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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail