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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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Peace of Mind Through Dialogue

As published in The San Mateo County Times

By Elias Botto
DEC. 13, 2001

I am a Palestinian born in Jerusalem -- a refugee from my indigenous land since the state of Israel was created in 1948. For my Jewish cousins, that year was a victory.

For my family and people, it was The Catastrophe -- Al Nakba. I am still waiting for the time when I have the right to recover my family's lovely home in Jerusalem.

Yet after 54 years of hurt and longing in diaspora, I am finally able to recognize this: Israel is here to stay.

I hope, in turn, that Israeli citizens will acknowledge the Palestinians as their rightful, equal neighbors as well. For this to happen, Israel must return to my people the territory they occupied in the 1967 war.

If we are to negotiate successfully for peace, we must have the courage to act on right principles -justice, adequate land, safety and dignity for all.

We have been negotiating since the Oslo Agreement, yet it is unclear if we are talking about peace of mind or piece of land.

Israelis say they seek peace of mind. Yet over 140 Jewish settlements reach from border to border on militarily occupied Palestinian land.

I believe authentic peace will be possible when we Palestinians and Jews -- governments as well as citizens -- enter into dialogue to hear each other's narratives, our human "stories." Out of sharing our common humanity grows the needed trust, compassion and wanting the best for each other.

When the Palestinians and Israelis see each other as equal, no longer victim-victimizer, oppressed-oppressor or occupied-occupier, only then will true peace be possible.

That kind of relationship, not a piece of land, is what leads to peace of mind.

For Israel to confiscate Palestinian land in disregard for international law and build Israeli settlements creates great stumbling blocks to the peace process. It terrifies my people when homes are demolished, trees uprooted, and Palestinian territories dissected, strictly for the benefit of one people at the expense of the other.

I believe it is cruel for extremists on both sides to victimize innocent citizens. These acts are never, ever justified.

Nor is the control of land sustained by military might instead of human right. Military dominance prevents -stops in its tracks -the possibility of the true peace of mind we all yearn for.

Participating in a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue for the past nine years, I have discovered that resolving differences between two parties depends on first listening with compassion to the narrative of the "enemy."

When I hear and accept the story of my Jewish sisters and brothers and they hear me, that is when we become friends and are able to imagine and build our common future.

In order to resolve this conflict, let us not continue to focus on the symptoms, but rather the root cause -the lack of knowing each other, and the military occupation of my wonderful people's native land.

Removing that unkind occupation will go a long way toward resolving this deep and painful conflict.

Elias Botto is a retired garment manufacturer, a Palestinian originally from Jerusalem. He is a member of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue who lives in San Mateo.

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