Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Peace in the Middle East!

No, it is not my title. It is the title of an Israeli man, Abe, who is friends with a friend of mine, Bos'un. Bos'un sent me this e-mail because Abe does not yet have a blog of his own. I am proud to post his words and thoughts here.
That elusive thing called peace. Israelis write love-songs and dedicate poetry to peace. Children are introduced to the concept in kindergarten and grow up believing in ultimate peace in the Middle East. Songs that have come out during Israel's many wars have a verse or part of a verse dedicated to peace.

What is this peace and how is it viewed? Israelis have a very naive and childlike picture of peace. As one battle hardened veteran tank officer once confided in me, "Peace means that we would go to their houses and they would come to ours." A "cold peace" such as exists between Israel and Egypt was not imagined by most Israelis. Egypt turns a cold shoulder towards Israel but maintains a condition of "no war," which is apparently as close as it permits itself to come to "peace."

Jordan, the other Arab country to have a peace agreement with Israel also distances itself from Israel socially. While the country has agreements with Israel that include agricultural, industrial and transportation, the people themselves are not exactly brimming with joy at the fact. This can be explained partially by the fact that over 70% of Jordan’s population is Palestinian.

There is another reason why the two Arab countries that have a peace agreement with Israel seem standoffish towards it: Neither one of those two countries is a democracy. Israel is a democracy, and a very loud one. As Israel's first Prime-Minister, David Ben-Gurion, said, "It's difficult to be a Prime-Minister in a country full of Prime-Ministers." Israelis are very vocal in their criticisms of politicians, authors, actors and many other "performers". A friendly discussion between Israelis looks, to outsiders, as if a full-fledged battle is about to erupt.

Not so in Egypt or Jordan. Criticism of the government is downright dangerous in Egypt. In Jordan it isn't wise unless you are participating in a demonstration that is pro-Palestinian and, of course, anti-Israeli. The governments of both countries are wary of having their people get too close to Israelis and pick up their cavalier attitude towards government. French soldiers, while serving in America's War of Independence, learned about democracy and about speaking out. They were one of the many seeds that eventually produced the French Revolution.

The Arab governments of Egypt and Jordan wish to maintain control over their respective populations and, naturally, wish to keep them away from those "independent-minded troublemakers," the Israelis.

What do the people think? The regular Egyptian is a very friendly individual. He hates nobody and just wants to support his family (a very, very tough job in Egypt). On my first trip to Cairo after "peace" was established, I walked up to a street-vendor of peanuts and asked him how much the peanuts cost. Noticing that my Arabic was Palestinian dialect, he asked me where I was from. When I told him that I was from Israel, he thanked Allah and the prophets for permitting him to see the day that an Israeli could legally walk the streets of Cairo. He then told me that, for me, a serving of peanuts was free of charge. He was obviously a poor man and the price was, no doubt, considerate of Egyptian third-world incomes. My income, in Israel, was astronomic compared to his, and I argued with him, telling him that I wished to pay. He wouldn't hear of it, and called to a friend, half a block away, a vendor of cold drinks, to give me a discount on such a hot day. I ended up sitting on the curb eating peanuts and drinking ice-cold "Tamar-Hindi" (a delicious drink derived from the "heart" of the date palm), while carrying on a hearty conversation with half a dozen Egyptians. The whole picture seemed surreal (and still does).

And how about the Palestinians?

I'm glad you asked me that question. This calls for a story: Once upon a time in 1968, I was in a car driven by a reserve infantry officer. I was at the time a tank driver and the third occupant of the car was a fellow tanker, a gunner, from my company. We were on our way to our camp at the Mitle Pass. We were passing through Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, when the driver realized we were low on gas. We drove through the town looking for a gas station. We finally asked a local who told us there was one near the market. We drove to the open-air market and, indeed, there was a gas station. Manning the pump, we looked around. We were surrounded by Arabs, all jabbering and trying to get close to us. We had an interesting conversation while filling gas. We were at their mercy, having two Uzis and a pistol between us. The crowd could have disarmed us and torn us to pieces in seconds. Instead, we enjoyed friendly banter and a loud, "Go in Peace," when we were done.

Later, I became very friendly with the workers at my sister's farm. My sister and brother-in-law operate a farm just three km from the Gaza Strip border near Rafah. The workers would come every day and were like family. They demonstrated a willingness to support their families and live in peace. The last thing they wanted was to blow themselves up and take my brother-in-law with them.

All this, of course, means nothing when the terror organizations come into play. The "silent majority" of the population will not lift a finger against Hamas in Gaza. They are terrified of them and just bow their heads waiting for the storm to pass. In the meantime, Hamas fires rockets at Israel (including my sister's village) and Israel holds back because of the innocent people in Gaza. Israel retaliates when Israelis get killed. There is a bit of quiet, and the story begins again within days.

Peace in the Middle East? It can only come about when a common enemy unites the moderates. I remember in 1969 (I think) General Shlomo Goren landed with a helicopter in the middle of our tank park. The battalion was parked in two rows with a large empty area of desert in the middle. The Bell Huey landed in the center sending a whirlwind of sand down our throats. The Chief Chaplain of the IDF General Rabbi Shlomo Goren stepped out and began to speak. He was a great speaker and we were mesmerized. One thing remains stuck in my head from that speech: "The lord doesn't rely on the Jews. He knows we can't be relied upon. Rather, he relies on our enemies. He knows that they will not lay down their arms until we have attained everything he intends us to."

Maybe, just maybe, the extremists are doing just that; forcing the moderates to co-operate. The less extreme Arab countries are beginning to realize what the monster is capable of, and they see that Israel is a solid force to rally behind. Many problems can be solved under the threatening shadow of Muslim extremism.

But then again, maybe I'm just a nai¯ve Israeli.

Abe
He writes very movingly, and I hope you will all visit Bos'un's site to let him know. This way, he can encourage his friend to go ahead and set up a blog and let 'er rip! :) Digg!

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