Eisenbud's Odyssey

The ‘Us vs. Them’ conundrum

Muslims pray in mosque 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)
Muslims pray in mosque 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)
If I ever had a Westerner’s blissful naïveté that Muslim-fundamentalist terrorists could be reasoned with – if even on a quantum scale – it completely eroded into the ether after I moved to Israel last July. Since then, I have witnessed and read of enough unspeakable manifestations of evil perpetrated by these people – ranging from the murders of sleeping babies, children riding school buses, to pregnant women – to make Charles Manson shudder.
You name it, they do it. Indeed, nothing is beneath them.
Simply put, the members of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad, et al. are unimaginable monsters who would sooner strap their own newborns to crudely built rockets with hopes of (the off-chance) of killing just one Israeli in the Negev, before negotiating meaningful terms of coexistence. Of peace.
They are numerous, they are evil, they are highly motivated and organized, and they are cowards who hide behind human shields comprised of women and children.
Only a fool would attempt to negotiate with such a soulless, unconscionable enemy. It would be the equivalent of attempting to reason with the mythical killing machine, Jason Vorhees of Friday the 13th.
In short, all terrorists must be dealt with in the harshest terms possible – preemptively – to prevent them from harming another single hair on the heads of even one more Israeli man, woman or child. End of argument.
However, it is an enormous mistake to think that these rabid murderers are representative of the entire Arab population living in Israel. I learned this, with relative astonishment, shortly after moving here.
Let’s start off with hard facts: According to Israel’s most current Central Bureau of Statistics survey, in 2010 the Muslim population of Israel is roughly 1,575,000 – representing slightly over 20 percent of the entire country’s population.
Of this population, roughly 83% is Sunni Muslim and 9% is Druse. Roughly 160,000 Beduin live in Israel as well.
Furthermore, while the Israel Police do not make available homicide and assault statistics on Arab-Israeli on Jewish-Israeli crime, it is well known that the numbers are remarkably low. Indeed, most Arab-Israeli violent crime takes place within the confines of their own communities.
Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that life among all Muslims and Jews living side-by-side in Israel could be reduced to an epic, albeit simplistic, feud, à la the Hatfields vs the McCoy’s, Jets vs Sharks, cowboys vs Indians, Sarah Palin vs intellect, etc.
In fact, it would be difficult not to draw this conclusion, considering the chronic oversimplification the international media present of Arab/Israeli relations.
Indeed, in the media’s endless pursuit to tell definitively complex stories with ever-greater brevity, ease and bluster – with all the depth of a Dixie Cup – it has reduced a spectrum of complicated problems here into a decidedly black-and-white hue, thus creating a remarkably simple narrative that most four-year-olds could follow with great clarity.
Listen, time is money, competition is fierce – and if it bleeds, it leads. I get that.
BUT HERE’S the problem: By trying to explain the dynamics of the Middle East to a mass audience in segments purposely truncated as to enable critical breaking news reports about Lindsey Lohan’s latest breathalyzer results, the cast of The Jersey Shore’s historic contractual negotiations, and new photos of Kim Kardashian’s cellulite, the media have complicitly contributed to misinforming the public about important peaceful realities here, happening right now.
The story of Israel cannot be told in generalities, and those who do so are simply adding more fuel to an already absurdly out-of-control fire.
To be fair, back in the United States I was as guilty as anyone of regurgitating an ignorant narrative that did nothing other than leave the situation at a monolithic “Us vs Them” stalemate.
But, to my shock, as soon as I stepped foot on Israeli soil, I came across countless Muslims every single day.
Be it on a bus, the doctor’s office, grocery store, or record store – you name it – we crossed paths.
They are everywhere, and they are polite, rude, funny, sad, intellectuals, imbeciles, happy, patient, angry, proud, miserable, beautiful, ugly – and everything in between. In short, they have the same intrinsic nuances as you and I.
And guess what? Whenever I interact with Arab-Israelis, there isn’t even the slightest hint of tension – just normal people going about their lives, hoping to get from point A to point B with as little hassle as possible.
Pretty boring, right?
But really, who wants to hear about harmony among Jews and Muslims? It’s so counterintuitive and unhelpful in propagating the ever-lucrative narrative of hate. There’s just no money in it for media executives, and they know it.
On a personal level, I have a friend who is a security guard at The Jerusalem Post who is Egyptian, and a proud and observant Muslim. Imagine that? A Muslim protecting a Jew!
He is also an extremely refined and dignified man, has a hell of a sense of humor, and works hard to support his family back in Egypt.
Every time I see him, I stop to shake his hand and ask him how he and his family are doing, and then we usually exchange off-color jokes.
Last month I expressed concern to him about fasting all day during Ramadan, and told him that I respected his sacrifice, but also wanted him to stay healthy. In return, he always smiled at me, shook my hand, and asked how me and my family were doing.
I have no doubt that he will also express concern for me when I fast on Yom Kippur next month.
We frequently talk about subjects no more interesting than our favorite movies, women, sports, the weather and how hard it is to earn a buck these days before I return to my computer to get back to work.
In my mind, this man and I are brothers, albeit, from very different mothers – but brothers just the same. I know he would protect me, as I would protect him. It doesn’t matter that we are a Jew and a Muslim.
We respect each other as men, and members of the human race.
And here’s the best part: There are thousands of people like him here who are honorable, humane, peaceful and tolerant – who would help a Jew in distress just as quickly as a Muslim. But you don’t see a lot of stories in the media covering this phenomenon, do you?
Indeed, if you’re looking for the ever-elusive successful model of Muslim/Jewish coexistence, you need to look no farther than Israel itself.
Shocking news, isn’t it?
Clearly, the more cynical among us will argue that I am naïve – that the equation is indeed black and white – that a Muslim is a Muslim, and a Jew is a Jew, and so on, and so on... And while there are certainly very serious socioeconomic and cultural tensions among Arabs and Jews here – as well as undeniable hostility in certain circles – the low murder and assault rates between the two groups in this uniquely democratic state cannot be ignored.
Furthermore, to the likely astonishment of the world, over the past few months Israeli Jews and Arabs have united across the country to stage massive and peaceful ongoing protests for social and economic justice for their mutual benefit. Isn’t that newsworthy?
Ultimately, the six-million-dollar question is this: When will the decent and humane Muslims – who vastly outnumber their terrorist counterparts – finally utilize their numbers and take a meaningful stand against their profoundly lost brothers?
In the meantime, Muslims and Jews are busy peacefully and productively living their lives side-by-side, right in the belly of the beast itself.
It’s one of the greatest stories not being told.