Several large-screen televisions line the walls of the poker room at the Commerce Casino, where I play cash games almost every day. Quite often, CNN is on and we’ll have discussions at the table about all the problems going on in Israel, Iraq, Ukraine, and Africa. In particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can sometimes be a sensitive topic.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when people discuss these issues, they too often speak in generalities. Everyone on the opposite side from theirs is bad; whether it’s a nation, a certain organization, or even our own government, everyone in each group is painted with the same brush. This kind of thinking is even more pervasive when we go to war and our 20-year olds are fighting 20-year olds from some other country. Our 20-year olds are told those other people are really bad and their 20-year olds are told our people are really bad when in reality, most of the people they’re taught to hate aren’t bad at all. In so many of these armed conflicts, the people fighting often feel they have no other alternative. Some are in a terrible economic situation and are fighting because it’s the only work they can get. Others feel they have to fight or they will end up victims themselves.
Even though I may have a side that I support, I never think that people on a different side are all evil. I believe this line of thinking is getting in the way of people solving these differences. Achieving peace begins with having a mindset that people all over the world simply want to live in a safe place and be able to support their families.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a cycle of violence and blame that seems impossible to stop. The Palestinian rationale for shooting rockets into Israel is that their land is occupied by Israel. Israel claims any military presence is necessary to protect its people from the violence and terrorism perpetuated by Hamas and supported by other enemies of Israel. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if I had issues with Hamas firing rockets into Tel Aviv, sending in suicide bombers, and calling for the destruction of Israel. So I’ll take a position of critiquing Israel’s strategy. Even though Israel may be right on its objections, something different needs to be done since the current strategy hasn’t prevented more years of tragedy.
First of all, Israel needs to stop trying to win a verbal war by calling out Hamas in every news conference. Also, there will always be a complaint of occupation until a non-Israeli peace force is on the border. The end game must include a new Palestinian state.
For there to be peace, the Palestinians need to emerge from this conflict believing they won the battle and can now reap the rewards of independence. As counterintuitive as it seems, I don’t even think there is a need to force them to renounce the destruction of Israel because it’s so absurd. No one except other enemies of Israel would ever recognize a country that has a policy to destroy its neighboring country. Once a new Palestinian state is established, the Palestinians will have their own internal problems to deal with and will spend less time bothering Israel. Hopefully, the international community will contribute enough humanitarian aid so the Palestinian people have more reasons to live in peace than fight.
I realize not many people are interested in hearing poker players or celebrities talk about crises around the world. Usually, any attempt comes off as uninformed and naive and I probably will appear this way as well. When the poker boom was in full swing ten years ago, my good friend Kassem “Freddy” Deeb (Lebanese of Palestinian descent) and I discussed the opportunity to make a difference in the Middle East. We had plans to travel there together and we brainstormed ways to educate people and make a difference. Unfortunately, the popularity of poker didn’t continue, so our influence would no longer be welcome or relevant.
I don’t expect the problems in the Middle East will be solved in my lifetime. Arabs and Jews have religious claims to the same land, and religion usually doesn’t lead to compromise. Also, there are countries that are happy to give the Palestinians military aid and want to keep them impoverished so they continue to irritate Israel.
There’s a story about a tour group that was visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The tour guide pointed to an old man who was praying at the wall.
“He comes here every day,” she said.
One of the tourists couldn’t help but question the old man. “How long have you been coming here?” she asked.
“I’ve been praying here every day for forty years,” he answered.
“What do you pray for?” she queried.
“I pray for peace between the Arabs and the Jews,” was his response.
“So how’s that going?” she continued.
After a slight pause and a gasp of despair he concluded, “I feel like I’ve been talking to a wall.”