The government of the State of Israel in the person of former Lt. Col. Rafi Horowitz, veteran of every Israeli war from 1948 to 1973, took us here to see a kibbutz and to meet Rachel Rabin, sister of the former prime minister and, more importantly at the moment, mother of the obstreperous Gadi, 24, just out of the army and willing to take the chance of giving the Palestinians their own country. The government of the State of Israel did not take us here to hear this.
Horowitz is outraged. Rachel Rabin is disapproving. there are some others in the room, and they, too, don't much like what Gadi is saying. However, he sticks to his guns. All he is saying is give peace a chance.
"I don't agree with the PLO, but I understand why they do what they do," Gadi says. "I think Israel must give the Palestinians a country of their own on the West Bank.
You must understand why this is no silly academic argument. You must understand that some days before and just up the road, Palestinian terrorists snuck into a nearby kibbutz and held the children hostage. A kibbutznik and one child were killed. Also a soldier.
You must understand that just before that, a terrorist tried to get into Manara. He was blown up by a mine and a companion ran away. You must understand that lying on the table now is a hunk of a Katyusha rocket that Rachel Rabin has taken down from the bookshelf. It went right through the window of her apartment and implanted itself in the spine of a book.
Rachel Rabin is 54. Her hair is mostly white, drawn back behind her head in a sort of pony tail. She wears slacks and a sweater. She is a school principal and that day they had a meeting to discuss what to do with the children who are still nervous after the terrorist attack.
"the children want to hear from us that it is safe," she says. "But we can not lie to them. They are afraid."
Gadi is one of her two sons. He is just out of the army, travelling now on funds supplied by the kibbutz. He is, by any standard, handsome. He is wearing a white T-shirt, levis and no shoes. Whatever he says sends Horowitz, the military man, right up the wall.
"What if you are wrong, Gadi?" asks Horowitz. "What if we give back the West Bank and it does not bring peace, but more war?"
"Then we take back the West Bank."
"I should fight there a second time? I should fight another war for something we already have? Gadi, I have sons and I know that someday I might lose a son in a war. This I am prepared for. I do not want it, but I am prepared for it. But to lose a son for stupidity, because you want to try something, this I will not do. I will not let them fight and I will not fight."
The argument, it turns out, has been going on now for two days. Originally, it was mother vs. son and some of what is being said now, was said earlier.
"I told you yesterday," Rachel Rabin says, "We never said we would throw them into the sea. They do not want to give us the right to be a Jewish country."
It would be easy, but misleading, to label this argument as the Israeli version of the generation gap. It is more than that. There is a growing peace movement in this country and some of the nation's leading intellectuals belong to it. Lately, it has been holding demonstrations, proving that it is respectable to talk about peace -- talk about an accommodation with the Palestinians. There are many like Gadi who think it is foolish for Israel to persist in refusing to deal with the PLO, that it would be worth the risk to try to make peace. They think the country has no choice.
There are even others who think that Israel, because of its military victories, is at a crossroads. It can either dispose of the West Bank with its one million Arabs, take the military and security risk or it can retain the West Bank and risk losing its identity as a democratic Jewish nation. In not very long; it would no longer be majority Jewish and probably not very democratic, either -- at least not for the Arabs within it and probably not in the long run for anyone else. It would become a state like South Africa or Rhodesia where a minority rules a majority or, in the fantasies of extremists, free of Arabs the way Germany wanted to be free of Jews.
The prospects are hideous, the risks great and it behooves someone from the outside to listen a lot, write little and type very slowly. You cannot sit at this table, listen to Horowitz and Rabin, without understanding the argument or respecting their wisdom. They have earned the right to be very cynical.
But the wars have produced more wars. The West Bank has turned Israel into an occupation power and the Palestinians, instead of going away, have got the sympathy and support of much of the world. Gadi would like nothing more than to extend them a hand. At this table, he is considered a fool, unrealistic. He is not. He is, in fact, the only realist here.