The July 29 column by Rodit Nudelman Perl, consul at the Consulate General of Israel to New England, interested me because several of my family members also took the trip from Boston to Tel Aviv and were in the middle of the July military operation, experiencing the rockets over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (“World shouldn’t need reminder of what’s at stake in Mideast”). And, like Omer, the 16-year-old daughter of Consul Perl, our 14-year-old grandson Benjamin sought shelter following the siren’s blare.

While Omer was there attending the Israeli Defense Forces training course to give her a taste of army life, we stayed in the Holy Land in order to introduce Benjamin to the Jewish and Christian roots of his parents, as well as historical Muslim sites.

We donned yarmulkes at the Western Wall, slipped a prayer note in a wall crack, prayed amid bar mitzvah celebrants and spent several hours at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

We viewed Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, walked Via Dolorosa and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before celebrating the Iftar dinner breaking the Ramadan fast with the family of a Palestinian writer who had visited us in Portland, courtesy of the U.S. State Department and Portland Stage Company.

Benjamin and my son played soccer with Aladdin, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, and visited with their friend Eden, an Israeli camp counselor whom they’d hosted in their home several years ago.

Regrettably, army checkpoints, barbed wire fences and heavily armed Israeli soldiers are constant reminders of the conflict and division that permeate daily life there. Unless this changes, neither side will see the humanity in the other. As Gideon Levy, a columnist for and member of the editorial board of Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, recently wrote (the material in parentheses was added):

“… The average young Israeli (like Omer and Eden) will never meet his Palestinian peer, other than during his army service, and then only if he does his service in the territories. Nor will the average young Palestinian (like Aladdin) ever meet an Israeli his own age, other than the soldier who huffs and puffs at him at the checkpoint, or invades his home in the middle of the night, or in the person of the settler who usurps his land or torches his groves.”

From Jerusalem we visited several Palestinian cities where Omer may never go, unless as an Israeli soldier. We had tea in a settler home and saw Israeli settlements encroaching on lands that Palestinians see as their present and future homes. These settlements continue to expand despite pleas by the United States that they stop and condemnation of them by the international community at large.

Levy, in a column prepared for the Israel Conference on Peace last month, maintains that the settlements indicate Israel’s attitude toward peace:

“The single most overwhelming item of evidence of Israel’s rejection of peace, is, of course, the settlements project. From the dawn of its existence, there has never been a more reliable or more precise litmus test of Israel’s true intentions than this particular enterprise. In plain words: The builders of settlements want to consolidate the occupation, and those who want to consolidate the occupation do not want peace.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused the end of the recent U.S.-initiated peace talks by announcing the construction of thousands of units of new housing in the occupied territories.

Roger Cohen, in a powerful July 29 New York Times piece, faults Netanyahu for not making a “good-faith effort to find common cause with Palestinian moderates,” concluding that “Hamas is also the product of a situation that Israel has reinforced rather than sought to resolve.”

While Consul Perl calls for an immediate and unconditional end of the current Gaza crisis to prevent the loss of Palestinian and Israeli children, a just and lasting peace will not occur until, as Gideon Levy suggests, there is an end to “the dehumanization of the Palestinians” and “the demonization of the Palestinians, which is hammered into people’s heads day after day.” This peace should begin with a simultaneous cessation by Hamas of rocket fire, lifting of the Israeli siege, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and permanent cessation of Israel’s settlement enterprise.

Once these steps occur, a just and lasting peace is within reach and Omer, Eden, Aladdin and Benjamin can meet in Tel Aviv, Hebron, Gaza City or Jerusalem in a local cafe, or play soccer without fear of rockets or heavy artillery.

— Special to the Press Herald