Columns - 2003

    Altered state

    by Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    (MSN Macintosh Select News) Jerusalem -- Israel recently celebrated its fifty-fifth year as an independent nation. As always, their interwoven neighbors, the state of Palestine, was right alongside to join in the festivities, continuing a strong relationship as close as the two brothers from whom these ancient peoples have evolved.

    Many speculated early on that this Palestinian state would fail, essentially inset in the middle of the larger state of Israel. They wondered how two separate, small areas of land connected by single long highway could possibly survive as an independent national entity.

    "Just look at Chicago," Prime Minister Abbas said recently, drawing a comparison to the major American metropolis. "They built an airport thirty miles west of their city limits. They annexed the highway and the airport itself. Their city limits are a small blob, a thin line extending east, and a huge blob by the lake. And Chicago is as different from the rest of Illinois as we are from Israel. It's not much different than us."

    But while Palestine and Israel have enjoyed decades of peaceful coexistence, the same can hardly be said for their American counterpart.

    "We understand the difficulty they have," said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "being in that part of the world. With so many similar political ideologies, there's bound to be hardship. Such slight differences in ideology can cause the most explosive conflicts between nations."

    Indeed, Israel's democratic socialism has proven to be a successful, if stark, contrast to the more autocratic monarchies that surround it. Such diversity has proven to be a boon for the Middle East, which has been easily the most prosperous region in the world through the second half of the twentieth century, and beyond.

    "Our political and theological ideologies are different, but our needs and purposes are common," said Sharon.

    After the end of the second World War, the Middle East was still essentially a desert. When the United Nations called for the formation of a Jewish state, there were fears of negative reactions from many corners. But the Arab nations took this as an opportunity to have a new partner in developing the region from dried deserts to the lush, modern condition that it enjoys today. They worked hard to ensure that a Palestinian state be established as well, but to the benefit of all.

    "There were concerns about the right of return for refugees," says Abbas. Not only were there Palestinian refugees who had lived in what is now Israel, but the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were losing their homes in the various Arab countries.

    "People were amenable to essentially swapping their locations, knowing that the freedom would exist to go back to the other land when they desire." Some even chose to stay where they were, and have been active participants in the revitalization of the lands their families have dwelled in for centuries.

    "Palestinians and Israelis working together to install proper irrigation, planting trees... it's a miracle," says Sharon, "especially when you consider the historical animosity originally chronicled in the Bible.

    "It's a blessing that we get along so well today."

    "It's a shame the rest of the world can't find the same peace," says former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The squabbling of different factions of Christianity throughout the western world is unfortunate. Of course, the way our own Jewish and Islamic denominations get caught up in it themselves around the world is unfortunate as well.

    "We're just grateful it doesn't affect us here. This is truly a holy land."

    Former Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat agrees. "We're all chosen people here, in our own ways. We have different interpretations, different beliefs, but the same roots.

    "Once we got past the senseless notion that our prosperity depended on the destruction of another nation, and eliminated the reason for anyone to feel a need to defend against us, it opened doors to all you see here."

    Netanyahu and Arafat are both retired now, living just a few miles apart in the shared capital of Jerusalem.

    "Truly a model for history," Netanyahu says of the international city Jerusalem has been thanks to being the capital of two nations.

    "At first we thought it would be difficult for two peoples to coexist so close, especially to share this city as a capital. But the history for both our peoples necessitated that we sit down and make it work.

    "What else could we do," asked Netanyahu, "start fighting over our shrines and destroying our holiest sites just to keep out some other people? Then we all lose everything. How senseless would that have been? We decided our religions weren't based on such nonsense."

    It is fortuitous that the populations have stayed evenly split, so no one people feels that the other might take control and oppress the other. Arafat says, "if one decade the population shifts to mostly Palestinian, what's to say the next decade the shift won't swing to the Jews? Why risk retribution? Why seek a fight?"

    One of the many areas that all these leaders agree on is foreign policy. They all share a unified opinion on the rest of the world.

    "We've kept the peace for fifty-five years," says Sharon. "The United States itself has been to war every decade that Israel and Palestine have existed. I might be biased, but just based on that we must be doing something right."

    Indeed, both governments and private citizens send millions of dollars every year to the United States and other western countries to assist in lobbying for peace and other humanitarian efforts.

    "They do many things well there," says Abbas, "but we would all hope and pray for the peace we cherish to spread through the rest of the world."

    "The Middle East has been an inspiration," Sharon said, "an example for the rest of the world.

    "Scholars sometimes speculate what it would be like today if we hadn't found peace between our peoples all those years ago. Even at its worst, realistically, I can't imagine that it could be very bad."

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley. His play Retrograde, published in the 8 Tens @ 8 Festival anthology, recently had its professional New York premiere on 42nd Street. For more information, past columns, other writing, and other current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.