Try to speak positively about Israel in an Arab country...

May peace be upon all. I tried to explain this problem somewhere else as well. If you are living in the Arab world you usoually hear only bad stuff about Jews or Israel from both media and people. Arabs have no chance to meet any Israeli otherwise many would change their mind. I am living in Egypt now and I lived in Qatar as well. What does it mean when I speak positively about Israelis in front of people here? How do they react? I can tell a story of my Egyptian friend, who is a religious muslim girl from a small village. She has been studying Czech language in Prague for 5 months with classmates from all over the world. There was also one nice guy in her class, who had curly hair, was very active in class, teachers loved him but he himself didn't have many friends and spent most of his free time alone. Once my friend with another Egyptian entered a lift and met this guy. He was very friendly and asked them: "Where are you from?" They said: "We are from Egypt and you?" He said: "I am from Israel."
My friend told me that she's been so scared: "Our parents and other people here always teach us, that Israelis hate all Muslims and wish to kill them all."
I fell so sorry for the Jewish guy. I explained to my friend that I met many friendly Israelis and actually I met noone in Israel in person who would show hatred to me despite I am a religious muslim. My friend looked really surprised and she regretted that she behaved this way. We later visited a synagogue in Coptic Cairo together and my friend told me: "I would love to meet a Jew in person."
I can mention Qatar as well. Once I went to a trip around Qatar with my American friend, her husband and my Marrocan classmate. Our tour-guide was an Egyptian. We started chatting and I told him that I was a volunteer in Palestine. He said to me, that his second language was Hebrew and he used to work as a tour-guide for Israeli tourists. Clearly he thought that I was very anti-Israeli (that time I really was) and started defending the Israelis and saying:"There is a lot in TV and so on but not all Israelis are bad. I worked with them and I found them really nice."
Other time I had a presentation in my class about Palestine. When I finished my teacher asked me: "What about the Jews?" I said: "Honestly I found them very nice and helpful." Almost all my classmates were Muslims from Africa, Thailand, Indonesia and so on. They all hear about Palestine all the time but they know nothing about common Israeli people and their culture. Nobody said a bad word and they were very curious. My Thai friend asked me to write the Hebrew alphabet for her and she would like to know something about Judaism and Tora. I met two Qatari women, one was my teacher and the other was a beduin student of the Sharyah law. Both of them asked me: "Do the Jews in Israel also pray?" I said that many of them do. They were very excited and said:"Masha Allah thats great. How do they pray?" I tried to explain them the little I knew about Jewish prayer..
Quite common opinion among educated Muslims is that if the Israeli goverment followed the Tora we could have peace.
It seems that I am talking only about positive things. My opinion as a student of Islamic theology living in an Arab country: It's disgusting how the Arab leaders do everything to deprive their people from knowledge of Islam, forcing them secular ideologies, nationalism (which is against Islam), pride (the Prophet Muhamed said:" Whoever has only a seed of pride in his heart will never enter paradise"), money-worship and love to money and luxuries (if you don't have them, blame Israel and the US). But then, they use the Koran to brainwash people and to make them hate while they shake hands with Ehud and Bibi smiling at them. What a hypocrysy.
Another of my Egyptian friend once said that the Jews always desire to harm us even if they behave friendly. I said to her that this is not true. She said: "But it's in the Quran!" I said, "Ok, tell me in which verses." I read these verses and their commentary but they were not about the Jews but simply say that there are people from amongst the non-Muslims who hate us and want to harm us and another one which talks about some Jews from the time of Muhammad but not Jews in general. I read many books from various muslim scholars where they write that Jews are "people of evil nature" and so on but their statements are never supported by the Quran or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. It's purely from their heads.
Let's make the myth about Apes and Pigs clear. There is a story in the Quran about a Jewish town during the reign of King David (propably today's Eilat). God wanted to test its inhabitants and made fish come to the bay of this town only on saturday. Of course the Jews were prohibited from fishing on saturday. There were few of them who were mocking at God and put nets in the sea before beginning of the Shabbat and pick them up after the end of the Shabbat. After that they wanted to sell the fish in a market. The rest of the people were outraged and refused to live with those transgressors and left the city. When they returned back they found apes and pigs who were crying. So this story doesnt tell us that Jews are pigs and apes.
I see no reason why should I hate Jews. According to the Quran, they are not more or less human beings than any other humans in this world. Amongst them are good as well as bad people. No race or nation is worse or better than other.We are all children of Adam. This is what I believe.

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Comment by Rivka on June 5, 2009 at 12:01pm
The sad thing is that the constant jew/Israeli bashing ,as exemplified by some posters on mepeace, detracts from the real injustices that are perpetrated and that it also forces people back into their defensive shells. Obviously the reverse (arab/Palestinian bashing) is true too. Not very conducive to peace.
Comment by Eliana Gilad on June 5, 2009 at 10:41am
Yara, I love this blog post. It is inpsiring and uplifting. I think it is the first time I have read an Arab discuss these matters. What a blessing :-)....
Comment by Jennifer A. Miskin-Flake on May 31, 2009 at 1:33am
I think about names. I hope I can say what I mean and be understood by everyone.

The name "Israeli" and the name "Jew" is to represent the good. The names "Islam" and "Muslim" and "Arab" is to represent the good. The name "The United States of America (America)" is to represent the good. In the religion, in the history, in the lives of ordinary people -- these good things are what should come to mind when these Names are used. But unfortunately of actions and perceptions over time, what has been done wrong (on purpose or accidental) has been done in these names. Wrong has been done "in the name" of Christianity. Wrong has been done "in the name" of Israel. Wrong has been done "in the name" of Islam. Wrong has been done "in the name" of USA. And so on. What wrong that has been done that should have been given other names was instead given these good names -- names that should belong to the good and to the ordinary people. But these names have been "stolen" from us from time, actions of evil persons, and from perceptions (true or imaginary). Why do we allow it? And how do we change it (the perception)? For example, the United States represents brotherhood and liberty and other great principles like this. THAT is what the United States is. Who stole this from us ordinary people that to many the Name "The United States" represents what is evil? Why can't we let evil just be evil, and leave the NAMES -- Israel, Palestine, USA, Jew, Muslim, so on and so forth -- to mean only the good ordinary people who are living their lives?
Comment by HYaari on May 31, 2009 at 1:16am
Yara, thanks for the beautiful post. I'd like to tell you of some of my experiences.

When I was on a boat between Greece and Cyprus, traveling to Haifa, I hear a loud commotion, with crying, etc. I checked it out and found an Egyptian family and Israeli family hugging one another. They had discovered one another on the ship and were inseparable until we arrived in Cyprus, where the Egytpians disembarked to travel on to Alexandria. They were crying and making plans to visit one another's homes.

When I was in Egypt I was very leary of telling people I had traveled from israel. Egyptians generally figured it out on their own and when they did, they were friendly and said things like "My father or my mother had Jewish friends before the troubles started and always spoke well of them."

When I lived in Germany I was followed once by a group of young Arab men who hissed and made obscene gestures towards me. One of them came forward later and apologized. This happened also in California, but fortunately has been balanced out by more positive experiences.

In a small town in southern California I was approached by a theater owner who was Egyptian. We ended up talking for hours. He told me of growing up in Nasser's Egypt, where he and others were inundated day and night with anti-Jewish propaganda and taught to hate. He told me this was done to keep war going and to turn the people's attention away from changing their lives and country in a more positive way. He said that he had never met a Jew until, as a teen, he had gone to Denmark to be part of an international youth program. There were two israeli children present at this camp; he explained t hat he was "terrified" just to be in the room with these Israelis because he had been so conditioned to hatred for them from childhood.This Egyptian man spoke of the moment in which this changed and he became filled with anger for what he referred to as the poison that had been put into his mind by his country's educational system.

Thanks for describing your experiences with the fears that these people you met were feeling. I have often heard Jews say the same thing about Arabs and Muslims!

I look forward to the day that we can all look back in embarassment at the fears we one had of one another.
Comment by Eyal Raviv on May 29, 2009 at 1:45pm
fantastic. I'm glad we met!
Comment by Michael Weis on May 28, 2009 at 8:32pm
Very good post.
Comment by Neri Bar-On on May 28, 2009 at 7:01am
Thank you Yara to bring this here, change of our minds toward ending hate and seeking our commonalties
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on May 28, 2009 at 12:41am
"Quite common opinion among educated Muslims is that if the Israeli goverment followed the Tora we could have peace."

This is a fascinating statement, Yara. How common is that opinion really?
Because in the Jewish world there seems to be a divide between secular and religious on that issue, with the secular saying that the Torah must not be followed and the religious saying that it should be.

That aside, that concept is problematic in that the Torah is not a Constitution for a material nation-state,
but Teachings about life and the spirituality of the individual in the material world.

Did you know that a Rabbi named Yonatan Ben Uziel wrote
"Lait elaha ella Elo-im, aray lait bar m'nah" about 1900 years ago?!

Bottom line: This is a very intelligent and humane post, of someone not stuck thinking 'in the box.'
Nice work. We really do have a great deal to learn from each other, and it really is much more than worth the effort.
Comment by Corey Gil-Shuster on May 27, 2009 at 11:02pm
Yara, thank you for this posting. Your post is not only human but interesting.
There are similar misunderstandings about the Muslim world in Israel. Because we have some contact with Palestinian Israelis it is not as black and white but most Israelis are very fearful of Arabs and Muslims- even those Jews who came from Arab countries. I sometimes get crticism for peace work with Arabs or people telling me I have to be careful because you can't trust them, but at the same time there is an underlying curiosity and willingness to find compromise and commmon ground. Most of the anger is from frustration, fear and misconceptions.

I tell those people who seem to have so many negative things to say about Arabs and Muslims but don't really know any- speak to one and ask them these questions directly. I tell the same to Arabs and Muslims about Jews and Israelis. Good for you for making the effort to meet us. Have you visited Israel too?


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