Visiting the beautiful new Palestinian city of Rawabi several weeks ago was deeply moving. There is a stunning example of something good happening to, for, and by Palestinians, despite the obstacles they face.
As a pro-Israel Jew, how could I be anything but pro-Palestinian, provided that means supporting an outcome to the conflict that enables my people and theirs to live side-by-side in peace?
In the face of a seemingly intractable conflict, I met with Palestinian builders and dreamers who had invited me to see their dream struggling to come true. My heart went out to them, for they desire to coexist with Israel, not to eliminate the only Jewish state.
Under the green, black, red and white flag of Palestine, Rawabi represents a vision of a state that could be, should be, might be.
Will it be?
Days after leaving the region, the situation went from bad-the murder of Israeli teenagers and the revenge murder of a Palestinian teen-to worse, the deja vu nightmare of Hamas rockets raining on Israel, and Israeli raids on Gaza to stop them.
Under the leadership of Hamas, there is no Rawabi in Gaza. Palestinians like Rawabi developer Bashar Masri could do so much for their people in the God-forsaken Gaza Strip, but Hamas has other "developments" in mind, primarily a quixotic duel to the death with Israel.
What has Hamas invested in since its last confrontation with Israel, in November 2012? You guessed it: more powerful, longer range rockets with which to blanket not just southern Israel, but all of Israel.
What a travesty. What a shame.
Which leads me to the streets of Chicago. In recent days, local Palestinian, Arab and Muslim groups have organized anti-Israel demonstrations, where I saw much passion, anger, and pain. I also witnessed vitriol, hypocrisy and wild distortions.
To those Chicagoans who have lost innocent family members in the conflict with Israel, I offer condolences and regret. To those Chicagoans who demonize Israel, claim Israelis don't want peace, justify "resistance" (a code word for terrorism) and vilify Chicagoans like me for supporting Israel, I offer Rawabi-not so much the place itself but rather the place as metaphor for the Palestine that can come to be.
As the Gaza conflict rages on, forgive me for raising the quaint notion of peace. Sensible people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide already know the outlines of a fair settlement to their dispute over the land. Issues like borders, water rights, security, and refugees have much-discussed-and viable-solutions. What's lacking is the will or the trust to implement those solutions, and both sides deserve some blame for that.
Chicagoans of all kinds-Arab, Muslim, Jewish, pro-Israel, Protestant and Catholic-can help create that will, and thus increase the chances for peace. They can do this by rejecting distortion and demonization. Or, they can undermine the will for peace, with potentially lethal consequences for the people who actually live in the Middle East.
After spending time with Palestinians who are risking much to build a peaceful future, I feel more strongly than ever the need to support their vision. More strongly than ever do I also see the harm done by campaigns and demonstrations-occurring too many times during the past year on Chicago's campuses and on its streets-aimed to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and by extension undermine Palestinian patriots who want to find a way to coexist.