The human element in peace

EAST MEREDITH, NY - During a historical visit to Jerusalem in 1979, late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt proclaimed that the Arab-Israeli conflict is largely psychological.

Inherited notions about history and deeply felt convictions about the injustices are so strong that when an Arab-American meets a Jewish-American socially they tend to avoid politics at all cost. Discussing differences might spoil a relationship between an Arab and Jew who may share a neighbourhood, a business, a classroom or a workplace.

However, though the majority swims with the current, there is a significant minority on each side of the Mideast divide, which challenges extremist views and works hard to promote understanding and a justice-based peace. There are people who endeavour to break through the barriers between the communities and engage in an open-minded exchange.

Examples are easy to find. I have a personal story to tell about our family's meeting with a creative and peace-loving Jewish family. I am an Arab-American of Lebanese descent, and my wife, Mary, is an American who has lived a few years in Lebanon.

It started in late May, when Bruce Roter, a Jewish reader expressed appreciation for an article in which I appealed to the Arabs and Jews of America to work together for peace in the Middle East. Responding to my appeal, Bruce Roter said "I hear you". He added, "I am the composer of a symphonic work… 'A Camp David Overture (Prayer for Peace)'" and he shared with me the YouTube link.

Bruce is a professor of music at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Mrs. Jihan Sadat (Sadat's wife) praised his 1996 composition. This work has been performed for the promotion of peace in several US cities over the last 14 years, in the hope, as Bruce puts it "that this music can foster cultural ties among all the people of the region". When it was played in Washington three years ago, official representatives from Israel, Egypt, France and Canada attended the concert.

After hearing an excerpt of this inspiring work, I arranged a meeting with Bruce and his family, including his wife Monique, and three children.

The Roter family has had ample exposure to life in the Middle East. Monique's parents emigrated from Egypt in the 1950s. Growing up in a Sephardi family, Monique has an inbuilt taste for Middle East food and the Levantine culture.

On a sunny day, in late July, Bruce and his family shared a meal with ours: "lubie blahmeh" over rice, a green bean stew with beef. We talked about all sorts of Mideast dishes with nostalgia: "Bamie", "Mulukhia", "Wara inab". Over lunch, Monique told us that her parents were expelled from Egypt during the Nasser regime. I saw no anger on Monique's face. I did not offer my perspective for the departure of so many talented communities from Egypt during the revolutionary period of Nasser; commentary on history to interpret a sensitive personal story may sound callous.

The meal provided an easygoing setting to share sensitive ideas. The Roters are strong advocates for Israel, but they see this state's future security strengthened through the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Afterwards, we invited a small group of friends to listen to Bruce introduce and play the CD of his "peace overture". We asked many questions and Bruce was glad to explain his approach to teaching music and creating it. He also talked about his latest work, a children's peace opera, "The Classroom." The setting of the opera is a classroom composed of two ethnic groups. The debut will take place this fall in an Albany elementary school, where the Roter children are enrolled. In the premier performance, the two groups will be Palestinian and Israeli children.

The Rubeiz and Roter families have established a new friendship born out of a common appreciation for coexistence of a secure Israeli state and a future Palestinian state. The two families feel strongly that conflict could either divide or bring people together. People unite when there is a common will to avoid war in solving problems. We hope that this friendship will deepen with time, regardless of how the political situation develops.

The Mideast has millions of stories - some sad, some happy, some of mixed affect. Yet it is the human element, I find, to be a key to understanding, explaining and solving the conflict in the Middle East.

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* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz (grubeiz@comcast.net) is an Arab-American commentator on issues of development, peace and justice. He is the former Middle East Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 19 August 2010,
www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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About Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst with special interest in political sociology, social justice and democracy. He is a former professor of social work and psychology. He was Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East during the eighties and early nineties. He also served Eastern Europe for six years from the Geneva office of Christian Children’s Fund. Between 2000 and 2005, he was the Washington Liaison Director of CCF. He is now focused on public speaking and writing on the Middle East. Over the last five years, he has contributed a series of articles to the Christian Science Monitor online edition, the Lebanese Daily Star and the Arab American News. Currently, Rubeiz is writing regularly from his home office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His special interest is in politics and religion and in promotion of Arab American understanding. His maintains his personal blog at www.aldikkani.blogspot.com.

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