But as if doubt equals weakness, each of them speaks in absolutes, sure that his analysis and solution mark the only possible correct path. There they now stand in front of my house, shouting and gesticulating, so unmoved by the other's equal but opposite certitude that their conversation seems a form of parallel play, with neither listening to the other's voice.
That's political discourse in our pressure-cooker Holy Land, I guess.
So I was glad when Yitzhak Frankenthal came to visit. An Orthodox Jewish businessman turned "peace activist," Frankenthal too believes that his analysis and firm solution for our problem with our Palestinian neighbors are correct.
But he also acknowledges that in so complex and unpredictable a situation--well, he could be wrong. Doubt and the struggle with multiple possibilities is part of Judaism, he says.
Although both my neighbors dismiss him for naivete and wishful thinking, his attitude made it a lot easier for me to hear him, even though I can't completely agree with him, either.
Frankenthal has a great and terrible credential for his political work. He was the father of a son, Arik, 19, his eldest, who was murdered by terrorists in 1994.
You may recall the incident. Arik, a hitchhiking soldier, accepted a ride from three young men dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews. They turned out to be Hamas operatives aiming at kidnap or murder. He fought, wounded one of them, and was shot to death in the struggle. End of story, except for its epilogue of eternal sorrow.
After Frankenthal got up from shiva, the first week of mourning, his friends in his small town north of Tel Aviv, who had long twitted him for his "peacenik" views, assumed that those beliefs had died with Arik. No, Frankenthal told them, Arik was murdered because there is no peace, not as proof that peace is impossible.
Shortly after, he began devoting time to peace work, eventually serving for three years as executive director of Netivot Shalom ("Ways of Peace"), an Orthodox peace organization. More recently, he founded an organization, the Parents' Circle, that brings together Jews and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the struggle between our peoples.
Frankenthal's political agenda? "We can't have a democratic state that is also a Jewish state if we include all the Palestinians in the territories," he says. "Unless we are willing to give up being a Jewish state, we need a Palestinian state."
But at the same time, he goes on, there can be no peace that generates a civil war in Israel's sharply divided population--for example, by evacuating all the settlers. His solution: Keep the 7 percent of the West Bank on which 75 percent of the settlers live, and let the Palestinians make a state in the rest.
And then? "Build Israeli society."
For their textbooks are teaching the next generation of Palestinian Arabs that Jews are deceitful and cruel and that not just the West Bank but the entire State of Israel is "occupied Palestine," which they have a sacred duty to "liberate." Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority's media are filled with incitement against Israel, and the Palestinian leadership lauds terrorists and suicide bombers as heroes and martyrs. In Palestinian territory, Mein Kampf is a best-seller.
And one of Arik Frankenthal's killers still lives free in the Palestinian Authority.Frankenthal meets often with Palestinian activists and academics; his organization of bereaved parents held a widely publicized parley with Hamas people in Gaza. What do his Palestinian colleagues say about the contradiction between being in a "peace process" and training their young for hostility?
If we were only to educate Palestinian children for peace, Frankenthal quotes them, we would have no "soldiers" if peace does not come. Let's make peace, they say, and the day after, our books and our way of thinking will change.
Is somebody pulling my leg here? I think so. Hatred can't be taught for only a day. The Palestinians must be girding themselves for conflict, just as my neighbor on the right insists.
Annul the Oslo process, he tells Frankenthal. Incorporate Judea and Samaria into the State of Israel, let West Bank Arabs live there as noncitizens. No Jew can give away the Land of Israel. Ruling a foreign population is better than committing national suicide.
My neighbor to the left objects, dismissing publicity about Palestinian textbooks as right-wing propaganda. Hatred of Israel, he insists, spreads among Palestinians through the demolition of their "illegal" homes by Israeli soldiers and the "legal" takeover of their agricultural lands by settlers. First treat the disease, he says; the textbooks are a symptom that will soon disappear.
I live between them, full of ambivalence. I don't want to give away any of the Land of Israel. But the other possibilities--retreating to the Green Line, the modern State of Israel's original borders, without reference to security or settlements; voiding Oslo in order to occupy the West Bank forever; or accepting a binational state--seem worse.
Yet it's hard for me to believe that the Palestinians mean peace.
And meanwhile, the nature of the discourse baffles me. In so dark a forest as the future of Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land, how can any person be so sure that only one path leads to the light?