I have learned not to sweat the small stuff and to try to keep it all in perspective. I have also learned that while I am an idealist who believes one person can make a difference, I should concentrate my efforts on those things (and people) most important to me and recognize what I can change, what I can’t change and what would cost me too much to change. I make priorities and I make choices.
As a young new immigrant to Israel I attended many political demonstrations, went to political party meetings and participated in national political actions. However, as I got older, I abandoned such initiatives and was active on a more local level. I found that my small actions, like conversations and daily interactions, affected and influenced people more than rallies and demonstrations.
Now, almost every Friday, I answer Halid, the man who cleans our building’s public areas when he says in Arabic “Hello, how are you?” with an Arabic response “Thank God (Allah)”. Recently, a neighbor was walking by and she did a double-take, surprised that I responded in Arabic. I do not know if it is because I wear a kippah or because I am an American who she assumed would not know Arabic, but simple courtesies like being able to greet people in their own language can go a long way in changing the way we live together and the attitudes of the people around us. Such small gestures set a tone that can ripple through the country just as hateful incitement sometimes does.
Eventually, I stopped participating in national politics and moved from being a news junkie to someone who rarely hears a news broadcast or buys a newspaper. I receive a lot of news reports through social media and when something interests me, I seek out reports from different sources. But my life is not confined by the hourly news reports on Israeli radio or even the evening television newscasts. I do not expect to be “informed” by such things.
I try to convey a similar attitude with my children keeping it all in perspective, trying not to become obsessed with things that will not matter in another ten years. Friends will come and go as will teachers, but what they teach us and how we behave with them are the important things that we keep within ourselves forever. Most things that are important aren’t on the test so while grades are important keep it in perspective.
It is with a similar perspective that I have watched the last few weeks’ events unfold which started with President Obama’s speech outlining U.S. Middle East policy at the State Department.
I listened to President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speeches. I liked what I heard on both sides – for the most part. A few weeks later, as the dust has settled and the commentators and analysts have debated if anything significant had happened, I’ve concluded that for the immediate future it remains…. well, irrelevant.
I could probably argue every side of the issue: Barak Obama dealt Israel a deathblow by moving the starting position to assume that Israel would concede to the 1967 border (with mutual swaps), Barak Obama only stated publicly what all who have been involved in Middle East peace negotiations had known privately for decades; Netanyahu’s hard-line reaction to the speech was a “declaration of war” (as one Palestinian official put it), Netanyahu’s speech had new messages of hope such as that there will be settlements beyond Israel’s borders.
But what does it matter?
The U.S. and Israel agree on all the major issues. While the shift in rhetoric will cause a shift in positions as these have continually evolved over decades, there is no one for Israel to talk to now.
While I appreciate Obama’s position that time is not on Israel’s side, even he has called on Hamas to take actions which are against its charter before negotiations can begin. This does not mean it will not happen. Sadat got on a plane to Jerusalem and Arafat shook Rabin’s hand.
I am much more worried about other threats in the region – especially the Iranian nuclear threat and Iranian backed regimes in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza – than the lack of peace with the Palestinian Authority.
I do not doubt that in time, we will have two states for two people and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be solved. I feel increasingly that we are getting closer to peace and as Netanyahu mentioned, the progress and developments in infrastructure and economies within the Palestinian cities are promising. However, at this rate it will take a long time. Netanyahu also said that this progress would be faster and better for all of us were we to have peace, but I don’t think he is in any rush. And even if he was, with whom would he talk?
So, for today and for tomorrow, these discussions seem moot.
We will continue to have incidents and be on high alert from time to time. We will also see booms in our economy and tourism. In six years my oldest son will likely be in the army while our gas masks continue to sit in storage, knowing we must defend ourselves while being prepared for the worse case scenario.
The lines are moving closer together as Ramallah and Tel-Aviv high tech companies work together and Bibi speaks of two states for two people. And while Bibi waits for a Palestinian partner who can deliver a peace agreement and who will recognize the right of the Jewish State to exist, I greet Halid with “Ahalan, Kif Halak” and he greets me with “Shabbat Shalom.”