My new column is up at The American Prospect.
Dalal rested in her father’s lap. She smiled but only said one word, ana, “I” in Arabic — her entire vocabulary at the age of three and a half. My friend Dr. Eliezer Be’eri, carefully felt her feet and ran his hand over her back. “Can she hold things?” Be’eri asked.
“She just started to with her right hand,” answered her father, Osama Rusrus.
“Does she pass things from hand to hand?”
“No. The other hand doesn’t function.”
The examination continued. A cool evening breeze blew across the patio of the Everest Hotel, a mountaintop pensione on the outskirts of Beit Jala in the West Bank. Beit Jala itself is in Area A, the part of the West Bank that is under full Palestinian Authority control and that is off-limits to Israelis by Israeli military order. Alyn Hospital, the Middle East’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital, where Be’eri is a department head — is in Jerusalem, which is off-limits to West Bank Palestinians unless they procure Israeli permits. Our lives are fragmented by many borders in very little space.
The Everest, however, is in Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli control, meaning that Palestinians and Israelis can meet there. It is no-man’s land, or rather everyman’s land. Dalal is brain-damaged. The reasons, for the moment, aren’t clear: It could be a genetic condition; it could be cerebral palsy, caused by a lack of oxygen before or during birth. The story of Dalal’s examination is a short one with, I admit, a large cast of characters and with hope of a happy ending.
The catalyst was journalist Gideon Levy, who writes with singular, furious dedication about the inequities of the occupation for the Hebrew daily, Ha’aretz. Whether journalism can sway large numbers of people to make peace, whether it can change the big picture, is a question that eats at me. I’d like to believe it can, but so far, the thesis is hard to prove. In the meantime, however, Gideon has shown that an article can change the small picture. And even while the occupation continues, it’s possible for Israelis and Palestinians, here and there, to cross boundaries and ameliorate an injustice. I find some solace in that….