Obama arrived in Jerusalem and shared, before a packed auditorium of youth, a concern that no president in the White House had dared to publicly mention before:
“There will be no peace until you can put yourselves in the Palestinians’ shoes and try to see the world through their eyes.” This, which could have been a comment in a speech of paternal protocol, is a step for humanity greater than Armstrong’s step on the moon. It’s a sincere invitation to review the history and see that the Palestinians were there before the official creation of Israel and have a legitimate right. The Palestinians can’t sit down and negotiate a land swap, when the proposal is 9-1 in favor of the other. Details of each side’s negotiating positions are rarely mentioned in Israel. In America the details are completely unknown. It is precisely in this context that lies the courage of Obama’s speech.
America is the most pro-Israel nation on Earth. Even more than Israel itself. And Israel is the country that receives the most US aid out of any country annually. Three billion U.S.dollars for a country with a per capita income similar to Spain. An amount greater than the sum of all U.S. aid allocated to the rest of humanity. And with better terms. The U.S. administration gives the Jewish state the total sum in the first month of the fiscal year. Unlike the other nations, whose aid reaches them in installments, quarterly, and almost always leaving for last the largest two thirds.
How do they manage to get so much help? The first reason is religion. Is it the Jewish religion? No, the Christian. United States is deeply Christian and has large pockets of fundamentalist population. Anyone who has walked into a Baptist church in Georgia or Texas knows what I mean. Millions of people accept on faith that God gave the land to the chosen people of Israel and nobody has the right to take it away. Or, what amounts to the same thing, that while the U.S. is a staunch ally of Israel, the nation will remain blessed by divine grace.
The second reason is the Israel lobby in the U.S: AIPAC. The powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee has convinced politicians, media and ordinary citizens, that the interests of Israel and the U.S. are exactly the same. A masterfully cultivated distortion due to the ignorance of the American people about the history of Palestine. AIPAC preaches in the US that the Palestinians will never have peace, because they do not want it. So AIPAC creates threats. And Hamas is declared a terrorist organization so that when Americans see CNN live on the bombing of Gaza they don’t feel bad. And AIPAC feeds the winds of war with Iran because, while staff at the borders are fixed, there is no time to analyze what’s really happening inside.
Many U.S. politicians continue to eat from the hand of AIPAC and until their constituents do not demand a changed agenda, they are unlikely to change position by choice. Not that AIPAC directly funds their campaigns, but important wealthy Jews do. AIPAC relies on a large core of the American Jewish population, which curiously is notable for having a very liberal political orientation in all areas, but is reluctant to voice even the slightest criticism of Israeli policy. There are historical reasons well known and very respectable to understand this conspiracy of silence. Emotional blackmail also influences a large section of the press; tending to forget that conflicts are usually always two sided. And in fact, you can read much more critical items about Bibi Netanyahu in the Israeli daily Haaretz, than in U.S. newspapers.
And so the situation will never improve unless the Americans try, as suggested by their president, to put themselves in the Palestinians shoes. Americans must also try to understand that Palestinians aspire to live in a democracy like America where every person has one vote and equal rights and where their children go to bed at night knowing that they will not lack education, nor food, nor shelter, nor a roof over their heads.
And the situation will continue as long as U.S. voters don’t lobby their president and congressmen and senators to demand that the government of Israel stop the occupation of territories that do not belong to them. Americans need to encourage their president and congress to pressure the Israeli government to sit down and negotiate with the Palestinians on equal terms. Unfortunately for the Palestinians and for the Americans and America’s standing and reputation in the world, Israel gets from the U.S. public a green light to do what it wants in Palestine and uses the US aid that flows annually from Washington to Israel for this purpose. Not too long ago, America had a similar relationship with South Africa. The Reagan administration considered Nelson Mandela a dangerous terrorist and the white Afrikaner government a close ally. The Apartheid government of South Africa knew that they would never have to dismantle their Apartheid system of control and discrimination unless the United States told them to do so. For South Africa, it didn’t matter that the rest of the world condemned Apartheid and called for democratic reforms to take place. As long as the United States did not complain, South Africa ignored the rest of the world.
The bad news is that, for Americans to put themselves in the Palestinians’ shoes, it will take a miracle. The good news is that the miracle is already happening. Peace will not result from any political negotiation table, neither in Madrid, nor Oslo. The miracle is happening thanks to a work of fiction; a novel that I predict will become one of the biggest bestsellers of the decade. This is the first novel of a Jewish New Yorker, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, and is titled The Almond Tree. For the time being it is only in English, The Almond Tree can be bought on Amazon.com. It is an epic novel, a drama of the proportions of The Kite Runner, but set in Palestine. A beauty. A story that grabs you from the first page and makes your heart go out to the Palestinians without pointing a finger at anyone, without transmitting hatred. A proposal to live in peace and democracy for all. An adventure that brings you into the magical world that travelers used to cross on horseback or camel towards Beirut, Amman or Cairo. A land where Christians, Muslims and Jews shared their traditions for centuries. Where the children inherited the land, generation after generation, and the clans stayed together. Where modesty was a way of life and a man was nothing unless he stood up for his family. Where courage was not the absence of fear, but the absence of selfishness. Where children learned a fundamental principle of life: decency.
The Almond Tree is the saga of a Palestinian boy who, when he encounters obstacles must look inward and understand that soldiers are only human beings and that war is merely politics. From a boy who must discover that success is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall. Because it is impossible to go back in time and change the beginning, but you can always start over and change the ending.
This book has the potential to ignite a thirst for greater knowledge and understanding. If Americans can find the time to read it, I believe that they will be inspired to ask questions and surf the internet for answers. I also believe that the next time they watch CBS, FOX, NBC or CNN, instead of anonymous terrorists, they will see the faces of women with children, grandparents with grandchildren, parents with brothers … Going to work, returning from school, shopping in the market …People who can’t pick their own oranges from their trees because the Israeli military have blocked them off. Youth who can’t accept their scholarships to Harvard or Yale because Israeli authorities don’t allow them to leave Gaza. And then, those same Americans who today are silent through ignorance, will ask questions. Change their voting intentions, demand to know the fate of their donations … Because Americans do not take in a lot of world news, but read novels and watch movies. And listen to songs. And through art they can step into the shoes of the Palestinians. Then we will begin see a glimmer of hope in solving a conflict that weighs on us all.
Read this article on El Huffington Post in Spanish: http://www.huffingtonpost.es/guillermo-fesser/en-la-piel-de-los-palestinos_b_2945533.html