Adopting a shared perspective on Arab-Jewish relations

A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.

Yala Young Leaders logo 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yala Young Leaders logo 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For a while now, the both of us, two French citizens, a Muslim and a Jew, having strong ties with Tunisia and Israel respectively, realized that it is high time we speak out. We have both committed to YaLa-Young Leaders in France, in Tunisia and in the Middle-East, and saw Toulouse and Montauban’s attacks as a national tragedy that challenged our beliefs. It revealed and highlighted issues concerning Muslim and Jewish dialogue in France and in the world. This piece, which we wrote together, points out the necessity to stand united beyond hatred and division and calls for peace. It also calls for self-examination. This is where we stand.
France is host at the same time to the most important Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe. The coexistence between these two communities is far from being easy. Yet it is necessary. Each of us has her own education, her own personal experiences. But we believe that the lessons we have learned led us to get involved in the promotion of the message of peace and coexistence in Israel, in France, in the Arab world and beyond.
I, Samia, am a daughter of Tunisian immigrants who carried with them the memory of World War II and the colonization to France. My grandfather is a World War II veteran who fought against Nazism with the Allied armies and until recently one of his best moments has been to relate his stories to his grandchildren.
I grew up in a small town in the suburb of Lyon. I don’t remember meeting Jews at school, and if I did I was never aware of it. I have no memory of hatred and prejudice or anti-Semitism at home. Nevertheless, I am nowadays deeply committed to Muslim-Jewish dialogue in France and beyond in Tunisia, Europe and in the Middle-East via the organization I created in France and via YaLa-Young Leaders.
As far as I am concerned, I do believe that there is a huge gap of misunderstanding, fear and unfortunately sometimes hatred between these two communities.
In order to achieve our goal, I have already founded a Muslim-Jewish think tank, JEM EGO, where young leaders coming from both communities deal with issues throughout workshops on history, geopolitics and identities.
This first step will lead us to create and implement projects in non-formal education.
I am deeply convinced that the Middle East conflict generates and fosters extremists in each community and specifically in France, where people identify themselves with one of the parties to the conflict.
Belonging to the Arab and Islamic community, I acknowledge that the non-existence of a Palestinian state is one of the greatest obstacles to normal and peaceful relations with the Jewish state.
I, Sarah, am a Jew descending from people who came from all over Europe (some fleeing the pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century) and France, having in mind the German/Yiddish proverb “Happy as G’od in France.”
Yet, during World War II, my family suffered severe humiliations, had to hide, to escape from arrests and resist the Nazis, while loosing their relatives and all of their goods.
Obviously, my family history is a determining factor in my fight against racism and anti-Semitism. After what they went through, my elders have always set an example regarding these questions. For instance, my maternal grandparents have a very multi-cultural and multi-religious group of friends, from all over the Mediterranean basin, and at the same time are very active Zionists. Their friends have always respected their views and vice-versa.
I grew up in a small town in Alsace that was visited by my grandfather’s best friend, Hamdi, quite often. He was a former general of Anwar Sadat when they first met in the ‘70s. I remember spending holidays in Egypt with Hamdi’s family. I had to continue this way, reinforced by having been a victim of anti-Semitic attacks since the age of 11. I have always thought this was because of ignorance and indoctrination. Therefore, I have committed myself to organizations fighting against racism and anti-Semitism, for Israel, for peace with Palestine.
I think that extremists in the world tend to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pretext to stir up hatred.
Human beings have the choice to be either active or passive, either positive or negative, regarding peace. Then, it is a matter of responsibility. As a Jew living in the Jewish and democratic state, I believe it is time to go further to the definition of who we are, which means to negotiate borders with the Palestinian state and to start cooperation based on mutual recognition and respect.
We both believe that each community should examine itself after Toulouse and Montauban’s terror attacks which were only the emerged part of an iceberg of conflict, racism and Islamism.
Besides these introspections that should be conducted very thoroughly by our religious and cultural leaders, we will need help from the public authorities and from the media to promote and reinforce existing projects in various fields of action – such as the Aladin Project of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, the Coexist Project of the UEJF (Union of Jewish Students of France) SOS Racisme and AFEV (Association of the Foundation for the Student for the City, the organization Inshalom, the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, and other initiatives.
As has been already understood by several organizations, sports, and especially football, are a tremendous peace promoter. Thus, it would be interesting to establish a tradition of football games between Israeli and Palestinian children in Clairefontaine like the one organized in 2004 by the fashion designer Daniel Hechter. Sharing is one of the core common values in Judaism and Islam. We have to live together in France, in Tunisia and in the Middle East, and if sometimes it is for the worst, we have to strive that it be for the best.
As for the relations between France, Israel and the Palestinian territories, the new French government’s members will surely do their best to preserve an open dialogue and trigger new negotiations as the socialist party wrote in its program, proposition No. 59.
This dialogue will be critical but definitely not overbearing regarding the two parties, considering that a Palestinian state living aside Israel in peace and security is in Israel’s interest, in addition to recognizing the right to self determination of the Palestinian people and the concretization of their national aspirations via an international acknowledgement of Palestine, with negotiated frontiers between the two parties.
This position has actually been France’s for quite a long time, in accordance with the European Union’s policy. A significant numbers of ministers have been to Israel and Palestine and have strong political (and sometimes, personal) ties with this area. We call on them to accompany effectively and efficiently our efforts to build a solid peace via direct negotiations between the parties rather than imposing views from the outside.
In addition to the situation in the Middle-East, the new government is aware that it has to work hard to improve the situation in France concerning Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that keep growing, not to mention the challenge of fighting against Islamic terrorism, that – need we mention it? – has nothing to do with Islam but uses Islam as a vehicle and thus harms the Muslims’ image with each bloody strike.
This will happen via taking strong judicial measures against perpetrators of such racist acts and keeping a close watch over terrorist activities pursuant to the existing legislation, as well as carrying on a frank dialogue on all sensitive issues between the Jewish and the Muslims communities, along with educational projects to wrestle with ignorance and prejudice.
The government is made up of some people coming from both communities, committed to them as well as to the French Republic idea of “vivre ensemble.” There cannot be a better image to illustrate this core French value that must glow over the world and especially over the Middle East and North Africa.
Don’t see any do-gooder-ism here. We are aware that our struggle is the hardest. A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows (African proverb).
But we keep going on since there are not many paths to peace. Peace is the path.
Samia Hathroubi, a history teacher in Paris, is president and founder of “Juifs Et Musulmans Ensemble pour une Génération Ouverte” (JEM EGO). Sarah Blum, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a former Project Coordinator at the European Friends of Israel. They are both active in YaLa – Young Leaders.