Why can’t fate just leave them alone?

The wall separating Israel from Palestine.
The wall separating Israel from Palestine.

WE WALKED THORUGH the narrow and ancient streets of Old Jerusalem, made our way upon the steps of the Temple Mount and left our footprints on holy ground.

The land is harsh.

It is hostile.

It has the feel of a scorpion.

And deadly.

The winds are warm against your face.

The dust is suffocating.

The rains seldom come.

The sun never leaves.

But Israel is the Promised Land.

And the ground is as sacred as it is old.

Jews believe it is holy ground.

Christians believe it is holy ground.

Muslims believe it is holy ground.

That is the one certainty they can agree upon.

There is one other.

The land has been and will be stained with blood.

That, too, is the promise.

We met privately with the mayor of an illegal Jewish settlement in Palestine.

He was gracious. He was congenial.

He would have felt much better if we had gone elsewhere.

I saw it in his eyes.

They were hard.

Black like flint.

I saw it in his face.

It was strained, the muscles in his jaws taut.

His face was full of resolve.

He would not flinch in the time of war.

And war would come.

He had no doubt about it.

Only two miles away, he told us, three young men had been kidnapped as they hitchhiked home from school.

They were missing.

The streets were filled with fear.

Hearts clung desperately to hope.

There were cries of despair, cries for revenge.

But who were guilty of such a terrible deed?

He knew.

We knew.

No one spoke the word.

Hamas was on everyone’s mind.

And hope was on its way out of town.

Why can’t Israel and Palestine get along, I asked.

It was the obvious question.

We can, he said.

But nobody will let them.

We looked through the window of his office and – in the distance – we could see the outline of an Arab village lying low on sun-parched ground.

We get along, he said.

We are neighbors.

Our sons play football together.

We shop in their village.

They shop in ours.

There is peace between us.

But why won’t the governments leave them alone?

Why don’t the terrorists leave them alone?

Good men in both places.

Good women.

Good families.

They are forced to live in perilous times.

It began in the second chapter of Genesis.

A couple of weeks ago, the mayor says, I was awakened in the dead of night.

The phone rang.

It was the mayor from the Arab village.

His message was short.

He had no time to tarry.

My police have noticed some suspicious activity, he said.

It is headed your way.

You need to know about it.

He hung up.

The mayor of the Jewish settlement immediately mobilized his police force.

The terrorists slipped into town.

They were hiding in the shadows of the night.

The police force was waiting.

We stopped them, the mayor said quietly.

Bombs would not be planted that night.

No one would die.

A Palestinian had saved a village full of Jewish lives.

He would do it again if necessary.

He wanted to get along.

But three boys were missing.

Both mayors understood the threat they faced.

If the boys were dead, there would be a call for vengeance.

If Hamas had murdered them, there would be war.

Both mayors knew it. Both mayors dreaded it.

There would be a line in the dirt, and it would separate two towns that did not want to be separated.

Our plane flew out of Israel, and two days later, rockets were in the air.

Hamas had its fingers on the trigger.

There would be blood.

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