The Hidden Israeli Pain

July 25, 1997

Fr. Emile Salayta, director of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusaem, was interviewed by World Vision . Here is a part of the interview,

How do you feel about the Israelis?

Actually, I feel bad for the Israelis. I feel bad since I know that they have a big liar as a Prime Minister, someone who is trying to secure their present but is neglecting their future.Netanyahu is trying to secure everything in the short term for the Israeli people, but he is drawing the future of Israeli for the long term because he is going against peace. I feel bad for the people, because maybe right now the people are calm and secure, but the Israeli people should really work for their future.

Their future is coexistence with the Palestinians. Their future is mutual acceptance. Their future is returning justice back to the Palestinian people so they have their own rights to build up their own society and security. This is the guarantee for the future of the Israeli society.

I know that Israelis are living in pain. I have been in contact with some of them. For me to see the Israeli young people spending their youth with machine guns, just ready to shoot in any moment. I've heard about a high rate of suicide among Israeli soldiers and young people because of what they've seen, and what they face here.

Once coming back with Father Ibrahim Hijazeen, a good friend and colleague of mine, driving late from Bethlehem to Ramallah area we were stopped by three young Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. We had been singing, happily driving back in the car. We had finished our work from the whole day, serving others. We were laughing and singing. The Israeli soldier asked us, "you're happy?" I said, "yes, we're happy." He said,"Why are you happy?" I said, "it's normal for us to be happy. It's the way we are." The soldier said, "Well, I'm not happy -- I'm miserable."

I was shocked. I always thought the Israelis were happy. I always thought the Israelis were secure. I always thought that the Israelis were satisfied. But I was shocked to see this young, strong and armed soldier saying that he was miserable. It's the whole way around. It seems that the Palestinians are secure. It seems that the Palestinians are happy. It seems that the Palestinians are enjoying their daily life, not the Israelis. It made me think about it and feel bad for the Israeli people because they are cheated by their leaders. I started to encourage this young soldier, to speak to him that he was doing his duty, he is a soldier for his country, but it was useless because he was being desperate and frustrated.

I think the need for peace is for both peoples. I think Mr. Netanyahu should listen to this, that his own people need peace even more than the Palestinians and that security does not come from weapons. He should understand that security will never come out of arms, weapons, electronic borders and more soldiers, closures, military restrictions and measures --this will never provide security in his time, or with other leaders to come.

Security is a feeling. To feel secure is to not feel threatened. To not feel threatened is to return justice back to the Palestinian people. Once justice is paid to the Palestinian people, I'm sure that the Israelis will feel secure, because there will be no reason for the Palestinians to fight them. To continue the propaganda that they are threatened to get more support from the United States, this is not a guarantee for the future of Israel. It may be fine for now, but not for the future. The only way to heal this soldier from his fears, frustration and deception, and the only way to heal the Israeli people and provide security for them is to return justice back to the Palestinian people.

The dialogue with this frustrated and miserable Israeli soldier was long. Later on we started to tell him what we do, and what is means to be a responsible individual for his society. Part of his misery was that he is a young man standing at this checkpoint in Ramallah with his machine gun at midnight while his friends are enjoying their time back home in Tel Aviv with their girlfriends. We said, "here, it's easy. Use the mobile phone to call your girlfriend and say hi to her." Then he took the mobile phone and called his mother first, then called his girlfriend. The second soldier did the same and the third one. Slowly, we felt that there was a bridge between us. We passed them some of our happiness. We helped them to have some joy in their lives. When we left them, they were different than when we met them.

Yours' Fr. Emil Salayta,

General director of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem schools

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