The lives and life situations of cousins can be very similar — and very different. This is true within families as it is within the Jewish and Palestinian nations.
Immediately after my son Eytan and I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, before this year’s Israel Bonds Rabbinic Cabinet Mission, we drove up to Moshav Avnei Eitan in the southern Golan Heights to visit cousins Tova and Yossi and their nine daughters.
Our Golan relatives are among the families evicted from Gush Katif in 2005. They moved from the Gaza Strip in the extreme south to Israel’s northernmost reaches. In our small rental car, we felt the ferocity of the Golan’s harsh winds.
Once inside, we were greeted by warmth and Israeli hospitality. The family was finally in its new home after eight years of living in a four-bedroom prefab “caravan” provided by the government. Most of the family’s possessions were packed for them by the army before their eviction from Kfar Darom, since they didn’t want to be “complicit” with their own evacuation. Years’ worth of possessions were stored in a shipping container in their backyard.
The family showed off their new spacious custom-built ranch house. Despite being home to 11, including children from ages two to 18, the house was neat, roomy, serene, cheerful, and filled with much love and geniality.
Early the next morning, we drove to Samaria/Shomron for another family reunion. We traveled south along the Jordan River until we came to Derech Allon, which winds its way westward through Samaria/Shomron and the Judean mountains. This road was supposed to be the first step in implementing the Allon Plan, allowing Israel a narrow corridor west of the Jordan River to assure some strategic depth and security while relinquishing the rest of the West Bank to Arab-Jordanian control. The plan was never implemented. The area is still in dispute. Jordan long ago bowed out of any active offer to participate in a solution and open its borders to more of her Palestinian cousins.
Derech Allon meanders across biblical landscapes which haven’t changed for thousands of years. Sheep, goats, and shepherds outnumber cars and trucks. Signs warn drivers not to proceed into “Area A,” which is under Palestinian Authority control: “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives, and is against Israeli law.”
After driving through the past, we enter the present: Israel’s settlements in Samaria/Shomron, the West Bank. Revava is a short half-hour from Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv and near the new Israeli city of Ariel. It is difficult to believe that this placid, well-manicured community was established as recently as 1991.
The new town is home to a few hundred Orthodox Jewish families, plus girls and boys studying in yeshivot. The local nursery school is expanding. In front of it is a large sign in red letters: “Don’t give in to Kerry.” We visit the lovely home of our relatives, enjoy the beautiful garden filled with fruit trees, grape vines, and blossoming almond trees, and marvel at the serenity.
Just a few miles west of “Area A,” and its warnings, Jews are living in a modern, placid community of lovely suburban homes. The politics of settlement remains a day-to-day conversation and a source of concern while the joy of home, religion, culture, family, and friendship remains constant. We head for Tel Aviv on Israel’s Route 5, a modern expressway, and arrive there in half an hour, a few thousand years removed from Samaria and its reminders of Israel’s biblical origins.
Israel Bonds takes us to meet with Israel’s political, intellectual, cultural, and scientific movers and shakers. In Tel Aviv, we visit the leaders of Check Point, a major Internet firewall security firm. Its modest building stands in the shadow of Google’s massive, modern skyscraper just around the corner.
A few miles south of Tel Aviv, we visit a sewage treatment complex which takes 85 percent of the waste water on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and transfers the purified water to the Negev to irrigate the desert. No country comes close to Israel’s rate of recycling scant natural resources. The sewage treatment center is not only transforming the desert, but training technicians from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America to make best use of ever-diminishing water resources.
On our own, the two of us visit the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Banks from throughout the Middle East have set up headquarters in this bustling city. Technology centers are growing. Office and apartment rentals are attracting premium prices. Ramallah is growing daily.
An honor guard stands in front of Arafat’s Mausoleum. We are the only ones visiting the empty space. Police and soldiers stand guard on the well-traveled streets as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority and his entourage are about to drive by. No one seems to be paying too much attention.
It was easy for me to forget that I was in an unfriendly and potentially dangerous Palestinian territory until Eytan reminded me not to speak Hebrew.
As we prepare to leave Israel, questions arise: Will Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama succeed in helping the parties reach an agreement, despite those on both sides who are against any compromise? Will Israel and the Palestinian Authority come to a mutual understanding and create a nation which Palestinians can call their own? Will Palestinians acknowledge that Israel was created to be a Jewish state? Will Israelis and Palestinians recognize that the “status quo” is neither viable nor neutral and that it is in the long-term interests of both nations to come to a two-state solution? Will the shadows of past territorial give-backs and agreements, and the violence which has subsequently exploded from Gaza, and the terror which is currently emanating from the Sinai, be averted in any future land swaps and peace compromises?
Despite the oceans, lifestyle, and politics which divide us, cousins enjoy seeing one another and reuniting. Can Israeli and Palestinian cousins — the children of Abraham — overcome their divisions? Can they each have their own houses, welcome each other into their homes, and be good neighbors and act like family?