Middle East peace needs more people willing to hope
By Ray Hanania — There is a street in West Jerusalem’s “German Colony” called Emek Rafaim, which translated from Hebrew means “valley of the ghosts.” It is surrounded by large homes made of the colorful pink and gray Jerusalem Stones once owned by Palestinian families before the outbreak of violence in 1947 and the creation of the State of Israel the following year. Today, Israelis who pass through often point to the largest of the buildings, which have been converted into Bed and Breakfasts, Temples, offices and apartments, openly referring to them as “those beautiful, former Arab homes.” In many ways, the street has come to symbolize the fate of Palestinian-Israeli relations. A place where living in the past has become daily life. Tragedies become street signs, properties change hands, and conflicting claims never go away. Lost in all this are not the facts. The only thing that has changed in nearby Romema, where my Christian Palestinian father and his family once lived, are the families. And, apparently throughout the Middle East as a result of years of failed peace efforts, the ability to hope.This week, President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will give the process of achieving a compromise one more chance, convening a Peace Summit at Annapolis, Maryland.Yet, they tried to do everything different this time. They changed the location. They tempered expectations. And instead of just inviting the principle rival nations, attendees will include foreign ministers and representatives from nearly 50 countries, including from many of the 22 Arab nations.Will that be enough to “revive the Middle East peace and pave the way for a Palestinian state?”
Fearing failure, Olmert and Abbas are trying not to be too optimistic. It has all come down to how not to disappoint the public. What was once a very courageous effort to do that which everyone said was impossible, is now looked upon as something that must be done. A chore rather than a goal.
Peace in the Middle East has suffered, but not for the want of trying. Usually, it’s failure has been the result of too much violence, political hubris, or just plan abandonment.
Expectations have run the gamut, from wildly excessive expectations to a pessimism so great you have to wonder why anyone even bothers.
Yet, we have to wonder again, because hope burns eternal even among the most pessimistic. Will the summit achieve any results?
And I mean, “any” results?
Not since President Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat tried has there been a greater effort.
After Rabin’s murder, and Clinton’s political power play to rush the results before his retirement as president, the peace process collapsed. President Bush turned his back on the region and the two sides collapsed into angry factions that prompted the worst violence between the two sides.
The years 2001 and 2002 were the worst in terms of casualties, violence, hate-filled rhetoric, and efforts to cement the coffin of future peace accords.
Israelis said they offered the “best ever” deal to Palestinians, and Palestinians said Israel turned its back on concessions on the most important issues.
Yet, how can one give up on hope? How can any sane individual say that peace based on compromise is not the better option than continued strife or hopeless abandonment?
How can Palestinians and Israelis not continue, in the face of the most disappointing peace results of the recent past, not try to meet again, and again and again to make compromise work?
In truth, if they stop trying, Palestinians and Israelis would cease to exist as Palestinians and as Israelis.
They would becomes ghosts destined to stroll the memories of the past, like the patrons on Emek Rafaim, a “tony” street where popular restaurants and bars have appeared guarded by metal detectors, security guards and a constant awareness for trouble.
Many of the streets in Jerusalem have been changed from their original Arabic to words that reflect the more recent history of Israel.
Some are named after the “friends of Israel,” like Masaryk or Emile Zola. Some after events, like “Ha-Portzim Street,” which means “those who break through” after the pre-State Israeli haganah forces that fought in the 1948 war.
“Kovshei Katamon Street” is named after the “the conquerors of Katamon,” the pre-Israel Arab neighborhood. And some are even named after past international events, like “Kaf-Tet be-November,” or translated from Hebrew, “The 29th of November Street,” representing the day in 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into one Jewish State and one Arab state.
Emek Rafaim, “The street of ghosts” is jammed with veteran Israelis more than the tourists. It has a partying atmosphere. Most who go there are too young to know the disappointment of hope.
It even has a street named after my family, “Hananyah,” which was once a thoroughfare that intersected with Emek Rafaim. Today, it has been turned into a very short little cul du sac.
But then, hasn’t everything been cut short in the Middle East?
Just maybe, Annapolis might change all that.
And that is worth the anguish of hope.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and standup comedian. Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, www.ArabWrtersGroup.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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