A good friend of mine is half Jewish by birth, but has for the last 5-6 years been more aware of her Jewish identity. Recently I received an email from her after she read some of my latest blog postings. I felt that it may be worthwhile to share with you part of her email in blue (with her permission), and my response in red to it.
A major part of the wide gap between pro-peace Israeli and pro-peace Arabs is that despite being united by goal, they hardly understand each other. There is a lot of raw visceral emotions that influence how we feel about the Israeli-Palestinian (IP) conflict on all sides.
Many of these emotions are deeply rooted in history, religion, culture, upbringing and many other unexplainable influences. No matter how we try to understand the 'other', it always seems an incomplete understanding. We can never be in their shoes, not matter how hard we try.
So, here is her email commenting on some of my recent postings on the Israeli operation in Gaza, and how our politicians stood in line to please the pro-Israel crowd. I highlighted parts of the email that are relevant to this posting :
"Don't get me wrong, I completely got the joke and thought it was funny. I also agree with what you said. Some right wingers in this country scare the pants off me with their support of Israel because their line of thinking is that if Israel exists the Messiah will come. It will be the first time for the Jews and the Second Coming for the Christians. Truly a scary way to dream up foreign policy.The emphasized sentence is really the part that makes me wonder if a non-Jew can ever put themselves in the shoes of a Jew. That form of empathy is not a luxury. It is impossible to resolve long standing problems if you cannot even imagine yourself in the other person's shoes.
My point was that the concept of the Jewish state is so central to the religion of Judaism that it's hard to separate the two. I almost have to work at not being a Zionist. So making light of Israel is blasphemy for a lot of Jews.
But I think it's important to step back from the religious view of the state of Israel and look at ours and Israel's current policies because we live in the here and now and people are dying NOW."
When you are unable to do that, anything harmful to you from the other side will always be attributed to their evil nature, and moral bankruptcy, because you cannot see the emotional pressure leading to that behavior toward you.
And the sentence below would help make my point clear as she states:
"I wish the Palestinians would stop lobbing rockets into Israel though. Hard to argue that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself."Our response to this argument is usually "with their land occupied, borders closed off, food in short supply, fuel running out, and nobody willing to listen to Palestinian concerns, what do you want them to do? If you imagine yourself in that position, you may do the same thing you are criticizing them for."
This is EXACTLY the point I was trying to make earlier. You and I, as Arabs or Muslims, will be trying to put our opponents (my poor friend in this case) in a position where they should feel like a Palestinian: occupied, oppressed and besieged. You are asking the other to put themselves in the Palestinians shoes.
My response to my friend puts emphasis on an earlier point in her message: the centrality of Israel and the Land of Palestine to Judaism and Jews. And here is my response:
"To me, it is simply not understandable that any religion would have political and military domination over a piece of land as a central issue of faith. When I talked in the past to a self-admitted 'atheist' Jew who still thinks that he or she is entitled to a piece of land there, it confuses me even more.I doubt many, if any, of my Muslim or Arab readers would disagree with my statement, or find any logic flaws with it.
On NPR many months ago, an American man was talking fondly about his beautiful and cheap house in a settlement in the West Bank. The funny part was that the man was NOT a Jew till less than a decade before that. And, of course, he did not relinquish his home in the US, or his citizenship by converting to Judaism.
He just became entitled to another piece of land, and another home with no consideration for who was there before he 'decided' to adopt his new religion that came with the rights to someone's else land, and cheap housing.
That should not sound right, feel right, or judged to be right."
But I also know that very few Jews, if any, even amongst the most dovish and peace loving Jews would agree completely with me. They simply cannot see it through my eyes because, for them, it is a matter of faith, emotions, culture and upbringing.
And we, Muslims and Arabs, have to agree these are the same factors that shape our vision of what is right and what is just.
There is, of course, absolute truth and justice no doubt, but only God can be certain what they are. For us, mere mortals, we have to admit that truth and justice are always in the eye of the beholder. So, defending your position from the the angle of 'absolute truth and justice' leads no where.
Practical and pragmatic solutions will have to do, not absolute justice. And, that, as well got expressed by my good friend in her last sentence when she wrote
"But I think it's important to step back from the religious view of the state of Israel and look at ours and Israel's current policies because we live in the here and now and people are dying NOW. "My final statement was more pointed:
"I do not believe that God gives land to people. Nations are political and historic entities that come and go, and using religion to assume control over a piece of land by some form of 'divine authorization' is not legitimate in my view, and regardless of what religion practices it."But I also conclude that only practical and realistic solutions are the answer, not absolute positions.
"Israel is a de facto state now, and calling for its destruction is absurd. But so was the call for its creation.So I do not think Palestinians, or anyone, need to be brain-washed or re-programmed to accept that establishing Israel was legitimate or fair in order to qualify as peace partners. But also, calling for its destruction does not seem like a valid or even legitimate strategy either.
Little can be done about it now, and reversing it is not an option, but that does not make the initial decision any more right or legitimate."
Israel would do itself a great favor if it acknowledges the historic injustices done to the Palestinians by its establishment, and even apologizes for the unimaginable harm it inflicted on Palestinians and neighboring Arabs for decades.
Palestinians and other Arabs, on the other hand, need not to forget what befell them, but need to accept Israel in its June 4 1967 borders, negotiate reasonable compensations and move one.
Anything else will just prolong the agony, and keeps the rivers of blood running.