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Two Births

03/14/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin

There was a dreadful symmetry in the fate of the two pregnant women - one Israeli and one Palestinian. A few weeks ago, each was shot by the enemy's bullet in two different locations. Both were caught in the same cauldron of violence that boils in the Middle East.

Both mothers survived the attacks and gave birth within hours of one another.

What a way for an infant to enter the world, thrust into life by the explosion of gunfire.

A miracle, one might say, that as far as we know, both mothers and babies survived. This event stands out, amongst the killings that occur every day on each side of this deadly tit-for-tat conflict. How extraordinary to see new life emerging in such close proximity to death.

One might also call this a tragedy. Childbirth, one of the most beautiful and awesome events that one can experience, has become mired in blood, not from the womb, but from shrapnel. Labor pains were intermingled with the pain of enemy-inflicted wounds. One cry, no doubt, could not be distinguished from the other.

Both women, their babies and their families suffered the same fate, not knowing whether to celebrate the births, or mourn the wounded and dead.

Shooting pregnant women and forcing babies into the world before their time is not what is supposed to happen. Women and children, instead of being protected, are being targeted. It is that kind of a war, giving new meaning to "women and children first."

If only these women could meet, talk to one another and let their babies gurgle together in their cribs. Perhaps their common bond would overcome the uncommon hatred that separates them, and may turn their children against one another.

If only the Palestinians and the Israelis could learn from this bloody event that a war of endless retaliation only leads to more deaths for both sides.

Every day there are new and more terrifying attacks, almost numbing our sense of horror.

If these two mothers could sit at the peace table together, nursing their babies, would they respond with alacrity to the Saudi peace proposal?

Would they see the significance of the offer that the major Arab countries have made? In exchange for a complete withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 war, the Arab countries would acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

"A tough goal, but let us talk," the mothers would say, "and stop killing."

These babies, born at approximately the same time, must be saved, not only from the bullets which hit their mothers, but also from the message of hatred that they will learn to recite soon after their first breaths. If we want them to shout for peace instead of war, leaders on both sides will have to talk the language of negotiation, mediation, reconciliation.

Then the mothers may look forward to achieving real symmetry between Palestinian and Jew, each living peacefully and looking forward to long and happy lives, unmarked by birth under fire.

This is Madeleine Kunin.

--Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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