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Commentary

The Lemon Tree & Munich

Semih Minareci, July 25, 2006

The line between terror and a war on terror is a fine one. Laying the foundation of a war on shaky moral ground can easily turn it into a nightmare that haunts you — even if you were right. They say that extreme conditions require extreme measures, yet failure is sometimes hidden in these extreme measures.

The Lemon Tree

Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree, tells a poignant story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir.

Dalia and her family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria to Ramla, Israel — once a Palestinian city but now Jewish — in 1948. She grows up in a small house with a lemon tree in the back yard. Dalia and her family are told that the builders of the house were a cowardly Palestinian family who fled away one night and left hot soup on the table.

One day, Dalia's life changes dramatically with the appearance of Bashir at her front door. She struggles with Bashir's story, how his family was forced to leave their house like other Palestinian families. As the story moves forward, the interaction between Dalia and Bashir turns from a painful dialog into a difficult but deep friendship.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved and more complex than ever in spite of the efforts of the past sixty years. Ironically, the war for the independence of Israel is the cause of another war for independence, now for Palestine. An absence of common sense has started a dialog of the deaf and blind. The new political context in the region is: "no-vision, no-empathy for the other side."

The endless mistakes and vicious politics of both sides are not the only source of the conflict. The guardians of Israel and Palestine have a greater fault in this conflict. This guardian system is now blocking the road to peace.

The Guardians

For the Palestinian side, the greatest support came from the Pan-Arab neighborhood. This support was nothing but a great expectation of victory, and for its own ideological survival relied on the destruction of Israel. It was never, ever, a genuine interest in the needs of the Palestinian nation. When the Israel-Arab wars turned into a humiliation for Arab nationalists, support for the Palestinians faded, too.

Another source of support for Palestine came from the rich Gulf States. This time, The Guardians were cautious and avoided direct military confrontations with Israel, because of past experiences. They financially supported local violence, terror, and suicide bombers in the region. This support was very attractive, not only for the frustrated, humiliated, second-class youth of Palestine; but also for the younger generation in some Muslim countries who share the same fortunes as Palestine. It still is a white-door of hope for escaping poverty, humiliation and many bullies. It is a way of expressing oneself and saying, "I am a man."

For Israel, support came from a distance: America. Unfortunately, interest in Israel always stood behind a long list of U.S. priorities for the region — the priority to block Russia; to control energy sources; a reason to interfere in the Middle East; and even leverage for internal political gain, especially for religious groups. American policy never ever had a genuine interest in the needs of the Israeli nation, just as the Arab Guardians never had a genuine interest in the needs of Palestine. A peaceful and secure life for Israel always was the last in this long list. In contrast, peace in the region means for America the loss of many excuses to intervene, and the loss of strategic control over energy beds. The most dramatic manifestation of this one-way relationship with America is that today the biggest financial source behind those seeking to blow up Israeli civilians still comes from the Gulf States, which get richer through the American addiction to petroleum.

Munich

Steven Spielberg, in his last movie, Munich, made a direct connection in the 'moral equation' between terror and a war on terror. The movie criticizes the extreme measures and shaky moral ground of a war on terror by referencing Golda Meir's famous quote, "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises of its own values."

Both sides of the conflict must understand that there is no moral value strong enough to support violence for the sake of peace. There are no extreme measures that make civilian damages more sympathetic. A war, started on terror by using excessive power and military occupations through unilateral operations, can easily turn into a shadow-sister of terror itself.

Undoubtedly, a terror-induced vengeance that takes an innocent civilian's life is an evil act. However, there is no real authority to tell us the difference between a right war or a wrong war, which can be launched on similar principles. When the fine line between terror and a war on terror blurs, a proud war can easily transform into a disgraceful act.

Yet the fundamental moral values always stand the same for all civilizations. These values are democracy, civil rights and justice. There is no extreme condition or higher value allowed to overlook those universal values. History is full of failed states which believed in the supremacy of their own values and tried to impose these above the only true values.

Without an acceptance of an ethos that prioritizes the steps needed for a peaceful and secure lives, and fair existence of both nations as a first priority, there will be no real peace process in the region.

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