Friday, October 15, 2010

Amos Oz And Sari Nusseibeh: Two Voices Of Sanity In The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Amos Oz, Israeli author and one of the founders of the Peace Now movement, and Sari Nusseibeh, Palestinian professor of philosophy and president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, shared the Siegfried Unseld Prize in Berlin on September 28, 2010. Oz's "A Tale of Love and Darkness" (2003) and Nusseibeh's "Once Upon a Country" (2007) are autobiographical, humane and searching explorations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The New York Review of Books presented their acceptance speeches; excerpts follow.

Oz, in "A Tragic Struggle," presents the conflict, correctly in my view, as a tragic struggle of right against right. Oz nevertheless sees a historic process toward resolution:

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash between right and right, and often it is a clash between wrong and wrong. ...The Palestinians have nowhere else to go, and neither do the Israelis. The disputed land is, altogether, smaller than Holland—yet there is no choice but to divide it into two countries, Israel and Palestine. The Israelis and Palestinians can’t turn into a single people living in a single country, and there is no point in trying to shove them into a double bed after a century of violence and hatred. ...The Israeli Jews and the Palestinians Arabs cannot, at this stage, turn into one happy family because they are not one, they are not happy, and they are not a family. They are two unhappy families, which is why it is vital to split the house into to smaller apartments—just as the Czechs and the Slovaks did without shedding a drop of blood.

These are times of renewed hope. The distance between the Israeli and Palestinian positions in the peace negotiations is not small, but it is certainly much smaller than it has ever been during a hundred years of conflict. It is hard to be a prophet, especially in Jerusalem—the competition is fierce—but allow me to conclude with a small prophecy: A day will come when there is an Israeli embassy in Palestine and a Palestinian embassy in Israel. And these two embassies will be walking distance from one other, because one of them will be in West Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and the other will be in East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine. Extremists on both sides will continue to do all they can to thwart a historic compromise and peace—but peace will come, because a majority of both peoples want it and because the extremists are minorities on both sides.

Nusseibeh, in "The Magic Within Us," speaks of the appeal to universal values in upholding Palestinian rights. He also maintains an openness to unforeseen possibilities despite the dilemmas of the present:

What has in recent years become the conventional model for peace, namely, the two-state solution, or a two-state solution, is now up for the test. Let us hope it passes this test—though with a House fractured on the Palestinian side, a narrow-minded Government on the Israeli side, and a pathetically feeble international community, prospects for such a success seem dim.

...I am a strong believer in activism, or in acting as the way of being. But such activism...must first and foremost be on behalf of universal human values rather than tribal prejudices. If I stand up for Palestinian rights, then I can only allow myself to do so, and only to the extent, on rational grounds, that I can consider my upholding of such rights to be a specific example of my upholding of universal human rights. My fighting or activism in this case would then be rationally defensible, but only insofar as it has been made so by virtue of this universal moral principle.

I don’t believe that the angel of peace has departed, or is about to leave us forever. But I think that our challenge as peace-seekers, as human beings, is being made far more daunting than it has been. This certainly requires us to be patient; but more than ever, it also requires us to have faith in ourselves, in the magic within us, that however impossible things may look, we can still make them happen. They may not happen the exact way we now think they should happen. But how they may happen may turn out to be even better.

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