The Arc of the Pendulum
When Yossi Alpher and I sat in my Jerusalem office in the year 2000, discussing plans for the first bitterlemons web magazine, we never imagined that it would grow to encompass four different publications and two books, or that it would span 12 years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That was before the second Palestinian uprising and its crushing losses, before the construction of Israel's wall and the blockade of Gaza that have physically divided us, before 9/11 that made villains of Arabs and Muslims in the West, before the population of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank had finished doubling despite the peace accords. And, of course, it was before the Arab uprisings that are transforming the region at this very moment.
In the beginning of this project, my hope was that bitterlemons would provide a venue for the Palestinian voice to be heard. And to this day, I remain proud that we seem to have achieved this--that top international policymakers were able to read the opinions of Palestinians from many walks of life and political backgrounds and engage their ideas on this forum.
(In this regard, it remains a criticism of mine and others who observe the media that Palestinians are rarely heard on their own terms. Instead, they are presented responding to Israeli concerns and answering western-derived questions, as if Palestinians have no independent dreams or visions. We must all do better.)
Often in this project, we as editors have felt lucky. In the foreword to "The Best of Bitterlemons" compilation published in 2007, I noted that we rarely had trouble recruiting writers. Despite the feeling among many in the Arab world that contact with Israelis is tantamount to accepting Israel's occupation, seldom did authors decline an invitation. Lately, we have observed that this has changed, that even once-forthcoming Palestinians are less interested in sharing ideas with Israelis just across the way. Still, we have been able to present the voices of security chiefs and political prisoners, military generals and farmers losing land, spokespersons for armed groups and peaceniks in an equal and fair manner--rather differently than the situation on the ground.
Nevertheless, this achievement is bittersweet as the scenery around us grows ever more dark and uncertain. Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel's control. Israel's political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.
We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel. How this new "one-state" option will be transformed into a solution that provides freedom and security for all remains to be seen. We at bitterlemons are grateful to have been able to record over time the shift in this direction and hope the archive we have created will be useful to researchers for years to come.
And so, more than anything, we want to thank our readers and contributors (often one and the same) who shared their ideas with us and were not afraid to join this conversation. I personally would like to thank my co-editor Yossi Alpher for his tireless work on this shared project. The discussion will certainly continue--I am sure of this--until Palestinians achieve their freedom and self-determination by ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 and establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel, thereby realizing the international consensus over the two-state solution. Bitterlemons aspires to be a part of this, through new projects and platforms. But for now, we all wait with trepidation to see around the bend.