A shorter 500-word version first aired June 16, 2011 on KUNM, New Mexico’s community-powered public radio, listen to audio at KUNM: Commentary: A Jewish American Perspective on the Israel/Palestine Conflict
As the youngest child in my own family, who wants everyone to make peace, I couldn’t stand the arguing. It was one of the reasons I tuned out the Israeli-Palestinian issue for most of my life. But now, I feel called upon to love the entire mishpocheh, the whole family, Jews, Arabs, and Christians, despite the craziness.
I want everyone to stop fighting. The fear of not knowing if there is an answer, or of not getting the answer right, prevented me from saying much about an argument that has seemed about as intractable as which came first, the chicken or the egg. But to counter the mindset of never-ending war that seems to be closing in, I feel I must at least be trying to think about it, in my own way.
In our reform Jewish American household on Chicago’s North Shore there was barely a whisper spoken about the Holocaust. It wasn’t until, as a teenager I saw the black and white footage, in the documentary film “Night and Fog,” of bulldozers pushing the bodies of mountains of Jews into trenches in concentration camps, that I really knew anything about the Holocaust.
When I was a little girl I bought a tree for Israel and cherished the certificate that said a tree would be planted in my name there. The one time I visited Israel, in the summer of 1969, I walked among the tall pines of a cool forest, touching them lightly and talked to them, saying, my tree is among you. I saw the self-assured young Israelis rumbling past in military trucks, and, I met an Arab elder tending his pomegranate trees among ancient stones. He held out a fruit to me and showed me how to open and eat the complex of tiny rubies inside. For the next forty years I pretty much ignored Israel, safe in the belief that all Americans sympathized with and supported her existence.
During a recent chance assignment that profoundly changed my life, to interview a genealogist recently transplanted from Israel to Rio Rancho, New Mexico (read at: Jewish genealogist: The clue master, and a town for which I cared not much.), we located the Polish village my grandmother left at age five with her parents in 1888. Late that night, online, I learned that all the Jews living in that town in 1939 were murdered in Hitler’s concentration camps. I also found the names of my relatives that stayed listed in the Yizkor books of the Holocaust, and saw photographs of the young men rounded up in the town’s square by the S.S. and I realized for the first time that I was, indeed, a survivor. Had my great-grandparents not left that village in Poland, I would never have been born.
Meanwhile, moving to the Southwest exposed me to the spirituality inherent in Navajo culture, which, finally, led me to want to learn more about my own.
When I began to explore the Jewish community here, I was astonished to learn that some welcomed the extremist evangelical movement, some of whom would like to see Israel’s one-time biblical borders re-established all the way to the Jordan River.
But it was hearing a guest lecture against Israel delivered inside a synagogue in Albuquerque by a Jew who does not even recognize Israel’s right to exist at all, that really made me nauseous. I couldn’t believe the hatred I was hearing against Israel, especially coming from another Jew.
That lecturer’s accusations galvanized me to want to learn more. I have been surprised to learn, (and surprised that I was surprised, because I hadn’t realized how biased against Israel the portrait being painted in the media has become and had even unconsciously affected me), that Jews and Arabs do live together in peace right now in one country in the Middle East — in Israel. Israel is a democracy and a surprisingly open society, considering the threats it lives under.
Also I’ve begun to follow the news intently. While both Israelis and Palestinians are finally talking about a two-state solution, the lack of an opening for negotiations did not bode well last year, this year, or for the next fifty years.
After immersing myself in all the news, my mind, seeking a way to stop the noise, seeking a resolution, suddenly caught sight of an idea.
Everyone else has their good ideas. Well this is mine: It occurs to me that if some kind of internationally- governed demilitarized zone between Israel and a new Palestinian state, a DMZ, is the way things unfold, I would like to see some of that effort put first toward the creation of a peace zone, a ‘PMZ,’ a middle ground between Israel and a Palestinian state — a threshold, a playground, a level playing field, where a community garden of ideas could be given a chance to grow over time, over generations. I hope this is done now because it can be, and not later because it has to be.
A print version of this updated 800-word commentary was published May 26, 2012, Gallup Independent, New Mexico, Spiritual Perspectives column, Page 28, where Schmidt has been a contributing religion columnist since 2010. A shorter 500-word version first aired June 16, 2011 on KUNM, New Mexico’s community-powered public radio, listen to audio at KUNM: Commentary: A Jewish American Perspective on the Israel/Palestine Conflict. The text of that audio is here at: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution. A longer 1200-word version was published in the New Mexico Jewish Link, August, 2011, page 4 and that text can be read on this Examiner site at Creating a Zone for Peace: Another look at the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Schmidt recently won four awards: First place, News, associate, Native American Journalism Award, Arizona Press Awards 2012, 2nd place, Public Safety Reporting, both for ‘Branded and Scarred’ for the Navajo Times, and 1st place at the 2012 Society for Professional Journalism Top of the Rockies Awards for her KUNM radio commentary Martin Luther King Jr.s Message Important in Corporate Age. Also, a scholarship to the Poynter Institute to learn about reporting on child sexual abuse.