Frustrated with the ongoing impasse in the Arab-Israeli conflict
and the internal turmoil facing the people of Israel, my wife, Devorah,
confronted me, "All of you writers spit out dozens of articles
every day about the conflicts in Israel but nobody comes up with
a solution. All you do is kvetch. You kvetch about the Arabs. You
kvetch about the UN. You kvetch about media bias. You kvetch about
the British college teachers. Why can't you come up with a solution?"
"What would you like me to do," I countered defensively,
"search for the nekhtiker teg?"
"What does that mean?" she retorted, "You know that
I'm not as enamored with Yiddish as you are."
"You only need to know a little bit about Yiddish language
and culture to understand. In 1901, S. Ginzburg and P. Marek published
a folk song called 'The Golden Peacock.' The song was about a young
bride who was abused by her husband and in-laws. A golden peacock
carried her message of sorrow and torment to her parents. In time,
the golden peacock came to symbolize the sorrow, torment, isolation,
and persecution experienced by the Jewish people in the first half
of the 20th century until the establishment of the State of Israel.
The theme was adopted by modern Yiddish poets such as M. Halpern
and A. Margolin. The famed Yiddish poet and humorist, Itzik Manger,
also wrote a poem called, 'The Song of the Golden Peacock.' This
poem was incorporated by Dov Seltzer into his musical Purimspiel,
'The Megillah of Itzik Manger.' In this song, a golden peacock flies
around the world asking different people if they have seen the nekhtiger
teg, or the 'days gone by'. The response he gets is, 'No we haven't
seen the days gone by, you silly bird." Finally, the golden
bird flies over a grave and observes the sad widow of the nekhtiker
"Is this your circuitous way of telling me that you can't find
"Well, it would be a formidable task," I responded. "Dennis
Ross couldn't find a solution. Either could Bill Clinton or Shimon
Peres. Nobody understands Ariel Sharon's solution. So how could
I come up with a solution?"
"Listen," she said, "you have advanced academic degrees
and you're always reading about events in Israel. You can come up
with a solution."
I tried to squirm my way out of this. "To develop a good solution,
I would need a lot of data," I said defensively. "I would
need data on geography, demographics, topography, economics, military
logistics, and natural resources."
Devorah wouldn't give up. "You're a college teacher, you know
how to get data," she countered, "You go to the online
databases, press a few buttons on your computer and you get all
the data you want."
"It's not quite so easy, but I'll tell what I'll do. The next
time we go to Israel to visit our kids, I'll snoop around a little
to get some information." That satisfied her for a while.
So the next time we went to Israel I embarked on my quest to search
for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. My friend Steve lives
near the Prime Minister's residence so I decided that's a good place
to start. We saw a few young soldiers sitting around and chatting
so we approached them. They were speaking in Russian, so we figured
that wouldn't help us. Suddenly, my friend Steve exclaimed, "There's
one wearing a kipah srugah, let's try him."
"That's great," I said, "I'm also wearing a kipah
srugah, so we'll get along just fine."
I approached the young soldier with my broken Hebrew, "Slikha,
khayal. Ani rotze
The soldier interrupted me with his perfect South African English,
"How can I help you?"
"I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question."
"Is that so, what would you like to ask him?"
"Well, you see, I'm a writer and I'm doing a piece on the Gaza
Strip. I would like to know if he could give me a helicopter tour
of the Gaza Strip like he did with Colin Powell and Tony Blair."
"I'd love to help you out, but my radio is beeping and I have
to get back to my post."
Then Steve drove me to the public library. We figured that they
would have to help me over there. I approached the reference desk
and a stunningly attractive Sephardi girl looks up at me and asks,
"What can I do for you, sir?" For a moment I forgot what
I was there for. When I regained my composure, I said, "I'm
writing a piece on the Gaza Strip. Could I see the Mossad and Shabak
files on Hamas positions in the area?"
"So you would like to see Mossad files?" she asked politely.
Why don't you give me your name and address and I'll forward your
request directly to Mossad."
"That would be fine," I said, "Could I also have
your name and address, my friend's son is looking for a shiddekh."
She pressed a button on her desk and a security guard came over
to escort me out of the building.
The next stop was the Israeli Supreme Court. Since their cases are
public domain, we thought we would be more successful there. I approached
the reception desk. There was an elderly woman sitting there. I
asked her, "Could I see the cases dealing with property rights
in the Gaza Strip?"
She looks at me and asks, "Are you vun uf Barak's left people
dat vorries about Arab rights? Better you should vorry more about
Jewish rights. The Arabs don't vorry about Jewish rights. Nobody
cares about Jewish rights!"
She extended her arm to show me where to go. The tattooed number
on her arm was clearly visible. I headed in that direction, when
suddenly my cell phone rang. Family emergency! While I was gone,
my daughter, Sara, was exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning and
was rushed by ambulance to the hyperbaric chamber at Rambam Medical
Center in Haifa.
I caught the next bus to Haifa. When I arrived at the hospital,
a nurse, wearing a Hijab, came over to greet me. "Your daughter
is fine. She is fully conscious. We have to be thankful to Allah
that her husband's Talmud class was suddenly cancelled. He came
home early and was able to revive her. Dr. Al-Shoukry will discharge
her after he does a neurological screening and examines her vital
signs. Tomorrow is Friday and Dr. Al-Shoukry won't be in, so he
would like to discharge her tonight so that she can get home for
Shabbat. However, he won't release her until he's completely satisfied
that all vital signs are stable."
Sara and I caught the last bus going from Haifa to Jerusalem. Despite
the late hour, the bus was filled to capacity with businessmen,
students, tourists, and young soldiers, all trying to get back to
Jerusalem for Shabbat. Sara and I were lucky to get two seats next
to each other. The long ride to Jerusalem afforded us a rare opportunity
to have a chat together.
I started the conversation. "That was quite a scare you gave
us. Your nurse, Mrs. Hassan, told me that if your husband hadn't
come home early, we could have been sitting shiva for you tonight."
"Yes, it was min hashamayim that Binyamin came home early,
but Mrs, Hassan was being overly modest. She played a big role herself.
The paramedic on the ambulance knew Mrs. Hassan from his days as
a medic for the Israeli Navy. He called her from the ambulance and
she had everything ready in advance. I was in the hyperbaric chamber
within minutes. The ambulance driver was a khozer b'tshuva from
Yokneam near Haifa. The Chief Rabbi of the town arranged for him
to study in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He knew exactly how to get to
the hospital in Haifa. He got us there in less than 90 minutes."
"I see that it was really Yad Hashem that all of these elements
came together in the right place at the right time."
"Does that surprise you, Dad? Israel is a land of miracles.
They happen everyday here. Our daily survival here is a miracle.
Look what's going on in Iraq. The terrorists are out of control
there. If not for Yad Hashem, it could be happening here as well.
In Israel, we don't have to look hard to find miracles."
"Yes, I know what you mean. Before I came to Haifa, I met Jews
from all over the world - from the USA, Russia, Europe, Iran, and
South Africa. They were all working together and contributing to
building a Jewish homeland and refuge here in Israel. It was really
"Don't forget the Ethiopian and Indian Jews. They're also a
growing community and are making increasingly important contributions
to Israeli society. What were you doing this morning?"
"Your mother sent me on a wild peacock chase."
"Dad, don't you mean a wild goose chase?"
"No, it was a wild peacock chase to look for the nekhtiker
"Dad, I don't know what you're talking about. You sound as
if you were the one who was exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning,
"Never mind, I'll explain later. I was trying to find a solution
to the Arab-Israeli conflict."
"Yes, that really would be a wild goose chase. The Arabs aren't
ready yet to resolve the conflict."
"How come you're not optimistic? The Israeli newspapers are
reporting that most Israelis are supporting Sharon's plan and believe
that it will lead to peace with the Arabs."
"Dad, since when do you believe everything that you read in
the newspapers? The Arabs aren't ready to offer us peace. At most,
what they're offering is non-belligerence."
"What's the difference what they call it, as long as they stop
shooting rockets and blowing up buses?"
"There's a big difference. What the Arabs are saying to us
is, 'If you give us A, B, and C, then we'll be satisfied and we'll
stop bombing your buses and hotels. But if you only give us A and
B, but not C, then we'll still be frustrated and angry so we'll
have to continue armed resistance.' That can never lead to real
peace because there will always be something to cause friction and
strife. They can always find a reason to resume hostilities. It
may be over prisoner exchanges, water rights, utilities, access
to holy sites, or archaelogical excavations. Real peace doesn't
mean separation by high-tech fences, checkpoints, and border patrols.
Real peace means a mosque on one side of the street and a synagogue
on the other side of the street. It means a kosher butcher store
on one corner and a halal meat store on the other corner. It means
tourist buses that can travel freely and safely through both Arab
and Jewish neighborhoods. Real peace means that disputes are resolved
by negotiated compromise, not by bombing buses filled with schoolchildren."
"Do you think that can ever happen?"
"It's possible, but not likely in this generation. Take a look
at the Rambam Medical Center, for example. It's a paragon of mutual
cooperation. It has a multi-ethnic staff that treats multi-ethnic
patients wherever they come from. Its famed trauma center has treated
Arabs from South Lebanon, multi-national UN forces, and Americans
from the Sixth Fleet. Accident and terrorist victims are brought
there from all over the region. The whole staff works together to
provide quality medical care regardless of ethnic background or
country of origin."
"So why don't you believe that this microcosm of peaceful coexistence
can't spread to the rest of the Arab and Jewish population?"
"Because the Arabs haven't expressed any interest in promoting
peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation. They're still busy
inciting hatred, violence, and hostility. It could take at least
another generation to modify their beliefs, enmity, and hostility
"What would they have to do to start the process for real peaceful
"Golda Meir had it right when she said that peace will only
come when the Arabs learn to love their children more than they
hate us. First the Arabs have to stop inciting hatred from their
classrooms, mosques, and media. They have to start teaching their
children the benefits of acceptance, tolerance, and mutual cooperation.
Then they have to support their words with deeds by building institutions
like the Rambam Medical Center which can demonstrate the mutual
benefits of acceptance and tolerance."
"What you're suggesting could take many years. Isn't there
a way to move this process a little faster?"
"Absolutely. We can start on a small scale by developing joint
Arab and Israeli committees to promote commerce, tourism, and technological
development. The Arabs can also start to respect the human rights
of their own people."
"What do you mean?"
"Isn't it ironic that the same Arab governments that are demanding
that Israel respect the humanitarian rights of the Palestinian people
are the biggest violators of those rights themselves. While millions
of Arabs and Muslims are traveling around the world and establishing
communities in Europe and North America, the Arab governments insist
that the 4 million Arabs living in the crowded, squalid UNRWA refugee
camps should only live within the 1947 boundaries of the British
Palestine Mandate. They are not permitting them to live anywhere
else, even though the Arabs have vast areas of sparsely populated
land. There are polls that suggest that at least 15% and possibly
as much as 70% of the Arabs in the UNRWA camps would be happy to
live elsewhere if they were given the opportunity and decent living
conditions. It is time for the Arabs to use their immense oil wealth
and vast empty lands to close down the UNRWA camps and resettle
the residents in permanent communities throughout the Arab-Muslim
world. Of course, the resettlement should be completely voluntary
"You mean unlike Sharon's plan to forcibly expel the Jews from
the Gaza Strip."
"That's right. There's no need to expel the Jews from Gaza.
It won't accomplish anything. The population density of the UNRWA
camps in Gaza is already among the highest in the world. Such a
high population density among the Arabs can only lead to more discontent
and strife. The right solution would be to voluntarily relocate
some of those residents into permanent communities elsewhere. Then
the remaining Jews and Arabs can work together to develop Gaza into
a modern agricultural, recreational, commercial, and residential
area. When they realize the economic and social benefits of real
peace, then mutual cooperation will become infectious and extend
into the larger population centers of the Judean Hills."
"It doesn't sound like there is any quick roadmap to a peaceful
"No there isn't, only a long and winding road with many twists
"Then I have to go back to your mother and admit failure?"
"Not at all, you're bringing her a valuable consolation prize.
You can tell her that thanks to one small incident of mutual cooperation,
you're able to bring her daughter home alive and well. It's so sad
that there were so many innocent victims on both sides of the conflict
that weren't as fortunate as I was. Though it is over 30 years that
Yehoram Gaon sang about the last war, we can't give up the hope
that one day there will be real peace."
(c) 2005, I. Zwick, NYC
Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.