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Israel at 60 Essay from Hagit Ofran

Ofran is part of the next generation of leaders in the Israeli peace camp; directing Peace Now's Settlement Watch, and holds leadership positions in the Meretz Party

May, 2008

I was born eight years after the occupation of 1967. my generation was raised with the consciousness that the map of Israel is the map that our geography teachers drew at school: From the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan Valley, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We knew no other reality. We did not know the Israel of our parents: the small Israel with the "narrow waist" and the divided Jerusalem. The possibility of an Israel like this didn't even cross our minds. The settlements were a part of Israel in our minds; we traveled to them routinely for youth seminars and school trips.

The cracks in this picture of Israel first appeared at the end of the 1980s, when the first Intifada began. I remember my 7th grade teacher telling us about the demonstrations in the territories and struggling to explain who is demonstrating and why. This was the first time that I heard a serious discussion about the Palestinians and about the occupation. The question of the fate of the territories first rose in my mind.

When I was in the army, the Oslo process began. I remember my instructors interrupting our training course so that we could all gather around the small television and watch the signing ceremony. What excitement that was, what hope: Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Yasser Arafat at Bill Clinton's White House. We genuinely hoped that by Israel's jubilee we would finally arrive at peace with the Palestinians and with out other neighbors.

But this did not happen. Rabin was assassinated. And after him came Binyamin Netanyahu, who stopped the peace process. Ehud Barak, once he failed at negotiations with the Palestinians, made sure to cast the blame entirely on the Palestinians. That failure, combined with the severe violence of the second Intifada, caused terrible desperation among my generation. The conflict became increasingly violent, and as the violence spiraled so did the indifference, indifference towards Palestinian suffering as well as toward our own suffering. You could almost say that we got used to it.

Now, however, you can also see hope. Several months ago a small storm blew through Israel after Education Minister Yuli Tamir suggested incorporating the Green Line into school textbooks. The right mobilized to oppose the reintroduction of the Green Line into the maps, clinging to the terminology and symbols of the past. This episode laid bare the dramatic change that had already occurred in the Israeli collective consciousness: everyone understood that the right spoke with empty slogans that attempt to conceal reality. Israelis had already conceded the West Bank just as they had conceded Gaza. The Green Line exists, and not only in the maps printed in recent years- without being sanctioned by the education minister-but also in the minds of all Israelis. The education ministry itself adamantly enforces procedures whereby every trip to the territories-even within "unified" Jerusalem-requires special permits and arrangements, unlike trips in Israel-proper.

The possibility of removing settlements and establishing a Palestinian state in the territories- which during my childhood was a taboo that could not be breached-had penetrated into the consciousness and understanding of all Israelis. In this way, you could say that we succeeded. What Peace Now said twenty or thirty years ago, and might have been seen at the time as a marginal view, is today part of the consensus. Any prime minister who will sign today a permanent agreement with the Palestinians-one that would include a compromise on settlements and on Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem-would receive enormous public support in Israel. The Israeli public, and I imagine also the Palestinian public, is ready to pay the price of peace. The public is waiting impatiently for the solution that would remove us from this bloody conflict.

But the path is still difficult: Most Israelis will tell you that they are ready to get out of the territories, even out of Jerusalem, but that "the Palestinians will never agree." And as if in a mirror image, the Palestinian public's despair from the two-state solution also stems from mistrust: "the Israelis will never agree," they say. It's understandable that after such harsh years, which drew out dark faces of cruelty and violence from both sides, believing that the other side would agree to make peace is difficult.

This is the challenge facing Israel at its 60th anniversary. As soon as both sides find a leadership that is ready to take upon itself the responsibility to take the historic step of compromise and concession, we will quickly discover that behind these leaders stand two nations that want to live, that want an end to mutual killing, and that are prepared to pay the price for peace. This leadership might already be here. It might be Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It might be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And it could happen while George Bush is still in the White House.

There is no greater gift to Israel at its 60th anniversary than a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. An agreement that will establish the borders we need in order to protect our future as the state of the Jewish people, an agreement that will transform Israel into a source of confidence and pride for the Jews of the world. So that I and my generation, who joined Peace Now in the years of hope and went through reversals and despair, could finally close Peace Now, and start working on the other important challenges facing the Jewish people and its state.

Hagit Ofran is part of the next generation of leaders in the Israeli peace camp, Ofran directs Peace Now's Settlement Watch project. The granddaughter of famed Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, she serves on the board of numerous Israeli social and civil rights organizations, and holds leadership positions in the Meretz Party.