Opinion: Mideast peace quest worth the effort

February 5, 2014


Halhul, West Bank — Hoping to understand the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in human terms, I made a visit last week to a Palestinian farmer named Hammadeh Kashkeesh, whom I first met 32 years ago. The encounter reminded me of the pain that’s at the heart of this dispute, and how hard it will be for any diplomatic settlement to resolve the bitterness on both sides.

First, try to imagine the landscape, and how it has changed in the years of Israeli occupation. Halhul is an agricultural town in the rock-ribbed hills just south of Bethlehem. When I first traveled this route in 1982 to spend two weeks with Kashkeesh, to write a profile of his town, the hillsides were mostly barren. Now, the landscape is dense with Israeli settlements, many of them built since the Oslo Accord in 1993 that created the Palestinian Authority.

Kashkeesh and his neighbors pride themselves on raising what they claim are the tastiest grapes in the world. His access to his vines was obstructed more than a decade ago when a special road was built for Israeli settlers who live nearby. He had given up his precious grapes when I visited in 2003, but he’s now found a way to tend them again. Some of his neighbors aren’t so lucky; their vines have grown wild or died.

Kashkeesh, 67, worked for years as a stonecutter and then a farmer. He somehow managed to send all of his seven children to high school or college.

The indignity and bitterness that come with military occupation are deeply embedded in Kashkeesh’s voice. In Halhul, the Palestinian Authority is in theory largely responsible for security. But the Israeli military controls access and intervenes when it sees a security threat. The night before my visit, Kashkeesh said, the Israeli army arrested 10 people for throwing stones at soldiers.

There’s no condoning rock-throwing, let alone terrorist violence. Such tactics have had ruinous consequences for Palestinians, not least in undermining Israeli hope that they ever could live in peace. Hearing the anger in Kashkeesh’s voice, and seeing the sullen faces of young men gathered near his house, was a reminder that Palestinians experience life as a series of daily humiliations. Life here feels closed, embittered, confrontational.

When I first visited Halhul, openly advocating a Palestinian state could get you arrested. Villagers would hide a Palestinian flag disguised as embroidery, or a map of Palestine on the back of a wall photo. Now, the U.S. is working with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on a “framework agreement” outlining terms for peace accord.  

But Kashkeesh said he has nearly given up. He dislikes the Palestinian Authority almost as much as the Israelis. “They are liars,” he says, whose corrupt leaders build themselves fancy villas and operate “like a trading company.” He also rejects Hamas, and says the Palestinian leadership overall has “destroyed itself, by itself.”

As for the peace negotiations, he asks how Palestinians will control their destiny in the demilitarized state that Israel is demanding. “How can we have a sovereign state if we don’t have control over the border with Jordan?” he wonders. If Israel gains the recognition it wants as a Jewish state, he argues that Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel will feel unwelcome. “Nobody will believe in the agreement, which means there will be no peace.”

Thinking sadly that Kashkeesh might be right in his skepticism — and that a real end of this conflict may be impossible — I asked him to tell me again the story about the boy and the swimming pool. Listen with me:  

It was 1975. Kashkeesh was 29 and had recently been released from prison after serving a six-year sentence for membership in the Fatah guerrilla group. He was working at a resort in Arad when he saw an Israeli infant fall into the swimming pool. The parents were elsewhere, and though Kashkeesh couldn’t swim, there was nobody else to save the boy. So he jumped in the water and took the child in his arms. When an Israeli investigator asked him why he had risked his life to help a Jew, he answered that the boy was a human being.

He tells that story now without much animation. As with millions of Israelis and Palestinians, I suspect that his heart has been hardened by so many years of pain and failure. Will the peace negotiations work amid so much mistrust and anger? I don’t know, but this quest for peace is surely still worth the effort.    

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

"The indignity and bitterness that come with military occupation"

Germany and Japan faced the same problem after World War II. But, they signed peace treaties to end the war. After a period of time, the Allied forces withdrew, and then helped to rebuild those countries. Now they are economic powerhouses and thriving members of the world community, and have been for many decades.

But, the Arabs have always refused to sign a peace treaty to end any of the 6 wars they have waged against Israel. So, the military occupation and the bitterness continue.

But, that is looking at the situation through the colored lens of a Western mind. In the Islamic Middle East, wars sometimes last for centuries. In the West, a war is ended with a peace treaty after a few years, and then it is considered to be over.

In the Middle East, a hudna (also known as a hudaibiyya or khudaibiya, after Muhammad's Treaty of Hudaibiyya) is sometimes signed, but that does not mean that the war is over, it is just a temporary lull in the fighting. But - the term "hudna" does not appear in the Qur’an at all!

The Treaty of Hudaibiyya is often referred to by radical Muslims, but it is certainly not correct or mainstream thought, according to many Muslims.

The following was clipped from: 'The Concept of Hudna (Truce) in Islamic Sources', by Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at al-Quds University:

"The Hudaybiyya Treaty allowed Muhammad and the Muslims to strengthen their ranks without needing to worry about a confrontation with the Quraysh tribe. After only two years (630 CE) the Muslims annulled the agreement and conquered Mecca. This agreement has since been exploited more than once by radical Muslim organizations that seek to justify the annulment of agreements signed with those characterized as "enemies"."

But, it's not as clear cut as that. The Qur’an also states the following:
"And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower."
(Qur’an, 8:61)

There are many passages in the Qur'an that make it very clear that a treaty, or a promise made to someone, Muslim or not, be adhered to. A complete list of them would make this comment rather lengthy.

The entire text by Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway is available here:

So, peace in the Middle East is certainly possible, but it will not happen as long as extremists who are mistrustful of those of a different religion or ethnicity are in positions of power. One example that is not really that extreme comes to mind, President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA, whose term ended on January 15, 2009. But he hasn't let that stop him from continuing to act as President. Elections have not been held since his term expired.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 4 months ago

You state Ron, :"In the Islamic Middle East, wars sometimes last for centuries." Can you name just one of them? There isn't one. Muslims are only obligated to fight another person, village or country if and ONLY IF: they are oppresed, threatened with death or property taken from them, or harm to their families. AND if the oppressor ceases to oppress, they must also cease in war. In all the cases listed here, Israel has done to the Palestinians. They have oppressed them, not allowed them free access to their homes, farmland or markets. They have killed millions by claiming they are terrorists, killed the suspect (without trial) bulldozed the family home and took the land for their own use leaving the family homeless and without any kind of sustenance. What are they to do? I suggest you look at facts and not Israeli talking points. This has gone on long enough and can be solved very easily: agree to end the building of settlements, remove Israelis from all occupied post 67 war territory, allow Palestine free trade and open boarders with her neighbors and run your own country. Stay out of what is left of Palestinian lands.

When the Muslims "conquered" Mecca at the end of Muhammad's life, there was no battle, no bloodshed, not one person was injured or hurt as 10,000 Muslims walked into Mecca back to their homes.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

1) "They have killed millions"

That is an amazing feat, considering the fact that there were originally only 711,000 Palestinian refugees in the first place. Sort of like the loaves and fishes spoken of in the New Testament, I suppose.

2)""wars sometimes last for centuries." Can you name just one of them?"

The Sunni - Shi-ite split. The historic background of the Sunni–Shia split lies in the schism that occurred when the Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632, leading to a dispute over succession to Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world which led to the Battle of Siffin. The dispute intensified greatly after the Battle of Karbala, in which Hussein ibn Ali and his household were killed by the ruling Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, and the outcry for his revenge divided the early Islamic community."

I believe that spans centuries. And it's only one example.

The Sunnis and Shi-ites still have problems after about 1,400 years. And the Alawites have problems with the other sects of Islam. They compose about 11% of the population of Syria, and Bashar al-Assad and his tribe are Alawites. There seems to be something going on in Syria. But no one seems to be very worried about that, because Israel is always front and center stage.

3) (Left the Palestinians) "without any kind of sustenance".

The Palestinians are the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world by far, by a factor of many times. They are hardly without sustenance! And, a lot of the foreign aid money has disappeared under the care of the PA and Suha Arafat, who is living in splendor today.

4) Palestine has never been a country in all of history. Did you know that?

Maybe the Arabs should have surrendered after one of the 6 wars, and reached a mutually acceptable agreement after 6 wars. The world is still waiting.

5) "killed millions by claiming they are terrorists"

You don't seem to realize how large of a number one million (1,000,000) is, or what has been going on in recent history. If your statement was true, the Palestinian conflict would be long over, because there would be so few Palestinians left.

6) Why isn't Jordan ever called upon to withdraw from 77% of Palestine? Only Israel,,,

7) I will agree with you on this: it is a very good idea to stay out of Palestinian lands. Get Jordan the hell out of there!

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

8) "When the Muslims "conquered" Mecca at the end of Muhammad's life, there was no battle, no bloodshed, not one person was injured or hurt as 10,000 Muslims walked into Mecca back to their homes."


9) "remove Israelis from all occupied post 67 war territory"

It isn't war territory since Palestine was never a country in the first place. And, do I hear a call for ethnic cleansing? (Yes!) They can't become citizens? (No!) Maybe Europe, Israel, and the United States should do that.

Qur’an (47.4) "So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. That (shall be so); and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish."

Using hyperbole in an effort to promote your agenda will never work as a method of argument against a reasonably well educated and well read individual that reads publications from many countries.

Plus, it does help to do a bit of research to verify facts before and during your posting.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 4 months ago

You know, you can take part of a chapter or line and make it say whatever you want. Ron Holswrath does this every time he quotes from the Quran or other places. Ask yourself "there more to this verse?" "Has he left our verses before and after that are important to the understanding of this verse?" "Is he being disingenuous in his discussion citing only that which supports his point of view?" The answers to that are all "yes". Here God lays out the rules of engagement with an enemy who is trying to kill Muslims. He says clearly that if you meet them in regular battle (regular battle means open warfare, not guerilla or other types of tactics). In the beginning of Islam, the tribe from which Muhammad came were pagans worshipping 360 gods and goddesses. When Muhamman received the message, he spoke against paganism and asked them to become believers in one God. They refused.

Then Muhammad moved his followers to Medina, a city 350 miles from Mecca for the purpose of protecting them. He made a pact with the several tribes there for the safety of his followers and only one tribe broke that pact. They helped the pagans against Muhammad and since the pact was made with them Muhammad didn't know what to do, so God sent down that verse as rules for dealing with those who fight against him. Kill them where ever you find them but if they desist, then YOU desist and stop fighting. Do not take slaves as this was the beginning of the end of slavery on that continent. There is much more to this than what Mr. Holswrath cared to write - misleading you by the meaning. But if you want a true opinion of Islamic texts or beliefs, ask a Muslim not a non-Muslim. There is much more to what is in heaven and earth, Ron, than what is dreampt of in your philosophy.

You must also know there was never an Israel either. Israel was the name of Jacob and his sons were the children of Israel. They dispersed to the diaspora and were never to find themselves again. The Israelis are European Jews who wanted to force a homeland upon a people somewhere for crimes against them and others during WWII. More non-Jews died in WWII than Jews but you never hear about that. Who else died? Gypsies, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians, bohemies who were not part of the Aryan Race. Turks, Africans and so on. Read your true history not the Israeli talking points.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

Well, where to start on that one? I'll just ask a couple questions.

1) What country was King Solomon a king of, if there was no Israel?

2) And, Mr. Abdu OmarWrath, why do you always spell my name Holswrath?

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

There will never be peace in the Middle East or any other part of the world until people begin to understand each other a bit more, trust one another, reduce prejudices, and come to mutually acceptable agreements on various things. We are all human beings, and we share ever so much more than our differences.

Nitpicking about things that happened decades or centuries ago is not at all productive. We were all born with our eyes in the front of our heads, instead of the back, so that we can see where we're going instead of where we were at in the past.

The world is a big place, and there is room for all of us.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

"There is much more to what is in heaven and earth, Ron, than what is dreampt (sic) of in your philosophy."

I wrote a short story in 1997, 'The Ride', which outlines my philosophy. It talks about different realities, of which I am sure there are many.

One woman who is considered to be very intelligent read it, and stated that she couldn't understand it at all. Of course she couldn't, because the only education she has is a Master's Degree in Philosophy, and that's not nearly enough.

And, a professor (PhD in Chemistry) at Washburn University read it, and understood it a bit better. His comment was: "What it is, is a dissertation on the nature of reality."

'The Ride' has a claim to fame, though. A few years after I wrote it, physicists and astronomers discovered that dark matter and dark energy were discovered to exist. Only 4 to 6% of everything that exists is composed of atoms and molecules! We know nothing of what dark matter and dark energy is, and we cannot interact with them in any way.

It's too bad they didn't read 'The Ride', because it maybe would have helped them to discover the existence of dark matter and dark energy a bit sooner. I discussed them at some length, and described exactly where I believe they are, before they were discovered to exist.

But 'The Ride' also postulates something else - time is quantized. Only time will tell if that postulation is correct, and that may take 100 years or more.

You would need to have studied quite a few different subjects, of which quantum physics and religion are only two, in order to understand the story. It is totally allegorical. And, there is no possible way it can be understood with only one reading.

That's sort of where I'm at philosophically. But don't worry if you can't understand it. Very few people can. And, it's only 12 pages long.

If anyone would like to read it, click on my highlighted name, and you'll see my email address. Please put 'The Ride' in the subject line, because I get a whole lot of emails at that address. And please pass it on if you want, I have placed it in the public domain.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

'Palestinians seek work in Israel as crisis deepens'

"It's a dream to get a permit and work in Israel," said Kayed Ashkar, 45, who is unemployed and a frequent visitor to the Israeli Civil Administration office. "I used to work there. I used to earn enough money for my family," said the former waiter, whose wife's modest salary in a local wedding hall supports their five children.

Israeli authorities have granted an additional 10,000 permits this year to work in Israel, raising the total number to 40,000. It's still well below the peak level of 200,000 in the 1990s, but the most since a violent Palestinian uprising erupted in late 2000. The uprising was characterized by suicide bombings and other attacks carried out by West Bank Palestinians, prompting Israel to revoke most permits.

An additional 25,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, underscoring their dependence on the Israeli economy. The Palestinians as a rule harshly oppose the existence of the settlements on land they claim for their state.

Clipped from a source that I almost never read:

If Israel kills millions of them as another poster has claimed, I sure do wonder why so many of them want to go there to work.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

These are very brief excerpts from 'National Post', a publication from Canada:

'Alex Ryvchin: Ignoring the real bloodshed in Syria by focusing on Israel'

"Syria continues to descend into madness. Statistics released last week by The Syrian Network for Human Rights show that since the commencement of anti-government protests, 30,000 Syrians have been murdered, and a further 28,000 people have disappeared. The Syrian human rights organization Sawasya estimates the figure to be even higher. It has been reported that more than 100,000 refugees have fled the conflict, with most said to be sheltering in Turkey."

"In sharp contrast to its inaction on Syria, Oxfam can always be relied upon to direct overwhelming energy and resources to pummelling Syria’s democratic neighbour, Israel."

Clipped from:

It's always good to read international publications, because then you are then much more able to sort truth from fiction.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 4 months ago

Hmm, like to pontificate, Ron? (however you spell your name)

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

I like to be complete, concise, use proper grammar, spell words correctly, and make meaningful points. That cannot be done with only a brief synopsis that presents only one viewpoint that lacks any balance.

Since I've had so much education and have read so much, I suppose my comments would sound lengthy to someone that likes to read and write only brief and unsourced claims. Plus, my typing speed is rather rapid, and so I don't take much time to write them.

I'm from a very well educated family, and I try to live up to my heritage.

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