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Friendship in Time of Conflict

goldsborobooks.com

Let me tell you a story. A story about friendship, a story about war and peace, a story about a book. I’ll start with the friendship: When I arrived here in Sacramento almost twenty-four years ago, right away I got involved with a small group of people from different backgrounds (but mostly Jews), who called their group ‘The Middle East Peace Project,’ and who were dedicated on educating the public at large about all aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and more so even, on spreading the word that peace was possible to achieve.

Among the group activists was a Palestinian named Akef Shihabi, who was a mild-mannered, middle-aged man, educated and very pleasant to be around. We struck friendship soon after I joined the group, I visited his house and he mine, and though his family was expelled from East-Jerusalem in 1948; and though my parents arrived to then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1946, refugees and survivals of the Holocaust, we not only fast became friends, but on behalf of our group we began appearing together around the city and county, universities, congregations, Jewish and Christians and Muslims, where we shared our different experiences but common belief in the possibility of peace.

At some point we drifted apart, due to life’s other obligations, necessities, and misfortunes. Also, due to my realization that at some point we were just treading water, and had exhausted all the open venues in this area. Still, on occasions I would think of him. None more so than nowadays, when for the last three weeks I was consumed by a new book—’Apeirogon,’ by Colum McCann—which was published last month to great acclaim and much interest. So much so that one book reviewer I’ve read, in ‘The Guardian’ of London, concluded by saying that if ever a book can bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is the book.

I was immediately intrigued: Can a book bring peace? Not only that: At the center of the book—the author is calling it a novel, yet it’s really a novel in name only since it’s mostly a nonfiction, biographical, historical book using real people, real names, and real incidents—are an Israeli and a Palestinian, from Jerusalem and Jericho, who both lost young daughters to the conflict. They form an everlasting friendship, first through an organization called ‘The Parents Circle,’ and then through an organization called ’Combatants for Peace.’ Both organizations are also real and active presently.

At the core of the book is the story of these two men. How their daughters were killed—the Palestinian man, Bassam, ten-year old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of her head by a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier riding in a Jeep, just as she came out of a small shop on a break from school, a candy in her hand; the Israeli man, Rami, his daughter Smadar, only fourteen, was walking with her two best friends on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when three suicide bombers exploded themselves one afternoon. The book tells their stories, their families’ and daughters’ stories, how they deal with the constant grief and loss, how they became friends and active in peace and reconciliation efforts, appearing and lecturing together not only in Israel-Palestine, but in Europe and America.

This ancient conflict, they believe, won’t end until we talk. (A side bumper-sticker on Rami’s motorbike says just that in Hebrew : (זה לא ייגמר עד שנדבר. And the book indeed talk. And talk for long about them and about other things. It’s all those other things, unrelated to their friendship, peace activities and personal stories that obscure and dull the effect of the book somewhat. They hold our attention, the two men; their stories original and painful enough for the book to sustain interest and emotional resonance throughout. The author though, it seems, wanted to write the “ultimate” book about the Middle East at large, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Which takes away from the impact at the core of his book.

Nonetheless, it’s an admirable effort. But can it bring peace? No, it cannot. Still, it’s an important book. And it’s important not only because it shows the historical depth, and current magnitude of the conflict—as other books had done already (not to mention the Bible)—but also because it gives voice to the possibility of friendship in time of conflict. The possibility of shared experiences and shared humanity and efforts working, united, for the common good. And it makes clear that peace is possible to attain.

Therefore, in conclusion, I suggest that anyone who’s connected to this conflict in any way, to the ‘land of milk and honey’ and to its people, whether closely or remotely, would surely find this book of great interest. As Rami thinks to himself when he first joins ‘The Parents Circle’—an organization of bereaved parents from both sides—“It is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands.” And equally so Bassam (who experienced seven years of humiliation and torture in an Israeli prison) thinks that “The only revenge is making peace.” So ultimately, and persuasively, their story renews the hope that someday in the future, sooner rather than later, driven by the people more than by their leaders, a peaceful resolution to this endless war would be found.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

The New Anti-Semitism—Jews Against Bernie Sanders

leftvoice.org

As the chances of Senator Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination for presidency become real, and as the possibility of him going against Trump—and possibly, hopefully win—increases, so increases a special type of hatred against him. Shockingly, this hatred, and the strong sentiments that feed it, are generated from the most unexpected segment of the population: Jews. Especially conservative Jews. In the close circle of my social network I’ve heard him being called “Kapo” and “Self-hating Jew.” “I’d rather vote for Trump than him,” someone commented on Facebook. Just imagine what’s going on out there in the dark alleyways of the Internet.

These sentiments represent a special branch of anti-Semitism, and remind me of the atmosphere that prevailed in Israel prior to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. As led back then by Benjamin Netanyahu in the squares of Jerusalem, Rabin was called a “Nazi,” his picture dressed in Nazi officer uniform. (In a notorious Facebook post Sanders was compared to Adolf Hitler.) He was called a traitor, Rabin, while the smell of blood—of a heroic figure in Israel’s fight for independence, the crown prince of David Ben-Gurion, former Army’s chief-of-staff who dared to make peace—could be smelled in the streets for quite sometimes before he was gunned down in a Tel Aviv square, now carrying his name.

Why so? Who’s behind it? Where does it come from? You’d think that Jews, especially in Israel and in America, would know better. Would realize that it is one thing to oppose a candidate politically, not to like him or agree with his suggested policies, and therefore vote for somebody else. It is another thing, though, to spew this kind of hateful rhetoric—which, I’m afraid, will only increase as we get closer to the election—toward any political candidate, let alone a major Jewish candidate. No doubt it will help escalate the level of anti-Semitism currently existing in America. Just because a Jewish person, a politician even, sees things differently than the way we see them, doesn’t mean we have to label him a “traitor.” Doesn’t mean we should give ammunition to so many hot-headed people who hate us anyway for a myriad of reasons. He might be a different Jew than you and me; yet he is still a Jew.

And here’s what Sanders told the New York Times’ editorial board on that topic, when asked whether he believes in God. “I am Jewish. I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion.” Well, just like so many Jews throughout the land, most probably the majority. In Israel, too, he would be regarded as a regular secular Israeli-Jew. In fact, Sanders had spent a few months living and working in a kibbutz back in 1963. Raise your hands please, Jews of America, how many of you have done so. Some, sure, but not many. It is one thing to dream, to talk longingly and lovingly about Israeli kibbutzim, and another thing altogether to pack your bags and go live there. Experience the experience.

Of course, another reason that sends American Jews off the wall in regard to Sanders is his support from, and close ties with, “The Squad.” In particular Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. For these American Jews that’s all the proof they need; like a deal with the devil, which only adds fuel to the fire. And while another twenty Representatives like Omar and Tlaib won’t bring Israel any closer to destruction, for many American Jews this alliance is an absolute “Trefah.” We better die than allow it to go on. God forbid a reconciliation, an understanding with Arabs and Palestinians would occur. God forbid a chance for a new road would open up. Who knows where it might lead us.

To peace maybe. Peace with the Palestinians, for instance. What a terrible idea, and possibility, for some American Jews. After all, Sanders had also said that “Israel has the right to exist, not only to exist but to exist in peace and security. But what US foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.” Well, amen to that. However, while for Sanders to imply that he loves all mankind (hippie-like, sixties-like) is okay, for him to say that “We must be pro-Palestinian as well” is not okay. That’s another “Trefah.” He must be a traitor. Let’s hang him in the squares of the Social Network. He is not even a Jew. Let Twitter eat him alive.

Because when it comes to Israel American Jews—especially the conservative movement—are always behind the curve. If AIPAC supported Netanyahu all these years, without ever questioning his motives and policies, then so are we. If AIPAC said you are not allowed to criticize Israel in public, we won’t do that. Any form of private thoughts we might have, we better keep to ourselves. That modus operandi doesn’t, and won’t work in regard to Sanders, should he be chosen the Democratic nominee, and thereafter elected president. The “War of the Jews” will erupt. American style. You just wait and see.

Sorry to break this to you: The horrible possibility of these hateful sentiments charging further the batteries of some lunatic—whether a Jew or a non-Jew—and igniting him to take matters into his own hands and do some terrible thing, is quite real. Yes, I’m talking about another assassination; a word some people here refuse to say when it comes to Rabin’s assassination (it was just “death,” I heard a rabbi says once in public.) But the current political climate in America, fully charged already, is ripe for explosion. With some militia-type hooligans, armed to the teeth, ready to pull the trigger on a whim. We Jews shouldn’t give them any opportunity to do so.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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