Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Two Steps Back and Two Steps Forward

Sometimes, the news from the Middle East requires a great deal of patience just to read. Sometimes, the things reported are so nonsensical that one really needs to believe in the general goodness of humanity so as to ignore the glaring stupidity of others.

Take this case for example. A synagogue in Israel was burned down by teenage Israeli-Arab rioters. The congregation wants to rebuild the synagogue (naturally) and a local Muslim man has offered a "generous" sum for that purpose. The Rabbi of the synagogue, however, feels that in Israel, a country with Jewish authorities, the government should pay to rebuild the synagogue and so he has rejected the generous offer of donation. Also, he doesn't want the synagogue to be rebuilt by an Arab.

The Jewish tradition identifies 8 levels of charity. The fourth level is to give to charity before being asked. That's clearly what this Arab philanthropist was doing. He recognized the universally sacrosanct nature of a place of worship and wished to help out. But he was rebuffed. According to this site, Judaism 101 (which also list the 8 levels of charity,) it is considered an averah, a sin to refuse charity and that it's akin to shedding ones own blood.

What an opportunity this would have been for two communities to come together. To improve coexistence, to mutual understanding. Imagine if a plaque were placed in the new synagogue thanking the Muslim benefactor and every day, when the pious came to pray they could see this reminder that their caring neighbours wanted them to have this holy place and wanted to make amends for the wrongs of other members of his community. Shame on the Rabbi Avner Hacham and kudos to Muhammad Abu-Matir.

Then, on the other side of the border, in Egypt comes this story of the Muslim Brotherhood freaking out because, Allah forbid, the Zionists (read an Israeli company) may have been given the rights to drill for oil in the Sinai. Israel and Egypt are countries at peace with one another, yet at the mere thought that Israelis may help to contribute to the Egyptian economy the opponents of peace are up in arms. Apparently, the Israeli company in question has no idea what the Muslim Brotherhood is talking about, neither does the Egyptian Oil Ministry. Apparently, it's also all just a domestic Egyptian political game. Why, though, is it so terrible to think that a country you're at peace with, may want to do business with you? Rather than deny that the "Zionists" may be drilling for oil, why not retort with a "They're not, but so what if they are? They're our friends and it would help our country!" Wouldn't that send a powerful message?

It's not all bad though. There are some glimmers of good news.

Take this one for example: A group of concerned citizens belonging to the NGO "One Voice" set out to take matters into their own hands and erase racist graffiti in Israel. Paintings of hateful slogans such as "death to the Arabs" are probably about as common in Israel as things like Swastikas are in Canada, in other words, not commonplace, but present. Nonetheless, it's wrong, it's racist and kudos to the people of One Voice for taking action to do the right thing. Erasing symbols and slogans of hatred is a small step in the right direction.

This is also good news. An (apparently) crappy joint Israeli-Palestinian youth soccer team was invited to play at the Youth European Cup soccer tournament. This blog has said in the past and maintains that ordinary people on both sides of a conflict need to just get to know one another and see each other as equals: ordinary people with the same aspirations. This is how it begins, peace and coexistence on the human, individual level. As the article says, hopefully just the fun and excitement of being together, on the same team at this big tournament will plant the seeds of cooperation in the minds of all the kids on that joint team. Hopefully also, the youngsters on the other teams will also be able to meet the players on this joint team and realise for themselves that the people of the middle east are capable of living together and that there are not two monolithic adversaries just slugging it out to the finish.

One hopes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's another one for you:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1088461.html

A friend.