A recent article in Washington Post reminded me so much of my dear friend O, who also was my room mate for several years in grad school. I remember him because as a Jewish Israeli (albeit a rather secular moderate), he certainly stood out among my other friends (many of whom happen to be Arab and/or Muslim). I met him in my first year of grad school and to date we stay as close friends. There were many nights when we had heated political discussions, but there were more nights when we would just watch movies, have friends over for parties, or grab food in the Cambridge, MA neighborhood.
Through him (and a few other Israeli friends), I got to know the peaceful, moderate side of the Israeli society — and also how Israeli men love cooking food to impress their dates! — and I hope through me, he learnt that while many of us are passionate about the issue of Palestinian identity and freedom, we also hope for peace and tranquility for the Jewish people. I don’t want to romanticize this friendship because through him I also realized how different and obliquely slanted the common Israeli perspective on the conflict is from what I believe to be the historical truthbut nevertheless we agreed that humanity needed to triumph in the face of adversity. My single most important lesson learnt in his friendship was the realization that even when politics were depressing, and made me angry from within, our friendship and our respect for each other would enable us to triumph over all the negative feelings. When our guards were down, we were (and are) just two people who are happy to know each other and keep each others’ company….In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, perhaps the two sides will never agree to a common perspective on what and who carried a greater responsibility for the 6+ decades long tragedy, but maybe I can look forward to when the two nations will learn to live side by side, next door to each other, just like O and I. And if they have to share a common living space (ahem… Jerusalem!) they can also learn about that from us. Hey O – if you are reading: thanks for all those invites to that Cambridge Pub (Phoenix Landing) :). I still love you despite refusing to join you.
Every detail had to be negotiated when an Israeli and a Palestinian started team-teaching a class on the Middle East. They haggled over the syllabus, the readings, the maps, even the words used: Was 1948, when Israel was formed, the War of Liberation — or the Catastrophe?
Kaufman, a longtime professor at Hebrew University, lectures on the Israeli version of events. Then Hassassian tells the Palestinian side. Both speak as scholars, analyzing the official rhetoric; both are moderates.
Still, the first summer was tense and adversarial, Hassassian said, as each tried to score points in class.
Hassassian is angry. Kaufman is worried.
If a cease-fire doesn’t happen soon, “the hatred that is mounting among these people will continue forever,” Hassassian said. It’s essential to ensure that people in the United States hear all sides, he said.
“It’s very tough. You lose your hope sometimes,” Kaufman said. The class is worth it, “but it is such a small drop in the ocean, it is really frustrating.”
After class late that night, they drove home to cook dinner. Lisa Kaufman was peeling squash. Edy Kaufman sliced onions. Hassassian brought ice to the table, and they sat down to a family dinner, passing the couscous from hand to hand, telling stories.
A small thing. But there it is: a peaceful coexistence.
NEWS: Israel has just halted aerial attacks on Lebanon after the killing of 60 civilians in the Lebanese Village of Qana, where Israeli bombing killed 106 people in 1996 as well. Maybe there is a ray of hope that this craziness will end and sanity will prevail a bit more?