For Arab and Jew, a new beginning
After generations of strife, the holy land yearns for people with heart and vision to think in a different way, to heal in a new way, and to make real the vision for a just peace.
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A model of reconciliation
Such lofty ideals may seem unlikely now, but so they did for generations in Australia, before former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addressed his nation, including the Aboriginal people whose children were taken from them by government decree. The nation's hopes, he said in 2008, lay in "righting the wrongs of the past."Skip to next paragraph
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It was time, Mr. Rudd said, "to remove a great stain from the nation's soul and in the true spirit of reconciliation to open a new chapter in the history of this great land...."
It may be a while before the holy land is witness to such restorative justice on an official or widespread scale. But consider the fruits that would come from replacing the sense of ever-present dread with a sense of safety, security, and freedom.
The fruits of settlement
With no checkpoints – and eventually no wall – Arab and Jew alike would enjoy the right to travel and visit family members freely, to swim in the sea, and to pray without fear at Jerusalem's holy sites, in Hebron, and at other sacred places.
The flow of culture and commerce, today increasingly hampered by campaigns of nonviolent resistance including boycotts and international condemnation, would take off with vigor and worldwide support. Artists, writers, and musicians would flood the holy land, bearing witness to the truths of peace. Leaders from the emerging democratic Arab world would come too, connecting economies and even infrastructures: Some dream of a new Orient Express going from Haifa to Saudi Arabia. Solar power, farm technology, and water conservation efforts would multiply. Israelis could visit Lebanon and other Arab neighbors – not as soldiers but as welcomed visitors. Arabs from the Levant to the Gulf could set foot in the holy city and pray at Al Aqsa Mosque.
Jerusalem could be a truly open city, where faith, art, culture and commerce would blend into an international mélange. Nongovernmental organizations could follow, and Jerusalem could become the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
US policy would no longer need to be the focus of derision and rage in the Arab "street." With a just peace in place, Al Qaeda and other militant groups would have lost their greatest recruiting tool: the unresolved conflict in Palestine.
And in the midst of this, no one in the Holy Land would need to instinctively check over his shoulder. No one would be stopped with her violin at a checkpoint. Arab and Jew would be free to meet as equals; to look each other in the eye, and move their separate ways. Or to stop and share a glass of sweet mint tea and listen to the sound of footfalls on the ancient stones, the voices in a dozen languages wafting up from Damascus Gate at the entrance to the Old City.
Sandy Tolan, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, is a longtime radio documentary producer and journalist. He is the author of "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East."
Editor's note: This is the first essay of "Peace within Reach," a three-part commentary series about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
No. 3 - A holy city's peaceful purpose