February 23, 2011
We are not the enemy
An Arab Jew argues for bridging East and West with peace and justice for all
To read a response to this essay by Jordan Elgrably, click here.
If I were in a position to go on Al Jazeera this week and deliver a message to the people of the Middle East, including Israelis, I would proudly declare myself an Arab Jew and remind everyone that Jews have been an integral part of the Middle East mosaic for millennia. We are not the enemy, and often we speak the same languages—Arabic, Farsi, Turkish etc. Our ancestors have lived in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and even Afghanistan for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.
Today most Jews of Arab/Muslim lands live outside the region, or in Israel where we have experienced a history of discrimination from European-origin Jews who believe that their cultures are superior to ours.
I would tell Al Jazeera listeners that not all Jews support the Occupation policies of Israel’s military and government; and I would insist that the historic expulsions of Palestinians from their homes, businesses and properties in 1948, and 1967, were illegal, inhumane, and did not occur with our knowledge nor blessing. Yitzhak Rabin and other Israelis have admitted in Hebrew-language documents that there was a deliberate policy of expulsion or ethnic cleansing of Arabs from their homes. And the military policies of the State of Israel since 1967, combined with the extensive building of settlements, have undermined so-called peace processes where good faith efforts are required of all participating parties.
The peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, not to mention Bahrain and Yemen, are indeed in a historic period. They are rising up against autocracy and repression, against oppression by the state, calling for new freedoms.
Palestinians under Israeli rule in the West Bank have the same desire to live freely, to escape the oppression of occupation, and recover their human and civil rights. They have a right to enjoy their independence. The original U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 proposed a state for Palestinians and a state for Jews. This is the time when all Arabs and all Arab Jews who support peace, justice and democracy should speak out and say enough to state oppression. Stop building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; end the siege of Gaza; apologize to the Palestinian people for the historic wrongs Israel inflicted in the 1948 Nakbah; and let us enter a new era of peace as equals who take responsibility for our actions.
Israelis and Palestinians and all reasonable people around the world have understood that there is no military solution to the conflict. Violence will never solve anything.
As a country, Israel should be an integrated into the mosaic of the Middle East. It’s time to end the conflict that began with the belief that Arabs and Jews are historic enemies. This was never true, yet decades of brainwashing have many Jews believing that Arabs and Muslims hate Israel because we are Jews. Instead, we should realize that Arabs/Muslims are like people everywhere, who want the same human rights that Americans enjoy. Those rights must extend to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and to Israel’s Arab citizens.
If Israel wants to preach peace, it should walk the walk. Apologize for its wartime mistakes and missteps; compensate its victims; and reform its military and occupation policies—as well as laws in Israel that discriminate against non-Jews.
In other words, let’s help Israel get on the same page as Americans who could never live under the kind of oppression Palestinians experience on a daily basis.
Jordan Elgrably is the executive director of the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles.