I went to visit my grandchildren the other day. Although it’s a short trip from Jerusalem to Rehovot, I was nervous as I got on the bus, and my anxiety grew as I waited at the well-guarded central bus station. What were the odds, I kept thinking, of my getting blown up by some Palestinian’s latest message to the Jewish people concerning their rights to the land we live in?
Once I was there, on the floor of my daughter’s house, with the Lego and the kids, of course, I forgot all about my anxiety. “Look what I brought,” my son-in-law said when he walked in from work. It was a map of the world, laminated, a New Year’s freebie. He laid it down on the carpet, and the little ones gathered around. “Where are we?” they asked me.
I looked down and searched. And searched. And there we were. A tiny little squiggle by the vast sea, surrounded by the huge land masses of Egypt, Syria, and nearby Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. We were so small, even Jordan and Lebanon looked more substantial. And they must be, because the map-maker found the room to print their names on their land mass. Israel had to make do with red letters in the nearby Mediterranean Sea.
Listening to news reports, and reading the foreign press, we forget sometimes that the “aggressor,” “land grabber,” with all those vast “colonies” in Judea and Samaria is such a tiny little thing. In fact, when you look at a map, the entire tale of the Middle East conflict as served up by the media not only sounds incomprehensible, it is.
I looked at my grandson, just turned four, puzzling over the little dot that is his birthplace, and thought: if he was a Palestinian, he’d have all those huge countries in the world to choose from: wealthy nations like the Saudis, cultured like the Egyptians, devout like the Iranians and the Iraqis, countries in which his language, his faith, and his culture were shared by hundreds of millions. He could live in any one of those places and have his holidays be the national holidays. He’d be part of that great Muslim power, those one billion strong all over the world.
His own people, are barely a fraction of that. Eighteen million, and shrinking every day. And there is only one nation in the entire planet whose religion is his religion and whose language is his language. My grandson, who was born here, would be amazed to learn that not everyone in the world is a Jew and speaks Hebrew, a strangely childish viewpoint many adult native-born Israelis share. They are at the forefront of rights for the Arabs of Israel; even going so far as to offer to share their little homeland, to make it into a bi-national state, giving half of what little we have to the Arabs, who have so much.
Of course, I know there were people in the Land of Israel when the U.N. partitioned Palestine and gave us, the Jews (with the agreement of most of the world) a tiny little place to call our own. Why should those native people suffer? Why should they lose their homes?
Indeed, why? And why should my in-laws have been chased from their home in Eastern Europe by the Nazis? And why should my grandchildren’s other grandparents have been forced to flee Morocco in 1948 along with hundreds of thousands of other peaceful Jews living in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Aden, Yemen, Iraq, and the rest of North Africa? And how can it be, when there was simply a population exchange, that there are no Jewish refugees living in miserable camps, only Palestinian Arabs?
“The depressing condition of the refugees is the result of a deliberate political choice, for, if this were a purely human problem, it would be capable of immediate solution. The oil-billions of the Arab countries should be more than sufficient to provide for the resettlement and rehabilitation of all Arab refugees…” Professor Tzvi Werblowsky wrote in 1975.
As I tucked my grandsons into bed they begged me, as they always do, to read them a story. And as I read, it occurred to me that my grandchildren didn’t know this was a very famous tale, known to millions of children all over the world, but that they were among the tiny number left in the world , as tiny as the much attacked, maligned, and suffering nation that is their birthplace, who could understand and enjoy Puss ‘n Boots in Hebrew.
On my way home to Jerusalem that night, I could hear the guns shooting from Bethlehem to Gilo and back again. I thought of the Jewish woman I’d met in a California shopping mall during a book tour the week the Oslo accords were signed. “They are never going to let you live in peace,” she’d said, shaking her head.
And I wondered if the Arabs were going to erase from history that Jewish family in Bethlehem, too, asserting their claim over the manger as they have done over the Temple Mount. And I wondered, with all the blessings the Arabs have — wealth, and numbers, and so many real holy places of their own, why it is they have no generosity? And no peace?