Peres knows what is needed to achieve peace

 
 
Published1/7/2008 12:08 AM

One of the main obstacles blocking a genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis is the refusal of leaders and citizens on both sides to acknowledge injustices their sides have committed against the other. Israelis refuse to acknowledge their role in causing the Palestinian refugee problem, instead changing the argument to address claims of Jews who immigrated to the new Jewish state from Arab countries, for example. Similarly, many Arabs refuse to acknowledge terrorism is used not as a defense or act of self-defense, but as acts of unjustified vengeance and retribution.

These are but examples. This refusal is sometimes defended as "pride." Other times, it is defined as "good negotiating practice," meaning in negotiations, people never acknowledge their own wrongdoing, only that of the others.

 

Yet, what the Palestine-Israel conflict really needs is for leaders on both sides to stand up and start acknowledging the pain that each side has inflicted on the other. It's one reason I have always admired Shimon Peres, the Israeli leader who, since the late 1980s, has pursued peace based not only on land for peace compromise, but also on the basis of the Jewish religious belief in "atonement." Like his colleague, Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered in 1995 by an Israeli terrorist several years after agreeing to a compromise with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Peres has pursued peace genuinely. He constantly offers himself as an icon of what genuine peace and compromise is all about. If we one day hope to achieve real peace, it must be based on genuine atonement from both sides.

Recently, in keeping with his character, Peres met with the residents of a little Palestinian village called Kafr Qassem and apologized to them for a massacre that was committed in their village more than 50 years before. On the first day of the 1956 War, Israel imposed a curfew on every Arab village near the West Bank, on the border with Jordan which controlled the West Bank. Israeli military commanders ordered a shoot-to-kill order for anyone who "disobeyed" the curfew. Unfortunately, most of the villagers in Kafr Qassem were at work or outside of the village and did not know about the curfew. When they returned, Israeli border guards massacred them, killing 47 villagers including 15 women and 11 children. All were unarmed.

Years later, the killers were convicted of crimes and sentenced to long prison sentences. But almost immediately, all were pardoned, serving minimal jail sentences. The commander who led the attack was ordered to pay a symbolic Israeli "fine" that is equivalent to "10 cents". Despite the "convictions," which Arabs denounced as a sham, Israel resisted teaching the history of Kafr Qassem in their schools.

There have been many atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians, including at another Arab village, Deir Yassin, on April 9, 1948. Few are acknowledged. The outrage has fueled Arab anger against Israel.

Peres recognizes true peace begins not just with the enemy, but from within. There are many Israelis like Peres, but not enough leaders. I wish all were like Peres. If it were so, we would have achieved a genuine peace accord decades ago.

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