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“Pockets of Hope”: Peaceful Coexistence in Israel & Palestine

European Judaism

by Christine Cohen Park


I have just seen the play Oslo by J.T. Rogers in London. It’s a skilful rendering of the stages of the negotiations, the hopes, complexities, twists and turns on the road to a landmark agreement, the Olso Accord, between two peoples at perpetual war with one another. One (of the many) successes of the play is that it has you on the edge of your seat with the longing for agreement to be reached, even while all the while we know the outcome and subsequent history.

 

I’d gone to the theatre straight from a day spent working on a chapter of the book I am currently writing (the second of a trilogy) set in Hebron in 2012 where the tensions, antagonism, and violence between Israelis and Palestinians are experienced on a daily basis. So nothing could have been more pertinent than the questions achingly thrown up by the play: will it ever come about that these two peoples find the way to live alongside each other in accord? We know by now that the Olso Accord, for all its progenitors’ hopes, did not have that effect.

 

I am a third-generation assimilated English Jew: until the point when I visited Israel prior to embarking on this present trilogy, my origins had played little part in the direction of my writing career. My two first novels were set in London in the late 80s and 90s and had social rather than political themes. My third novel, written while I was living on a remote island in British Columbia, looked at the islanders’ struggle to protect their island’s pristine environment in the face of the inevitable inroads of tourism and global economy.

 

It was only when I reached my sixties that I became bound up in the affairs of Israel and Palestine. In 1960 I’d worked on a kibbutz between school and university. After a gap of fifty years, having become increasingly perturbed by newspaper reports, documentaries, and films like ‘The Lemon Tree’ and ‘5 Broken Cameras,’ and wanting to know whether the harsh reality they portrayed was exaggerated or the norm, in 2013 I determined to visit both Israel and Palestine to discover first-hand. The article, Journal of a Wishy-Washy Liberal: Travelling through Israel and Palestine that came out of that visit can be read in the Jewish Quarterly online. I intended to remain even-handed, but as a person with Jewish loyalties on one hand, and someone with distaste for oppression in any form on the other, I found my emotions constantly see-sawing in a gut-wrenching way – as the article will attest.

 

A novel was beginning to emerge which because of its timespan – WW2 to the present day – and complexity of material transmogrified into a trilogy. The first book in the series is completed, and I am embarking on the second. If a short article makes even-handedness a challenge in such a situation as between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the scope of a trilogy, I reasoned, would allow a more sustained fictional truth to be arrived at through the voices of both peoples being provided equal space in the narrative. Or perhaps I was just taken with the idea of a longer project!

 

Two years after embarking, it became necessary to return to the area. I had still been relatively naïve when I visited Israel and Palestine in 2013. A period of reading and research followed. By 2015 I was keen to integrate recent knowledge with findings on the ground – and by now I had ever more questions. It was on that second visit that I wrote the article Pockets of Hope available in the current issue of European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe. So much that I read and experienced had been fraught with pervasive sadness, sometimes outrage, often a sense of doomed hopelessness. It was to counteract this that I set off purposely looking for ‘pockets of hope.’

 

I wanted to pose the question: are there such things? Do people on both sides of that terrible Security Wall still carry hope in their hearts and continue to work towards achieving the peace that the Oslo Accord had intended to initiate? How many would I find? A mere handful?

 

Instead, to my astonishment, almost everyone I talked to, it seemed, had a pocket of hope they wanted to talk about or knew someone who would. In ten crammed days I travelled down the length of Israel into Palestine and back again, listening to stories that had the brightness of flowers blossoming in the dessert. Put together they add up to a small garden tended by people of remarkable courage.

 

Over the next weeks in this blog I will offer an extended version of several of the interviews in the article, with organisations and individuals who even in today’s disillusioned climate continue to work for the vision that the convenors of the Accord enshrined, that of two peoples who can recognise the legitimacy and claims of each other in order to find a more peaceable and less tragic solution to the one that currently exists.

 


 

Christine Cohen Park’s journal article, “Pockets of Hope,” is free to access on our website until January 1st, 2018. Visit Park’s website here.