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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sanity in Al-Arabiya

It is rare indeed to see an article like this in the Arab media.
What if we choose to?

Ali Shakir

Once upon a summer vacation in Europe , when I was a little boy, I still remember that the counter of the Iraqi Airways was located right next to the Israeli Elal at the airport, and how my mother was intimidated by the thought of an Israeli passenger crouching to hurt or even kidnap one of her children! Years later, when I was twenty or so, at a reception desk, in a Thai resort, as I exchanged a few compliments with another guest, I found out he was an Israeli … the impact of defining his nationality was jaw dropping on me, I said: so we are two enemies only a few feet apart. The man smiled and said: we are not enemies, only our governments are … I thought he would next attempt to recruit me for the Mossad, but he never did!

London, in the late seventies of the last century; we were told to be extremely cautious, while shopping in Marks & Spencer of Oxford Street . Communication in Arabic was not recommended, except for whispering a few words, especially when a salesgirl wore a David star pendant! Looking back at that time, I still don’t understand, if the risk was as high, why hadn’t my parents shopped elsewhere? I can only think that the prices and fabrics quality were tempting!

It has become a ritual upon our seasons, to hear visiting guests discussing political issues, and blaming all our misfortunes, from sectarian feud, to natural disasters on hideous Zionist strategies. I am neither qualified, nor willing here to confirm or ridicule any of the globally spread conspiracy theories on Jewish dominance over our world, but I can simply and wholeheartedly tell, that grudge holding, malice, and fear are self-destructive in the first place, and passing this legacy of hatred from one generation to another could very well bring our fears to reality, with our bare hands!

I could easily proceed listing dozens of similar incidents, we thought of Israelis as obnoxious creatures, hiding subtle plans to invade our country, devoted to demolish our culture, and annihilate our race, though … genetically speaking; Jews and Arabs are both Semites! No conflict should last forever, there must come a time for reconciliation, which might never convert hostility into passion; yet it would pave the way for a certain extent of mutual acceptance.

Now we can draw back in time to discuss the authenticity of founding the state of Israel, when the British Empire betrayed its Arab allies, allowed Jewish migrants into Palestine, over the declaration of Balfour in 1917, but I question the validity of such a case, in a unipolar world, led by a culture that evolved upon the ashes of an ancient civilization! And after long decades with three gigantic wars and lots of side-battles, there are whole generations of Israelis who had been born there, they do not know an alternative homeland … and on the other side, generations of Palestinians born in exiles, each adapted to survive within new environments.

My parents still hold memories of the pre 1948 years, when Jews were an active component inside the Iraqi community, they lived in harmony with their Muslim or Christian neighbors, greeted one another on religious holidays, and most importantly … they stood by one another. I sometimes wonder whether such sentiments are still applicable in Israel today, and on a larger scale … throughout the Arab world, just the way they had been almost half a century ago!

When I was eight; I was impressed by the sight of the late president of Egypt on television, as he stepped out of his plane, which landed in Tel Aviv … the live transmission brought my mother and some of her friends to burst in tears. Today, after almost thirty years from that moment, she admits that the man was exceptionally wise to have taken the brave decision, for which, he had paid his life … Egypt and Jordan nowadays play the most influential role in pushing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to a solution, with merely the power of wisdom and hands spread for peace!

What if we choose, as Arabs, to live in peace with Israel ? Would not that consolidate the Palestinian case, putting extra pressures upon the Israeli government to recognize the Palestinians' rights to live decently upon their lands? Would it not deprive Israel of legitimacy for massive armament, including nuclear weapons? Furthermore; it would eventually strip down all the regional dictatorships that have been fortifying over allegations on the necessity to abort democracy whilst preparations for the sacred struggle to liberate Palestine .

As an Iraqi, I have been living the atrocities in my country for the past three decades, and I came to the convinction that time has come to break the ongoing Israeli-Arab chain reaction. A conviction that is yet fragile, and is easily shaken, whenever I see bleeding Palestinians on television, their farms and houses shoveled, or hear their widows and orphans wailing over their beloved. Nevertheless, there are several aspects of each story … suicide bombers that blow themselves amongst Israeli civilians, rockets and mortar shelling of Israeli cities … obviously; revenge can be easily ignited, it puts no distinction between criminals and victims, and the snow ball of violence keeps rolling down bigger and bigger.

I have had the opportunity during the past few years, to set correspondence with some Israelis via the internet, and it was amazing to find out that we have much more in common than in difference … I talked to simple people, who lived simple lives, full of stress and frustrations, they have dreams for their children to grow up and live in peace … just like we do! I cannot realize what makes the Arab and Muslim conscience capable of absorbing and tolerating traumas like the invasion of Kuwait , the genocide in Darfur , Chechnya , Kosovo, and the Iranian intervention in Iraq , Lebanon , and Palestine itself; and yet reject the concept of living with Israel , a status quo that has been going on for sixty years!

I am pleading hereby, for the sake of our nations, for the inhumane suffering of the desperate Palestinians, for the future of democracy, economy, and human rights in our region, to stop the mainstream of violence, a multi billion dollar business that should have been invested instead in providing Palestinians with decent education, modern infrastructures, healthcare, and appropriate dwellings. All the enlightened Arabs are committed to make a statement for peace … we can obviously continue ignoring the conflict for it doesn’t directly affect our lives, as we can go on repeating the passionate anthems of war we grew up chanting over and over again, we can remain being ostriches … but can our consciences do too?

* Ali Shakir is an Iraqi architect and artist living in Jordan.

While I of course don't agree with everything Mr. Shakir wrote, it is a breath of fresh air to read something in an Arab website that was written by someone who doesn't appear to want to kill all Zionists given the chance. And his opening paragraphs are instructive in understanding how decades of incitement create the majority of Arabs who look at Israelis and Jews as being pure evil.

The only problem is that I couldn't find the same article in the Arabic version of the website. And that's where it needs to be read. The commenters, mostly supportive, seemed to be all Western.