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Talking Arab-Israeli Peace After A Workout

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It was a regular Saturday. I woke up after a long afternoon nap. My wife was plucking fruit from trees in our front yard and the kids were playing basketball. I changed and went to the gym. After I finished my workout, when I was walking to the locker room for a shower, I saw Einaat, an old friend of mine, kicking and punching a sandbag in the kickboxing section. Einaat is a 28-year-old Israeli-Ashkenazi Jewish woman, who was born and grew up in a small industrial town in the north of Israel. When she finished her 12th-grade there, her parents sent her to the US for higher education. After a couple of years in school, she started working in my gym as an instructor of kickboxing. I met her when I joined the classes. She was my instructor. She enjoyed talking about politics and was always curious to know how people outside Israel see her country – especially, those who come from the societies where many people consider Israel as their enemy.

After freshening up I went to the gym cafeteria. She was already there. We started catching up: What had she been doing all these years? Did she finish her school? How were her parents doing? etc.

Suddenly, she looked into my eyes and said, “You may be very happy to see the new peace initiative on the Arab-Israeli issue by President Trump!” I asked her why she believed that I should be happy. She said that as per the plan, Israel is relinquishing lots of settlements. I said that relinquishing some settlements at the price of legitimizing the occupation of the Jordan valley and riddling up the West Bank with new and existing settlements did not sound like a great concession.

She had no answer for this.

But she did say, “Why do people not understand the fact that Israel cannot and will not pull back or ever allow another state inside it where the population may grow faster than the Jewish population? Israel cannot have a situation where it cannot stay a Jewish State!”

I asked her how she perceives President Donald Trump. She said that if she were a US citizen, she would not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. However, after he came to power he had proven to be Israel’s friend. “And now I may vote for him in 2020” she said.

Then I asked her the tough question.

“Is it more important for you to have a US President who pretends to be friendly to the Israeli government by accepting all their actions just for the sake of domestic political gains or do you want to see someone in the White House who would actually worry more about your people?”

She asked, “What do you mean?”

“I think I am very clear in what I said.” I responded. Then I added, “Look Einaat, after President Trump came to power, suddenly the neo-Nazi organizations became more active. There is the sudden surge in attacks on synagogues and incidents of Nazi Swastikas in public places. How can you call such a person a friend? He could very well be a friend of your government, but for sure he is not a friend of your people!”

She did not say anything but just looked at me. I continued, “Look Einaat, what is this peace process? It’s nothing except that Trump is allowing Bibi (Netanyahu) to legalize the occupation of occupied territories and impose Israel’s rule there, just to help him in the elections this year while getting support from the Jewish lobby to fight his own troubles at home. Would you expect that everyone would accept it and endorse it? Of course not, even the Europeans will have difficulty accepting such plan. There will be protests and to quell the uprising Israel will have to use force. That may muffle the voices for the time being, but it will not be able to completely silence the Palestinians. They will rise again. Do you really want to live in a country where if it were not for law enforcement personnel all the time on the street, there is no peace? Of course not!”

And here she interjected, “But you have to realize another fact: that Israel is very small, and it requires land to sustain as a country. It needs resources to feed its people. It is a Jewish state. How will it stay a Jewish state if the non-Jewish population will be more than the Jewish population?”

Her tone got somewhat aggressive here.

I responded, “Well then, why did the world stop Japan during World War II? Japan had similar reasoning for annexing parts of China, taking over Taiwan and controlling Korea. Look, real peace has its dividends. Israel is created as a Jewish state and it will stay a Jewish state. Peace will allow more areas opened for business activities and when peace will prevail, governments will have to spend less money on the defense or security apparatus, and that money would go to the people. I know there is an Israeli diaspora that lives in the suburbs of Western countries and have no stakes in the country. They can afford to ask the Israeli government to be tough because they or even their distant relatives are not going to be affected by the retaliations of the oppressed party.”

I told her that lots of Pakistani diaspora communities as well, sitting in their Western suburban mansions, support dictatorial rule and coups d’etat in Pakistan. Whenever they visit the old country, they stay in expensive hotels, in posh localities and very safe neighborhoods. These people lecture everyone in Pakistan on how tough the governments should be on “illiterate” people.

She listened to me while giving me the “Sorry I do not agree” kind of look. And she said, “I do agree with you – but only to some extent. If you live in Israel, you will see that the people do believe in the power of force. There was a time when after every month or so there used to be a suicide bombing in the cities, but after the use of excessive force, those attacks almost stopped.”

I said, “No, it may be true to some extent but not entirely. The reason for the reduction in the attacks is mainly due to the fact that the rich Arab neighbors are convinced by the West that their main enemy is not Israel, it’s Iran. Now, they do not support anti-Israeli forces inside Israel. They do not even raise voices for those Palestinians who are not involved in any attacks and only demand their right of self-determination. Now, they see the interests and Israel’s interests converge in lots of areas. They believe that if they support Israel, one day that country would unleash its fury on Iran and that is how they would get rid of their enemy. In a very similar way they wanted the Pakistani military’s involvement in Yemen, which Pakistan’s then Prime Minister judiciously moved to the elected parliament, which rejected any involvement in Yemen. However, if such unilateral plans are imposed they will be unable to keep the lid on public sentiments.”

It was already too late and the gym started preparing to close down for the day.

We decided to keep in touch.

I waited in the gym until her father – who was visiting her from her hometown – came to pick her up.

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Naya Daur