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A Thanksgiving Message

Gail Rubin writes about what's necessary for real peace between Israel and the Palestinians (11/19/2010).

A Thanksgiving message: I say Kosher, you say Halal ... together, we say, 'Let's eat!'
By Gail Rubin | Special to The Enterprise | November 19, 2010 16:40
Arab and Jewish butchers work side by side in the Rami Levi supermarket in the Etzion region of Israel's West Bank. 'Ain bayah bichlal,' they said. ('No problem at all' in Hebrew.) Market shoppers are both Muslims and Jews. (Gail Rubin/Courtesy photo)

I'm just back from an incredible trip to Israel and traveled through the biblical regions of Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. This area contained the great cities of the two previous Jewish commonwealths, such as Jericho; Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood for hundreds of years; Bet El, where Jacob had his vision of the ladder; and Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried together with their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.


I walked along a path that Abraham took with his son Isaac on the way to Mount Moriah. I explored an ancient ritual bath known as a 'mikveh' that was used during the First Temple Period (approximately 800-900 B.C.E.).


It was a humbling experience to shake off the dust from the land that gave birth to our Judeo-Christian values. I felt at once enlightened and deeply saddened - enlightened to experience the living history, and saddened to know that the media and sanctions campaign against Israel is morally repugnant and based on grotesquely false accusations against the Jewish people (not unlike the 1930s campaign under Nazi Germany).


The Talmud says, 'The world stands on three things: justice, truth and peace.' Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace. These three values are inseparable.


Peace will come when the lies stop, and when people see each other as human beings with the same hopes and desires. It will take a very long time, decades perhaps, but it has to start somewhere. And the new Rami Levi supermarket in the Etzion region is a good place to start.


This new state-of-the art grocery store serves all the neighboring villages and communities in this part of the West Bank. Both Muslims and Jews, secular and religious, cruise up and down the aisles looking for their favorite brands.


I saw traditional Jewish men wearing the skullcap ('kippah') and fringes from under their shirts ('tzitziit') alongside traditional Muslim women wearing the hijab and head scarf. No one thought anything of it.


And then there was the butcher counter. I spoke with one Halal butcher, Ahmed, a Muslim who lives in Jerusalem and commutes about 30 minutes to work here at Rami Levi. Next to him, smiling and joking around, was Lev the Kosher butcher, a Jew from the neighboring town of Kiryat Arba. They thought it was odd that I thought it was odd, or unusual to say the least, that the two of them worked side by side.


'Ain bayah bichlal,' they told me ('no problem at all' in Hebrew). The only one with a problem seems to be Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority, which said it was 'disgraceful' for Arabs to shop in Jewish-owned supermarkets, and called on Arabs living in the West Bank to boycott the Rami Levi supermarket or suffer paying fines for doing so. And who is racist?


Who works at Rami Levi supermarket? Both Arabs and Jews, side by side, ringing up cash registers and happy to have good, stable jobs with customers who appreciate being able to buy groceries at reasonable prices.


And how did I get to the Rami Levi supermarket in the West Bank? I drove on Road No. 60 along with other cars and buses, some bearing Israeli license plates and others displaying West Bank license plates, on this highway once labeled an 'apartheid road.'


The truth is that Israel is not an apartheid state. In the state of Israel, all citizens - Jews and Arabs - are equal before the law. Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws, or any of the myriad apartheid laws.


Israel is a vibrant, liberal democracy with a free press and independent judiciary, and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its 1 million-plus Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament and judge at every level of the judiciary, including that of the Supreme Court of Israel.


All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multi-party elections; there are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel's parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals, and also malls, buses, cinemas and parks, and that includes universities and opera houses.


Non-Jews comprise about 20 percent of the citizenry of Israel. And yet, the question that is never asked is why there are virtually no Jews remaining in any Arab nation? (And very few Christians either.)


The other untruth is the accusation of the illegal occupation of Arab land. Like the apartheid libel, this is outrageously false. There is no nation on earth that has a longer, deeper and more profound connection to their country than the Jewish people have to the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.


'If I forget thee O Jerusalem let my right hand forget its cunning - if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.' Those words from Psalms are recited by Jews at every wedding; at every funeral the statement of comfort to the mourners refers to Zion and Jerusalem. Jews pray for Jerusalem three times a day and also in the grace after meals.


The Arab/Israeli conflict is not about a struggle against apartheid or occupation. It is a century-long war against the very existence of Jews and of a Jewish state in Israel. There have already been seven major Arab/Israeli wars since the birth of the modern state of Israel. Today, the war front includes an alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the latter now with 40 000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities.


Iranian officers train Hezbollah forces, while Iran pursues nuclear weapons and openly declares its aim of wiping out Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian government in Gaza, sides with Iran and Hezbollah in rearming with the declared aim of destroying Israel.


Since 1967, one aspect of this century-long conflict has been the demand for a Palestinian state. In spite of the deep historical and religious roots of Jews in all of Israel, generations of Jewish leaders have been prepared for the sake of peace to give up ancestral and covenantal land to establish a Palestinian state. So why has there not been peace?


The 1937 Peel Commission suggested partition to create a separate Arab state called Palestine. The Jews accepted; the Arabs rejected. Again in 1948, the Jews accepted the United Nations resolution establishing a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, but the Arab world rejected it and five countries invaded Israel to destroy it.


After that, the West Bank (illegally occupied by Jordan) and Gaza (illegally occupied by Egypt) were in Arab hands until 1967. There was an opportunity then - every day for almost 20 years - for those Arab nation occupiers to establish a Palestinian state. It never happened.


Why? Because this war has been more about the destruction of the Jewish state than about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even today, so-called moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denies Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, despite its minuscule size, which approximates that of Rhode Island. Yet the Jewish nation of Israel has no problem acknowledging the numerous Arab republics of Egypt, Syria, Libya, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, etc.


We here in America can be grateful that at this time of giving thanks for the earth's bounty, all people of all faiths can shop together and sit down and eat together without a boycott or punitive taxes preventing us from doing so.


So, maybe, just maybe, Jews and Arabs working and shopping together at the supermarket is a good place to start. If Ahmed and Lev, the butchers, can work together peacefully, can't the rest of us?


- Gail Rubin of Davis is a founding member of the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. This column appears every other month.

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