Following the Golden Peacock
Following the Golden Peacock
A fictionalized story based on real events


By Israel Zwick

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 teg."
"Is this your circuitous way of telling me that you can't find a solution?"
"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 beautiful."
"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 teg."
"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, not me."
"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 towards Jews."
"What would they have to do to start the process for real peaceful coexistence?"
"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 without coercion."
"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 solution."
"No there isn't, only a long and winding road with many twists and turns."
"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."

Israel Zwick
israel.zwick@earthlink.net

(c) 2005, I. Zwick, NYC

Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.

Reprinted by permission.