In 1970 I visited my father's cousins in Israel. I was 20 years old and they were in their 70s. Alter and Rachel Prudovsky had walked from Russia to what they believed would be their Jewish homeland in Palestine. Back then Palestine was the name that Jews used to label their emerging homeland.
The Prudovsky's were true revolutionaries. They had pinned their hopes for a better world on the outcome of the Russian Revolution. When they found that Russia was not becoming the place they had hoped for, and when they realized that Jews were being persecuted, they took what they could carry and made the overland journey on foot.
They were among the early Zionists who helped lay the foundation for the modern state of Israel. So you can imagine what happened when a cocky 20-year-old American told them that their government had become no better than the Nazis of World War II in their treatment of the Arabs.
I stayed with the Prudovsky's for about two weeks and it was after they nursed me back to health after a bout of cholera that I made the statement that forced a week of silence upon me. When they finally calmed down enough to talk to me, they dismissed my assessment as nothing more than the rantings of a naïve youth.
Back them everything seemed much more black and white than it appears to me today. I befriended a group of Arab men of my age and we hung out together in Jerusalem. We even took a "good-bye" trip to the Dead Sea when I left after four months.
A first cousin from the U.S. emigrated to Israel before 1970 and I visited her and her husband and her infant daughter. That baby girl is now a mother and my cousin is retired from a career as a nurse in Israel. Another cousin emigrated more than 25 years ago. He married and raised a family in Israel and is settled into a life in Jerusalem.
When I returned to Israel last year, 43 years after my first visit, I steered clear of talking politics with my cousins. I communicate with my cousins by e-mail but we only come close to the edges of politic talk. The Prudovsky's died many years ago.
The current fighting is nothing new for the Israelis or the Palestinians. In 1970 the state of Israel was only 22 years old and things were evolving. The Jews and the Arabs were already well-entrenched enemies back then, but the climate seemed much different to me. Some Israelis were willing to try to consider living side-by-side with another group of people who also considered the same place their homeland.
The near-constant state of tension and war is rooted in the claims of the same land as homeland by two groups of people. That is the simple part. The complicated part is that the relationship between those groups has become more and more toxic over the years and one side has more money, power and weapons than the other side.
Feelings on both sides are strong because Israelis and Palestinians all know they are in a struggle for existence, a battle to the death that many participants vow will never end unless one side is totally obliterated. The annihilation factor did not seem to be present as much as it is today and that seems to be the big change that has occurred over the years.
No matter what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry does and no matter what world leaders and the U.N. do, they will not be able to change the way that Palestinians and Jews feel about each other. The change in those feelings was palpable to me when I returned to Israel 43 years after my first visit.
In 1970, and for many years after, I felt hopeful that there might be some sort of resolution that would provide a homeland for all parties. In 2014 my sense is that there is no hope for such an outcome and that the battle to the death will continue in fits and starts for eternity.
As far as passing judgment on the issue of which side is committing the greater atrocities, I will leave that to others. All I can say is that killing people does not solve problems that can't be worked out diplomatically. It only makes matters worse.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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