Jalal Ghazi, an Arab-American who attended a ‘peacemaker’ camp at the university of Berkeley, California, is open-minded enough to realise that injustice in the Middle East is not a one-way street. If only more participants in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue thought like him.
“I felt that it was important to show that not all Arabs are the same, and that Palestinians are treated badly in Lebanon – even though I also believe that Israel is responsible for the suffering and expulsion of the refugees. It became clear to me that the Arab American community isn’t quite ready for self-criticism, yet. As the weekend progressed, I met a number of Arab Jews that really made me realize how important the dialogue between Arabs and Jews really is.
“Elad, a 35-year-old Israeli man, whose grandparents and parents originally came from Morocco, had no problem introducing himself to me as an Arab Jew – even though it is not easy for an Israeli to identify himself as an Arab. Almost half of the current Israeli population are Jews who originally came from Arab countries, though they do not see themselves as Arabs. The Israeli government strongly discouraged Arab Jews from keeping their Arab names, learning their language, or even learning their history. Also, many Jews – those from Iraq, Syria and Egypt – left under unfortunate conditions. For example, many Iraqi Jews were stripped of their property and Iraqi citizenship before being forced to go to Israel. Anti-Jewish laws were passed by the Iraqi parliament in the name of Arab nationalism. As a result, one of the oldest and richest Jewish communities in the Middle East was uprooted.
“I believe that if Arabs acknowledged the suffering inflicted on Jews who lived in Arab countries, this would help those who live in Israel to have an affinity with the Arab world. (My emphasis -ed). As Elad explained: “I struggle a lot whenever I have to serve in the army, especially when I was ordered to enter Palestinian villages. People looked just like me.”
“Like many Jewish Israelis, 28-year-old Reut is uncomfortable acknowledging she has Arab roots. The Egyptian government imprisoned her grandfather for attending a meeting arranged by Zionists. After two months in prison, Ruet said her grandfather was released and given 24 hours to leave the country.
“I just couldn’t help but wonder what the region would be like if the grandparents of Elad, Ruet and millions of other Jews living in Israel had not been forced to escape their Arab countries.
“We Arab Americans must learn from our past mistakes. We are obligated to extend our arms to Jewish Americans even if they do not agree with us. We have no choice but to open a dialogue with all Jews, regardless of their political views. If we want to change their minds about an issue, we must meet with them first. After all, better relations with the Jewish community can influence some Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.”