A settler actually “empathising” with the fate of a Palestinian after having experienced being made to leave his home?! Pah! Nothing doing. Perhaps empathy requires having a shared experience, not a similar one. Compassion means, “to suffer with”, from a late Latin root. It is perhaps the most noble of human sentiments, because it means to feel pain for the suffering of another feeling living creature. I have read for days the stories of families who have cried and wailed about their own suffering, the suffering of their people, the tragic feeling they had of being uprooted. Yet, I have not read a single word, a single utterance expressing a compassion for Palestinians who have been uprooted from 1948 to this very day.
So, with the magic of fantasy, I will invent A Settler’s Tale. He is on the first step towards compassion, empathy. Maybe there is hope if there is someone like him out there… But, remember, it’s just fiction.
“My name is not important. Let it suffice that I changed it when I made Aliyah, and the people back in Chicago know me as Alfred, but here, I have a proper Hebrew name. I changed the last name too, and with that, I uprooted myself permanently from the Windy City. I was pretty young when I made the move. In fact, the rest of my family didn’t come with me, since my experience was only supposed to be a year on a Kibbutz. I ended up staying, marrying an Israeli woman and raising our family here. We believe very firmly in the values of family, work, land, religion. We are peace loving and never had any contact with Palestinians at all. They were out of sight, out of mind.
My kids are all grown now, two of them are married with children of their own, and I am for the first time in my life feeling lost like a child. We knew we were going to have to leave, but we didn’t believe it would really be happening to us. People came from all over Israel to encourage us, to give us the strength to believe in our task of keeping the promised land Jewish. They helped us through many doubtful moments, but when push came to shove, there was no way we could stay. It was like a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, and one of our sons was more resistant than the others, and he even joined some people to defend the temple, but, when something is inevititable it is inevitable. We packed our things and waited for the eviction notice.
It was hard to say goodbye to our neighbours. It was hard to say goodbye to our garden, which we really spent a lot of time tending to. It was terrible to leave our threshold. Memories of our lives raced in front of my eyes, and I knew that never again would I touch that soil I loved, walk into the fresh rooms on a hot day and smell the scents of the sea on a windy day. We were going to be moved to the Negev.
My wife was more upset than I was. She wondered how she could handle the climate, since she is getting up there in years. She will miss her friends, since they are being settled someplace farther. I try to comfort her as best as I can, but I am only a man, I don’t have the words to tell her to make her stop fearing about the desolation of the future.
Yet, in all of this, I started to feel a sense of guilt. I was thinking of how our people have always been pushed and shoved around. How we were forced to flee, a wandering people without a home to call our own. I thought of my ancestors, and I asked them to give me some comfort in this terrible moment. But, I also thought of something else. None of them were compensated for their losses. They weren’t given a check six times what their homes were worth. They weren’t escorted in air conditioned busses to hotels awaiting their brand new homes to be finished up. They weren’t televised in their suffering. They suffered like dogs and without anyone caring.
Then I started to ask myself for the first time ever, how did the Arabs feel when they were made to leave? They didn’t have the busses either, or the checks, or even the eviction notice. They had no chance to kiss their walls, to cry over their gardens, to say goodbye to friends and neighbours. They just were pushed out, further out.
And, for the first time, I felt more guilt than before. I still think this land is Jewish, belongs to us because it was promised to us from the beginning of history. Yet, I feel bad somehow. I feel a pain that I didn’t know could be so acute, and I am looking at a picture of an Arab and asking myself if I have the right to feel so bad. I am one of the lucky ones. Maybe it’s been promised to us, and maybe we have to really fight to keep it. But, why didn’t we compensate the people who lost their homes who G-d didn’t promise the same thing to? Don’t they at least have the right to some compensation? Can’t we start to show some mercy? Maybe then G-d will feel like we have earned the right to have that land, even if earning it isn’t a criterion. Perhaps this is some secret we have hidden to ourselves.”