Their Mothers Cry Too

While Israel's war with Palestinian terrorists rages on, hopes for peace diminish. Some Jews in San Diego are hopeful, even if their hope is only philosophical.

Alex Brauer, 79, knows a little bit about Israeli history. A native of Transylvania, Brauer was arrested by Nazis at the age of 20 and survived three concentration camps including Flossenburg and Dachau, from which he was liberated in 1945. By then, 51 members of his extended family had been exterminated. In 1946, Brauer illegally entered what was to become Israel and was detained for two years in Cyprus by the British government. "The road was bumpy at that time. I was married, and one of my children was born in Cyprus. It was a struggle, because Israel was born May 15, and I had to report to the army on May 16. Most Arabs left Israel. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon declared war, so it was not easy." Brauer served for six years in the Israeli army, fighting several battles. He moved to the United States in 1962.

The current climate in Israel troubles Brauer. "It is a very sad situation. I consider myself not to one side or the other. When I visited Jerusalem in 1975, it was very emotional -- not because I am a Jew, but because I saw so many religions that have places for worship, and I was thinking, 'How can those criminals go in to set off bombs in Jerusalem, a city that is holy for so many people?' I just can't get into the mind of those people.

"I consider myself a European Jew -- a Holocaust survivor. We see things differently than the American Jews who were born here. In 1947 the United Nations voted to make two states: A Palestinian and a Jewish state. We Jews who lived there at that time accepted the partitioning, because I think the whole history of what we went through, especially in the 1940s, shows that we deserve our own state. How small it is is not important, but it is our land. But the Palestinians didn't accept it. This is actually the start of the whole problem. In all the wars -- the 1948-'49 war, the 1956 war, the 1967 war, the 1973 war -- all created bitterness for these people. Now, maybe some American Jews were divided, but not anymore. How can you live with fear all your life, like what happened [May 7] with the suicide bombers? They [the Palestinian bombers] have no regret. A life is nothing to them. The biggest problem is that I see no end to this problem. Just yesterday Arafat declared that suicide bombing is a crime, the prime minister [Ariel Sharon] comes here to talk to President Bush, and in the afternoon they exploded a bomb."

Brauer likens the current mess to what he witnessed as an Israeli citizen 54 years ago. "In 1947-'48, the prime minister of Great Britain told Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, 'You have to sit down and make peace with the Arabs.' Ben Gurion said, 'All right, I will, but with who? Which ones?' Because they are different. Hamas is different. Jihad is different. Now we have come to a time when Israel wants a change in the Palestinian hierarchy because Arafat is not a partner. Today he says this and tomorrow it's that. He says he wants peace and he sends bombers. I am afraid that more bombing and more violence is in store for Israel, and they will have to send more troops in again. Because they have to finish the job."

While Brauer sees the necessity of taking a hard line, he also believes that military force should be limited. "Ariel Sharon is a military man. I'm not saying he's a peace man, because military men never are. I think he's a little more radical and he wants to finish the job. He wants Israel once and for all to live in peace. But you can't just wipe out the opposition. Before World War II we never dreamed that someone could wipe out six million Jews. How can you just kill them? It happened. I don't think Israel is going to wipe out the Palestinian population. For what? That's nonsense!" He picks up a sheet of paper and folds it in half. "Here's a paper. We can fold it in two. This part is mine, this part is yours -- now let's live in peace."

Brauer believes the current culture of Palestinians -- particularly their lifestyle and support from other Arab nations -- is poisoning the peace process. "The new generation of Palestinian people -- say, between 18 and 45 -- they can never live in peace because they have never worked in their lives. They get money from other Arab countries just to carry a gun. It's obvious. If you have a family, you have to work to make a living. If tomorrow, you go buy two guns and say, 'I'm not working anymore,' who will support you? Somebody has to. I know the Palestinians. I was not just fighting them, I worked with them. There are many peaceful Palestinians, but the young people have to go to work to make a living and they don't want to. It's much easier to do what they are doing than to go work eight hours a day.

"I always thought we could live beside the Palestinian people if they want peace. But my opinion now is different. There have been so many prime ministers in Israel who tried to make peace -- starting with Golda Meir and Menachem Begin. When Sadat came to Jerusalem, Golda Meir was waiting for him and said, 'Mr. Sadat, why has this taken so long?' That says everything. We were waiting for one Arab country to come to Israel and make peace. Today, I can't see a future with those young thugs for whom life doesn't mean anything."

Elozor Weiss, 89, is a retired rabbi and university professor. A native of Poland, Weiss moved to the United States in 1930.

In Weiss's view, the struggle for peace in Israel parallels the United States' current dilemma. "I think that there are no Jewish people who have never hoped to have peace. As long as the Jews have been around we have wanted peace. This is a constant factor with the Jewish people. The same attitude is seen in America in how to deal with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Some say to negotiate, some say to continue bombing. It's only natural that people hold varying opinions. I'm hoping that there will be peace through whatever it takes. I don't think any Jew feels taking a tough stance is the way to go, but the situation requires taking a tough stance. I don't think any American wants to bomb Afghanistan, but we are still all behind President Bush on how to deal with people who blow up innocent people. Personally, I don't know how to deal with people who have a philosophy of killing women and children."

The problems Israel faces are close to home for Weiss. "I'm not there, but I have two brothers and a sister there. My son is a colonel in the U.S. Army, but his son is in the Israeli army. I can only hope that things will be well."

Weiss is less equivocal when it comes to Yasser Arafat. "Even President Bush has to prove that [Arafat] is not a terrorist. As far as I know, [Arafat] has been a terrorist for most of his life, and I don't think he has changed his ways. How to deal with him is up to the prime minister and the people in Israel. Now, Sharon is a democratically elected prime minister and the leader of the government in Israel. I am sure that he is dealing with the situation as well as anybody could. Even America doesn't know how to handle the situation.

"Somewhere along the line, I feel that terror will not succeed. Not in America, not in Israel, not in Pakistan. Ultimately, contrary to what appears on the surface now, Palestinians want peace. Israelis want peace. The world wants peace. It's a matter of how soon and when. All I can do is pray that it be soon."

But do the Palestinian suicide bombers want peace? "I have a difficult time believing they want peace, but it's their culture. Are you aware that 24 hours a day on Arab television, they are fed a constant showing of the evil that is supposed to be Israel. They never show what is happening to the Israelis, only to the Palestinians. Somewhere along the line, that has to change."

If the culture has to change, Weiss sees that change must extend beyond Palestine's borders to the entire Arab world -- a world that refuses to recognize Israel. "Some don't even recognize their existence, even though the United Nations helped form the state, and even though it is recognized by the rest of the world. Now Jordan and Egypt have recognized them in treaties, but they are what you call 'cold treaties.' There's very little assistance from Egypt, because Egypt has its own problems with militants. They have to walk a very straight line so as not to anger the militants in their own countries. This is mostly because the Arab leadership -- whether it's to keep their power or the safety of their own positions -- have created this image. I think most Arabs are human beings, and their mothers also cry for the children who are dead. When the heads of governments change, the people will change and then there will be a chance for peace."

Both men were interviewed for this article on May 8, the day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 people in an Israeli pool hall.

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