Living in Efrat in the Judean Hills, I often found myself asking the question: who’s got it better: the “settlers,” surrounded by fences, barbed wire, soldier-manned guard towers, and an entire army of tanks, armed vehicles, helicopters, foot soldiers, and so forth–or the local Palestinians who have to present an I.D. just to board a bus, not to mention the hours spent at checkpoints waiting to enter Israel proper? My answer is that basically, no one has it good, and while the simple folks suffer from the pangs of armed conflict, the elites do their utmost to perpetuate it.

While living in Judea, I met many Palestinians who’d smile at me, and greet me–mostly in Hebrew. I also had the experience of teaching Palestinian children English at Berlitz some-5 years ago. I remember handing out an assignment where I asked my students to list some basic information regarding themselves: their names/ages/place of birth–and I went a step further: I asked them to list their “ethnicity.” I remember the feeling of elation I experienced having received their answers: ALL the Palestinian kids listed their ethnicity as “Israeli.”

I strongly believe that it’s not the simple, hard-working Arabs who want to “throw us into the sea.” Not in the West Bank, not in Gaza, not in any Arab country in the region. Yes, they are constantly getting brain-washed. Local T.V. channels stream anti-Semitic propaganda into their living rooms. Anti-Israeli sentimen is synonymous with being a good Muslim.

Even so, there are many examples of incredibly brave, independent-thinking Arabs who’ve come forth and denounced their governments’ hatred of Jews. Surprising? I think not when we take the time to study the history of Islam, especially its “Golden Age”, when Muslim conquerors spread the faith by way of living peacefully with Jews and Christians, thus gaining from both. Not so in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. The Koran, as I’ve recently learned, is extremely ambiguous when it comes to women’s and minority rights. There are Muslims who actually do their “homework” and end up choosing those passages of the Koran that speak to them–not the local mufti. While the mufti will teach you that Jews and Christians are the sons of pigs and apes (respectively), the Koran also teaches to respect the “People of the Book.”

I’ve always had the feeling that there’s much, much more to Islam than the stuff we see on T.V. and read about in the latest news reports. It’s not only a culture of hatred and violence. Rather, it’s a society experiencing a period of upheaval and hardship–and perhaps an all-out revolution in thought and practice will follow. Judaism and Christianity also went through similar processes. Who’s to say Islam won’t reform for the best, and that Jews and Muslims (who have a lot more innate similarities than do Jews and Christians) won’t team up to build an era of progress and coopeation in the Middle East?

While missiles continue raining down on Southern Israel, I remain hopeful that the Palestinians will group out of their slave mentality to overthrow the corrupt regimes of both the Fatah and Hamas and partner up with Israel to achieve a real peace–a peace in which Israel need not give up any territory in return for empty promises. We’ve tried this path already. It has brought about two decades of bloodshed.

So whom do we have to look to in our search for a “peace partner?” I believe such a partner has to come from amongst the simple people; those not as exposed to the constant brain-washing machine that’s the PLO (now PA). We need to build relations with the farmers, the artists, the musicians, the construction workers, the school teachers; in short the lower classes. And needless to say, this is the majority amonsgst the Palestinians. We need to show them we care about them by policing their cities, by providing them with quality jobs, by sponsoring their schools.

Thankfully, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government realizes this simple truth. I see Israeli soldiers lending a helping hand to Palestinian youngsters, our religious students organizing united prayers for rain with their community leaders (one of my friends in Efrat did this so I know first-hand), our Rabbis inviting their immams to sit down and hold the negotiations our governments aren’t able–or aren’t willing to hold (Rabbi Riskin has been doing this for several decades now).

I believe every individual: Arab or Jew has the capacity to change. I went from being a hard-core Kahane supported to being strongly opposed to the mention of “transfer.” I continue respecting the Rabbi and his legacy–especially for his work towards freeing Soviet Jews and for his endless self-sacrifice, but there are things which he said and did that go against what I believe in, mainly: the human spirit, our ability to change, our innate good-will. This war will–whether the elites want it or not–come to an end. This will happen when those who’ve been renogated to the sidelines for so long will rise up and say “Enough, our values are their values! Our quest for liberty and freedom is theirs as well!” As I sit at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem following another bomb scare, I remain as optimistic as ever.