February 22, 2011
A King’s Speech
To read a response to this essay by Jordan Elgrably, click here.
Read this article in Arabic here.
If I were advising the president or prime minister of Israel, I would suggest he go on Al Jazeera this week and deliver this message to the people of the Middle East:
What is happening right now in our region is historic. You, the great people of the Middle East, are rewriting history. You are rising up and saying, “Enough! Enough with oppression, enough with humiliation. We want opportunity, freedom and human rights.” Young and old, men and women, religious and secular, you have risen up as one and demanded a better future.
We, the people of Israel, want to be part of that better future.
It is not a coincidence that we are descendants of the same father, Abraham. Although we might be in conflict now, this was not always the case. We had our golden eras when we cooperated and respected each other like the biblical cousins that we are. We cherish to this day stories of the great Jewish and Muslim philosophers engaging each other in search of higher truths.
One of those higher truths is that we have so much in common as children of the same God and as members of the human race. We all want to laugh, provide for our families, lead meaningful lives, fall in love and be happy. Those are not Jewish or Muslim or Christian ideals — they are human ones, and they can bring us together.
Think of how infinitely proud and happy our God would be to see His Muslim and Jewish children end their conflicts and live in harmony.
Yes, Israel has made its share of mistakes. The challenges we face have humbled us. In truth, it hasn’t been easy to build a nation while constantly having to defend ourselves. Sometimes, this has brought out the worst in us and made us look like we care only about our own security. We deeply regret the displacement of so many people that occurred in 1948, when we had to defend ourselves against invading armies after the Arab rejection of U.N. Resolution 181, which partitioned the land for two states.
We’re human. It does hurt to feel unwelcomed in a neighborhood we have called home for 3,000 years.
We have made peace with two of our neighbors, but that is not enough. We have made further offers and even evacuated settlements, but to no avail. Because our Palestinian neighbors are deeply divided between Gaza and the West Bank, we fear we don’t have the strong partner we need to make a deal — and that further evacuations might lead to more violence against us.
Despite our fears, we still yearn for peace. But it is not enough to just meet and “negotiate directly.” If both sides don’t bring to the table good faith and a willingness to compromise, our hopes will only be false hopes.
The fact that our Palestinian neighbors refused to negotiate last year for the first nine months of our 10-month settlement freeze was not a sign of good faith. Neither are their efforts to undermine us in international forums. Israel has already demonstrated its ability to make painful compromises in all areas, including settlements. Now is not the time for either side to demand preconditions that belong to the negotiating table. Now is the time to sit down in good faith and try to resolve our differences. We say to our Palestinian neighbors: We are ready to begin tomorrow morning. Are you?
We bring the same message to all our neighbors of the Middle East: We are ready to meet tomorrow morning to begin the journey of reconciliation. We dream not only of peace but of a future in which we would all enjoy the fruits of peace. We dream of the day when delegations from Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and others will visit Israel and see that we are not the enemy, but a friend-in-waiting.
We can cooperate in trade, commerce and culture. We can share our technological and medical innovations to improve quality of life. We can enjoy each other’s movies, poems, stories, music and food. Our rabbis can talk about God with your imams. In short, we can create a new golden era of mutual respect and cooperation.
We might disagree, even on some important things, but one of the great human values is not to allow disagreements to turn into animosity and violence.
Beyond our own disagreements, we see too much pain today on the faces of the millions of Arabs rising up throughout the Middle East. We urge all leaders to honor their people by trusting that freedom, dignity and human rights will lead to a better future.
Israel would love nothing more than to have free and democratic neighbors, and we want to be your partner in this momentous endeavor. Cynics will claim that this partnership is impossible — that you have been taught only to hate Jews and Israel, and that it will take a hundred years, if not more, before we can reconnect as the children of Abraham.
Maybe so, but I have no doubt that if our patriarch Abraham were alive today, he would hold our hands and bless us. He would bless us that we should find the strength to transcend our animosities and embark on our journey of reconciliation.
And he would remind us that Allah is with us, watching, hoping we will succeed.
Shalom and As-Salamu Alaykum.
إنه ليس بمحض الصدفة أن نكون جميعا ورثة أب واحد وهو إبراهيم, وعلي الرغم من وجود خلافات بيننا الآن, فلم يكن الخلاف هوة السمة الغالبة في علاقاتنا عل الدوام, فلقد عشنا أجمل الأوقات عندما احترمنا بعضنا البعض وتعاوننا مع بعضنا البعض كما يجب أن يكون الحال لأبناء العم. ومازلنا نعتز بقصص الفلاسفة المسلمون واليهود العظام حتى الآن, فكانوا يتجادلون مع بعضهم البعض في سبيل الوصول إلي الحقائق العليا.