Upon returning from my three years as Jerusalem bureau chief, the No. 1 question everyone asked was: “What’s going to happen over there? Is there any hope?”
Looking at the headlines, one might think not. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks unraveled last year. Both sides espouse a deep sense of victimhood. Hard-liners are gaining influence, and clashing theological doctrines increasingly complicate the conflict.
And yet that picture of stalemate, described in black and white in newspapers, is all too often missing an important dimension: humanity.
Though Israelis and Palestinians are stuck in a political chess game, they are not helpless pawns. They are incredibly determined, resourceful, resilient people. While some seem paralyzed by fear, cynicism, or hatred, others are finding creative ways forward. In the face of prodigious challenges, many have an abiding faith in a higher power to bring order and justice to the Middle East.
Their character and insights – imparted over a Ramadan meal or a Shabbat dinner, an office desk or a muddy village road – inspired me to start a blog for the Monitor, “The Olive Press: Finding humanity amid the pressures of the Middle East,” which featured more than 100 people and initiatives over the past two years.
It also inspired this final piece, for which I profiled 12 individuals. Right and left, religious and secular, hawkish and peacenik, they illustrate the various models at work as Israelis and Palestinians strive to carve out a future for themselves in this beautiful land, implementing their vision without waiting for their leaders – or a peace deal.
This is not a comprehensive cataloging of political views, though it does include the growing blocs on both sides that are opposed to a two-state solution. Rather, this is an attempt to reveal the humanity I witnessed across a broad spectrum of factions – which, I believe, indeed gives reason to hope.