FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Need for a Peace Narrative in the Middle East

by

Growing up in Tucuman, a town in the North of Argentina, I had the opportunity to see a small example of peaceful coexistence and collaboration between Arabs and Jews. I was reminded of that experience after reading an article by Uri Avnery, one of the leading peace activists in Israel.

Tucuman, a medium-size city in the North of Argentina received numerous immigrants (among them my father) who came to that city at the beginning of the last century, notably among them citizens from Arab countries. The city also had a substantial Jewish population.

In the downtown area there was a stretch of several blocks called “la Maipú” after the name of its main street. What made this part of the city so unusual is that dozens of shops owned by both Arabs and Jews existed there. I don’t remember of a single incident of violence between both communities while I lived there. In some cases, the shop owners from both communities collaborated with each other because of shared commercial interests.

In the 1950s, my father, together with two friends, founded what they called the “Cultural Atheneum Gibran Khalil Gibran” named after the famous Lebanese writer. The main purpose of the organization was to present lectures by noted speakers, like Literature Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias and famous Argentinean writers such as Ernesto Sábato and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada.

Because of the high intellectual caliber of the lecturers these events were very well attended -even though there was a relatively high entrance fee- by students, professors and a cultured general public.

Many of the lectures were presented at the Sociedad Sirio Libanesa (Syrian and Lebanese Society) long before the painful schism between the two countries. At the time, there was considerable unease among the Society’s directors about permitting Jewish intellectuals to attend the lectures.

Because of my father’s untiring efforts, however, Jewish students and teachers were allowed to participate in those events, something that had never happened before. In both cases, commercial and cultural common interests allowed both Arabs and Jews to collaborate, overcoming traditional distrust. A common-interest narrative had been developed, one leading to a totally peaceful relationship between both communities.

If a common narrative could be created then, can one be created now in the Middle East based on the common need for peace? I believe it can, but only if each side of the conflict is able to see the other in real terms, not in the usual demonizing terms created by decades of antagonism.

Uri Avnery, a leading peace activist in Israel, argues that this lack of a common focus is the main block to peace now in the Middle East. “Reconciliation is impossible if either side is totally oblivious to the narrative of the other, their history, beliefs, perceptions, myths,” argues Avnery. And he adds, “Only if the American intermediaries, neutral or otherwise, understand both can they contribute to furthering peace.”

Avnery’s thoughts are particularly valid now, as US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to keep peace negotiations alive between Israelis and Palestinians. I continue to wonder if, in my hometown, thousands of miles away from the Middle East, a common narrative was found based on shared commercial and cultural interests, why the same couldn’t occur now, based on the more important goal of peace between both peoples.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail