From home to home

Daily News Egypt
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JEZREEL VALLEY, Israel: When my grandfather was on his deathbed, began one of my Palestinian-Israeli students, he took the key from the house from which he was exiled in 1948 and went for a last visit. The Jewish woman in the house was alarmed when we knocked on the door and asked us to leave. My student told this story with a burning anger in her eyes.

I asked her why this story was so important to her. This is a delicate question. Why? can sound controversial, or deeply caring. I think I struck the right chord as she answered quietly, because my grandfather died a month later and never saw the inside of his home again. Because my family is scattered. We don t live in our home. We are exiles here in Israel.

Recently I was in Cyprus. There, the issue of being forced from home and living in someone else s house is central to the continued controversy in that beautiful divided island. Peace almost arrived a couple years ago, but in the end, the Cypriots on the Greek side rejected a proposed settlement in a referendum on the UN Secretary General s Annan plan (the name alone suggests a major weakness – peace must be a people s plan, not named for it s catalyst).

Why this happened is quite complex and due to many mistakes and miscalculations, but in short, they preferred the enemy they know (their divided island) from the enemy they don t know (living together again with the other).

I was struck, however, by the very different narratives about home in Cyprus and in Israel. I heard a number of stories about Cypriots from each side visiting their old homes and being welcomed back by the current owners. You are welcome! After all this is your home.

The borders of the divided island were opened up in 2003 and after having been separated since the war in 1974, inter-communal visits were made. One woman told me a story about Turkish Cypriots waiting for our Greeks to come for a visit and being disappointed when they didn t show up.

We prepared a very nice meal and everything. I heard another story of a Turkish Cypriot asking if she could pick fruit from the orange tree of the Greek Cypriot living in his ancestral home and being told, Why of course – it is your tree! There were also stories of tears of sadness and anger ( you are not caring for my home well enough and deep responses the day you were exiled was the day my husband was killed in the war; I do the best I can but I have not been able to pay for the kind of upkeep on this house that I would have wanted… ).

Why so different in these two conflict zones? I asked my student if she understood why the Jewish woman said no. She replied without missing a beat that of course. She was frightened. She feared that if she welcomed us we would actually claim the home again as ours.

Perhaps at a deeper level she feels insecure about her own legitimacy…. It certainly is called into question in the region and world so often. The acknowledgement this is your home, you are welcome.

This is your orange, please pick it is rare and wonderful in our world of internecine conflict. Some basic conditions for this kind of confidence are some sense of existential safety and recognition of the human other that are all too lacking here.

I heard a talk about how humanism still lives on in Cyprus and how this attitude is one on which the next peace initiative can be built and perhaps succeed. I fear this is widely lacking here. Instead, hatred, fear, lack of mutual recognition are visceral. Why can t each side simply say, I know you, like we, have been hurt.

By the world, by us, by life. I know you, like us are fearful and ill at ease. Let us pick oranges from the tree that is yours and mine, together. Sadly, such recognition is seen as dangerous. Moreover, unlike in Cyprus where many Greeks and Turks still feel united by an overarching Cypriot identity, there is no such bridge here.

To start on the long road to a future where conflicts are addressed with less violence and peace is sought with more vigor once again, Israelis and Palestinians will need to acknowledge each others fears, suffering and aspirations, and thus begin to demonstrate that humanism can be found in this region too.

Jay Rothman, Ph.D. is president of the ARIA Group (, and currently a Fulbright Fellow at Jezreel Valley College in Northern Israel. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

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