Palestinian – Israeli Conflict: What If …

Anthony Bourdain – Parts Unknown aired a thought provoking piece recently on CNN – see the video below. If you are wondering what Anthony Bourdain has to do with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, you obviously didn’t watch the broadcast. Generally speaking, one wouldn’t expect a globe-trotting foody to weave such a complex issue into a one hour show about food and travel.

He did it brilliantly! Everyone who questions who the actors are in the conflict should watch and listen with an open mind.

An impacting piece of the story focuses on two owners (husband and wife) of the Majda Cafe just outside of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, (otherwise known as a remaining part of Palestine). The cafe owners are an Israeli man and an Arab woman. Their cafe view is an Israeli detention center which houses Palestinian detainees.

aida wall

The story also profiles the Aida Refugee Camp that started out in 1948 as a temporary camp for Palestinians, but is now a permanent shelter for approximately six thousand homeless people of which two-thirds are children. Aida is only one of many similar UN operated Palestinian refugee camps that have been operating continuously since 1948.

While Anthony Bourdon doesn’t lose his opportunity to discuss the wonderful flavors and tastes of both the Israeli and Palestinian food, he also shares in the pain and anger of the years of conflict. At one point, he sits in the home of two Israeli men who live in an upscale settlement on Palestinian occupied land. These men were self-proclaimed politically moderate.

The house at the entrance to the neighborhood has graffiti that was clearly meant to harass and chase out a Palestinian family. When asked what happened, they men say it was done by angry kids. When Anthony asked why they don’t paint over the offending graffiti, at first they fall back to their story of the angry kids. Then, when further challenged, they shrugged their shoulders and said, “We probably should, we should.”

It is hard to imagine how the hearts and minds of Israelis will change for the most part, if this is the attitude of so-called moderates.

On the other hand, the Israeli owner of the Majda Cafe told Anthony the story of how he lost his daughter to a Palestinian Rocket that came from just over the “fence,” speaking of the wall Israel is building. You could see his anguish as he told the story, but also this was a man who understood that misplaced anger is not a long-term solution.

He went on to discuss the difficulties he and his wife had with their respective families starting out. How hard it was for the in-laws to accept their relationship and subsequent marriage – but in the end, they had given in to the inevitable. Then there was the tragedy of their daughter that could have broken the family apart … by anger, by religion or by politics. Instead the family became closer and both families are very supportive of each other.

What if … that could be the way of the peace process?

captivating wall
The fence/wall is not being built between Israel and the Occupied Territories, but mostly (close to 90%) inside the West Bank, turning Palestinian towns and villages into isolated enclaves, cutting off communities and families, according to Amnesty International.

One last thought came to mind as Anthony Bourdain talked to this wise Israeli Cafe owner that was almost a metaphor. Andrew, who is a Jew himself by birth, but admittedly raised outside the faith, asked if the man was ever invited by his neighbors to have a meal. He answered that his neighbors didn’t invite him to have a meal, but not because they don’t like him. It is because they know he has kosher food needs. He said his neighbors understand this and don’t want to embarrass him with that kind of invitation. He said he often sits with them for coffee. Coffee has brought many feuding tribes of the Arab deserts together to settle their differences.

What if … that could be the way of the peace process?

The UN estimates there are 1.5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza. They are refugees either because they don’t have the funds to move or Israel won’t allow them to move. According to the UN, “In all, Israel has built dozens of settlements since 1967 that are now home to about 550,000 Israelis. Settlements dot the West Bank, the heartland of a future Palestine, and ring east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital, making it ever more difficult to partition the land between two states. Jews now make up 17.5 percent of the population in both areas.”

aida settlement 1948
Aida Settlement, Gaza Palestine, est 1948

According to international law, building settlements on occupied land is illegal according to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which explicitly prohibits an “Occupying Power” (Israel) from transferring any part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The Hague Convention of 1907 also prohibits occupying powers from making any permanent changes in the territories they occupy that are not undertaken in accordance with a narrow definition of military necessity or for the purpose of benefiting the local population.

Why was Anthony Bourdain especially qualified to take on this mission? Many don’t know that he is a Jew, however as he explained in his show he was “not raised in the faith.” In my opinion, this has nothing to do with his qualification to do the story or not. I honed in on what he had to say on reconciling differences: “One can be forgiven for thinking, when you see how similar they are, the two peoples, both of whom cook with pride, eat with passion, love their kids, love the land in which they live or the land they dream of returning to, who live so close, who are locked in such an intimate, if deadly, embrace, might somehow, someday, figure out how to live with each other. But that would be very mushy thinking. Those things, in the end, probably don’t count for much at all.”

But, what if they did?