement could occur toward peace.

When she left the van, I wished her a safe trip and said I hoped for a miracle in her country. “That’s what we’re praying for,” she responded.

The following morning, the complimentary newspaper slid under my hotel room door bore the headline: “Israeli missile strike kills 4 in Gaza.”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 5, 2003

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