Encountering Peace: Travels in Morocco

I am now in Morocco for a workshop sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency on public participation in environmental decision making.

Protests in Morocco 311 (photo credit: (Reuters))
Protests in Morocco 311
(photo credit: (Reuters))
I receive many invitations to attend conferences around the world on subjects connected to the Middle East and the Israeli Arab conflict. My travels have brought me into contact with people all over the world. The common thread among them is that they care about the Middle East, are knowledgeable about the Israeli-Arab conflict and support peace.
I am now in Morocco for a workshop sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency on public participation in environmental decision making.
My travel plans took me to Rabat via Paris. I had a six-hour layover in Paris, not really enough time to see anything, but enough time to meet some people.
In addition to knowing people from conferences, thanks to Facebook I have the ability to make many more new friends all over the world. I posted on my Facebook page that I would have several hours in Paris and would be happy to meet someone for lunch. Well, within a couple of hours I had several invitations to choose from. I have many more friends on Facebook than people who I actually know, but the world has become much smaller and reaching out and connecting is too easy not to take advantage of the wide world of cultural experience one click away.
I arranged to meet Ilham (I changed all the names because I didn’t ask their permission to write about them), who selected a trendy Parisian restaurant near a central Metro station. She is a young successful businesswoman originally from Algeria who grew up in France, and is now working with the royal family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
She is Muslim. She travels frequently between Riyadh, Geneva, London and Paris. When she gets home to Paris she packs her time with friends, food and culture.
She jumped at the opportunity to meet me and asked a small group of her best friends to join. The small group included people that she studied business with and now are all out there working in the business world, and all of them have some kind of connection to the Middle East.
There was Rima, a Lebanese Christian who was among the first Google employees who came to Israel to open the Israeli Google office. She told about her experience entering Israel with a French passport filled with stamps from all over the Arab world. She of course did not use her Lebanese passport. She was quite nervous, but had a great time, especially in Tel Aviv. She said that she felt like she was at home in Beirut! There was Serina, who is half Jewish from a northern African background, full of curiosity about life in Israel, the conflict and whether I really believe Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can make peace. There was Ariana and her husband, an Algerian Jew who grew up in poverty in Marseille when his family escaped Algeria when the French control ended there. Now he lives in Paris and works as a business consultant.
They all wanted to talk about Israel, the Palestinians, the conflict and chances for peace. They all are completely up to speed on events in our region, reading the daily news from websites such as Haaretz, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera and others. I was amazed by their deep knowledge of our country and our politics. They seemed much more knowledgeable in fact than many Israelis who consciously choose to escape the news.
They had all “Googled” me to learn more about me and my positions. It was a great afternoon. My “role” in these situations is often to answer a lot of really good questions and to keep hope alive with my optimistic nature and my deep belief that our conflict is resolvable. I told them that I believe that most Israelis and Palestinians really do want peace. We need to convince our leaders to take the step forward with sincerity (and with the assistance of experts) and peace is within reach.
I then went with them to the Petit Palais to see a new exhibition about “God and Religion.” Fascinating – a collection of symbols of faith, God and religion from all over the world together under one extraordinary roof for people of all faiths and of no faith to come and see and appreciate the vast array of cultural splendor. The exhibit had a very good collection of some impressive pieces of Judaica.
Then off to the airport again to catch my flight to Morocco.
ON THE flight I passed the time reading the Haaretz weekend magazine in Hebrew. I saw people looking at the Hebrew, but no one said anything. After going through passport control I left the airport and got a taxi to my hotel. The driver started speaking to me in French, which I don’t understand, so I answered him in Arabic. When I said “al hamdoulillah,” blessed be God, he smiled and his face lit up.
He had a popular Moroccan singer playing in his disc player. After the first song, which the driver sang along with, the singer began chanting a very political speech. I was listening carefully as he started praising the martyrs of Palestine and Iraq who were killed by the Jews, the agents of America.
The driver, realizing that I might understand what was being said, suddenly felt uncomfortable and quickly moved to the next song. He didn’t say anything, neither did I, but I did think about being accepted in this Arab country as an Israeli, despite all of the politics.
I checked into the hotel and was told that the dining room was still open and that I should get something to eat. I wasn’t really hungry but I wanted to see if there were any great Moroccan delicacies to eat.
There weren’t, unfortunately. As I was debating whether to get up to leave I noticed that the background music was the theme song of the Zionist film Exodus! I thought that this was a sign that I should stay, at least until the end of the song.
It is a very small world, filled with so many contradictions and surprises.The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.