By Mike Ghouse
February 2, 2012
Who am I to worry about Israelis and Palestinians? What inspires me to be involved in the Israel Palestine conflict? The following is the story of my struggle to see a cohesive world, the story will take you through different emotions but at the end, I hope you feel a sense of completeness of the story. Please let me know. Thank you.
I believe at the heart of the world peace is the Israel Palestine conflict, it is the mother of all conflicts, and if we can find a solution to this, peace is on the horizon ready to shine on us.
When I was about ten, my Dad made me aware of the conflicts, not just around Bangalore, my home town, but around India, the Subcontinent, Asia and the world. My father is my hero and had opened the doors of wisdom to me. He taught one of the biggest lessons of my life in social cohesiveness and dealing with extremism that I continue to reflect in my speeches, acts and write ups.
During the communal (religious) riots in the early sixties, both Muslims and Hindus were killed in the mayhem. I wish every father in India, America and elsewhere teaches this lesson to his kids. He told us the "individuals" were responsible for the bloodshed and not the religions; he would emphasize that you cannot blame an intangible like religion and expect justice, we must blame the individuals who caused it and punish them accordingly for disturbing the peace and thus bring a resolution to the conflict by serving justice. He was crystal clear; you cannot annihilate, kill, hang or beat the religion, then why bark at it?
Fully cognizant of China's attack on India usurping large swath of land in Kashmir and on the North Eastern Borders, my little mind recorded another devastating war between India and Pakistan followed by the 1967 war between Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian exodus was painful and I went through anger and then into mental exile trying to understand the inhumanity and the futility of wars. I was thinking about King Ashoka, who became a pacifist after witnessing blood shed on the fields of Kalinga. Who do we blame? How do we find solutions? I was 14.
The exodus of Palestinians remained clear on my mind and I wanted to find solutions.
Fast forwarding to the eighties, the destruction of Beirut was debilitating. The Sabra and Shatila massacres were harrowing and I was seeing Israel as the Goliath and the Palestinians as the Davids with nothing but rocks to throw at the rolling tanks.
Ted Koppel’s broadcasts of Intifada from Jerusalem were censored, particularly when he pitted Hanan Ashrawi against Benjamin Netanyahu. American Media was determined to show Palestinians in the poor light and invariably showed and repeated the poor miserable performance of their poster boy Arafat, against the suave Netanyahu. My heart was crying out loud and was hoping the world could see the way I saw things and peace came to both the peoples.
It took me years to truly understand the nature of security that the Jews were craving for over a millennia*, it is not the military power but a sense of security that a baby feels in the lap of a mother; completely free. The Jews felt at home in Spain after nearly 2000 years of wandering, then the damned Ferdinand massacred (along with Muslims) and completely uprooted them in 1492. It took them another 450 years to feel at home again in Germany, the butcher Hitler was bent on annihilating them, thanks to America for stepping in and preventing a full scale annihilation and Holocaust. Even here in the United States every now and then a Swastika appears on some one's door or the other. I have been a witness to it and have fought off two such incidents. Now they have a home in Israel sans security and they really need to feel that it is their eternal "home". Once they feel that sense of being at home in their bones, they will go back to becoming their self again; a people who have stood up for social justice.
Ironically the Israelis were busy in defending their right to survive up until 1967 and completely failed to articulate their need to the Palestinians, they should have poured their hearts out to them, who would have understood in an environment of mutual suffering and sharing.
On the other hand, the Palestinians were hurt, uprooted from their own homes, and were completely deprived of their basic need to have a sense of belonging, a sense of community and a sense of identity. Children have witnessed their parents and siblings butchered in front of them, and what do we expect them to do? What is their hope? For nearly three generations they lived in tents and squalor, and had to beg for food, clothing and an identity. It is depressing to see such them facing such atrocity in their own land.
We the people of the world were busy in punishing the weak Palestinians and shamelessly enjoying the emotional and physical beating they were taking. We did not offer them any serious options but to fight for survival. Sadly, like the leaders of Israel had failed, the Palestinian leadership also failed to share their humility and humanness with the Israelis.
And we the people of the world found poor excuses to blame Palestinian and Israeli leadership, instead of taking the lead and guiding them in their most vulnerable moments of history. We succumbed to their plea of the moment and took sides and propped them to fight against each other. We Americans are as guilty as the Arabs in the mindless upmanship, shame on us for dumping our in-capabilities on to the next generation.
We should have gotten the families of Palestinians and Israelis to sit and eat together, talk with each other and let the kids play a game of soccer in their presence and dream about a future for them. We deprived them of their humanness and instead armed them to fight. What have they achieved and what have we achieved?
The hate multiplier has made the leaders on both sides to say shameful things about the other including cooking up things that weren't true. The world community took sides instead of finding the truth and solutions.
I feel the pain and wanted to do my share of work in doing the things I am capable of, and here is a partial accounting of it. It is not easy, you get beat both by the Palestinians and Israelis in the leadership front and both want to blame the other.
I am deeply committed to the security of Israel and Justice for the Palestinians. A few ugly comments here and there matter to me but don't deter me from my commitment. I have chosen to be neutral for the sake of peace, and invariably about 1% of Israelis and 1% of Palestinians will never want to see neutrality in others. We cannot forget the desire for peace by the overwhelmingly silent majority, we need to hear them.
Israel's security and Justice to the Palestinians are directly proportional to each other. 100% Security for Israel comes with 100% justice to the Palestinians. A majority of people in the conflict understand this, but the leadership runs aground with short sighted false perceptions.
Way back in the early 60’s, when I was around 10 years old, my mother took away a book from me, ”Eishman 60 Lakh Yahodiyon ka Katil” – Eichmann killer of 6 million Jews in my mother tongue Urdu. She would not let me read the book; she said I could not handle it.
She was right; I did glance over a few pictures and was unable to take it out of my mind forever. She had psyched me up to run from it, I was unable to watch the WWII movies up until I was 55. Whenever I saw the wagons stalked with skeletonic humans, or marching of innocent men and women towards the pit, my systems would shut down on me and I would turn the TV off or walk away from it.
My gutlessness bothered me, and I had always wanted to do my share of work towards finding a solution. The catalytic moment came on Sunday, September 11, 2005, as Muslims, we took the initiative to commemorate September 11 Event as Unity Day to bring Americans together to rededicate our pledge for the safety and security of America. I had invited people from every faith, race, ethnicity and nationality along with the FBI Chiefs and 10 Mayors and several council persons.
Mayor Joe Chow was speaking and the fire Alarm went off, I can never forget the scene, my Jewish friends in the front row were the first ones to dash out of the hall, there were 630 of us in that hall. Remember we were doing the 9/11 event and it was scary to many. Mayor Mike Simpson of Frisco stepped up and assured everyone that it was a false Alarm as his Fire Marshall assured him in less than two minutes, I asked agent Gonzales, the FBI chief for Dallas area to speak up, he did and assured everyone that it was false Alarm...there were about 25 on the stage including Mayors, Fire and Police chiefs and civic leaders. I walked up to my Jewish friends and asked them to come back and they did, that was the catalytic moment for me, the fear in their eyes had a major impact on me and an inexplicable love for my friends and the desire to protect them was welling up in me.
Two months later in November 2005, the United Nations passed a resolution about Holocaust commemoration, something triggered in me, perhaps the catalytic moment was a catalyst in moving me to commemorate the event to let the Jewish community know that we care about them and that we are with them in their sacred moment. I called in my friend Bernie Mayoff (who had attended the Unity Day), he lend me a copy of Schindler’s list to watch, which I had avoided all along due to my own childhood phobias, I decided to see the movie and understood my mother’s words that I could not handle it.
I had lost my balance and wanted to regain it. Bernie and I went to see Elliot Dlin, (who passed away in 2010) the Director of Dallas Holocaust Museum, an affable but sceptical person. He saw my passion about the commemoration and also saw that I was willing to go it alone, if he did not want to participate.
We moved forward and commemorated the first Holocaust event on January 26, 2006 and every year since then except 2007. The Holocaust survivors William and Rosalie Schiff were the key note speakers at a gathering of about 300 people represented by every faith. We have taken extensive pictures and all are listed at www.HolocaustandGenocides.com.
This was probably the first time in the world where a Muslim took the initiative to commemorate Holocaust with the general public. The Jewish people have always commemorated as Yom HaShoah at the Synagogues, and usually Jewish people have attended the event. At our program we had 11 different religious groups shared their prayers. We were all in there together and the tradition continues; that of education to the general public.
I hope one of these days, through appropriate funding, I could make this happen in every major city around the world, a day where all of us come together to reflect upon the terrible things we have inflicted on each other.
There is a shameless cruelty in us, either we shy away or refuse to acknowledge the sufferings of others, worrying that it will devalue our own. The program would entail learning that other people's suffering is as legitimate as ours, it is easy to see ourselves as victims, but we must also see the perpetrator in us that remains silent or justifies oppression of others or turns the head other way. We need to be full humans to cherish the life and we must learn to value each life and learn to do everything we can, to never let this happen again.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied Holocaust and I jumped all over him in a note at Dallas Morning News. Later found out that he did not deny it, but had questioned it.
Thank God for giving me the courage to stand up for others, and I have continued with education in pluralism and stereotyping and have written extensively about it. I wrote against the Anti-circumcision bill in San Francisco and finally it was off the ballot and I believe this article was cited.
Fred Phelps came to Dallas with his Anti-Semitic demonstrations, he was at several Synagogues, Texas Jewish post and the Holocaust Museum where he demonstrated, so was I gathering the Holocaust Survivors together and leading the peace prayers in the Holocaust Museum. Huffington Post published my piece on the topic as well.
I went to Jerusalem on August of 2010 for four days with the Middle East Peace group. a Rev. Sun Myung Moon initiative. I am proud of the efforts of Rev. Michael Jenkins who had led the team to Israel over 30 times. He and his group did what was the right thing to do - to get the Israeli and Palestinian Children to play soccer, and eat together. Get the Knesset and Palestinian Parliament members to sit together and talk. I wish, the world can see the power in doing this in finding lasting solutions. Blaming and bullying does no good. The group visited Israel quite extensively and I spoke on Pluralism and shared the peace prayers.
As seekers of peace, we need to step above the Jewish or Palestinian issue to find a solution and not keep building barriers. Sadly, the community leaders among Jews and Muslims act the same; deny each other’s initiatives. Indeed, if a sane Jewish voice comes out, as a sane Muslim voice, they will be hounded and barked at in unison.
I am proud of President Jimmy Carter who brought Arafat and Begin together and had them sign the peace accord. He is a genuine hero to both the people, as he stopped the blood feud and had them look to each other as collaborators of peace. That is one less conflicts between Egypt and Israel. When I put the review of his book on my website, one of my Jewish friends who and I have collaborated on several issues boycotted me, he would not return my calls or emails. One day, I ran into him in a Synagogue, begged him to the corner to explain to me - He said, I was a no good bum because I have that Jimmy Carter on my website.
A few hounders had unleashed pitt bulls at me on Facebook, called me up and barraged me with floods of emails. It was an harassment, they were calling me names and telling idiotic things, and tempting me to shout "you people", so they can nail me as anti-Semitic. They failed miserably; I am not filled with hatred towards any, thank God for the freedom from hate. By the way, I had jumped on a councilman in Dallas for the very same phrase against Jews. A few on the right always do things to hurt Israel in the pretence of defending it, they do not want to derail any good any one attempts to do.
The exact same acts were repeated by the right among Palestinians and a few Muslims. A few have made serious attempts to malign me as anti-Palestinian or a Zionist agent, and campaigned against me at every opportunity they got. Despite my appeal to them, that as Muslims they simply cannot believe in hearsay without verification, both the Qur’an and the Prophet have emphasized to live a regret free life by not jumping to conclusions and holding malice towards others.
I guess facts don't matter to the right, no matter what group they belong to; Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians or others. By the way that "right" is not a group, it is a virus that infects all of us from time to time. It did to President Bush, facts did not matter to him.
My energy comes from the laughter they breed. Last year I wrote an article on the topic and immediately the right among Jews and Palestinians pounced on me. It was hilarious, that for the very same article, the Jews (right virused ones) called me an Islamist, while the Muslims (right virused ones) called me a Zionist - it's the same freaking article! I cannot stop laughing on this. I am sure about 1% of you are judging me as well if you have made this far out. I am for building a cohesive society where no human has to live in fear, discomfort or apprehension of the other human. I have nothing to gain but feel worthy of living on the planet.
The real threat to the peace process between Israel and Palestine stems from their inability to look at their own policies critically. And those of us living in America have really messed up security for Israel and hope for Palestinians. We need to take responsibility for our thoughtless stand on issues. President Obama blew an opportunity of millennium for Jews to be who they want to be; a just people, and the Palestinians by denying them justice through veto at the United Nations.
Israelis and Palestinians don't need the duplicity from the Hagees, Gingrichs, Santorums, Perry's, Boltons, Ahmedinejads or Abudullah's and their shallow words. They need sincerity to deliver security to Israelis and Justice to the Palestinians, one cannot happen without the other.
It is time to quit blaming and start finding solutions. Damn it, the leaders ought to be ashamed of themselves; if they cannot look in the eyes of Palestinian and Israeli Children and commit to give them a better life, they should not be the leaders. The leaders need to learn that, they cannot have peace and security when they keep threatening others around them, period. Both sides are doing exactly opposite of what they really want; security and justice to them respectively.
Until we can see our own faults, peace for both people becomes a forlorn hope. The burden to find solutions falls on all of us, but particularly Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Staying away from each other will not contribute towards peace-making that the communities so deserve. The Monster among us was a sad situation of people taking advantage through mis-information. We have to come together without conditions and learn each other’s concerns and clarify mis-information and together find solutions. If we don’t, then who?
Jews have a need to be understood and be acknowledged of their eternal security needs, not the military, but mental security where they can put their guards down and live their life in peace.
Palestinians have a need to be understood. They have suffered immeasurably, no human should be stripped of his or her hope and dignity; hope to have a family, work and own a house and call a place their homeland.
Our Presidents need to seriously look at what works. They need to have the vision for peace. They must understand that it may be going against the general opinion and must take bold steps and produce peace for the people of Israel and Palestine. It will save lives and brings peace to them and takes a burden off us.
We need to be above reproach and seek justice for one and all. We must protect Israel, our ally; however, if that protection is based on injustice to either Palestinians or the Jews, our integrity becomes questionable and we must deliver justice to the Palestinians people. We do carry the burden of guilt for messing up their lives.
Mighty empires can crush the weak for a short term; in the long run every one goes down the tube. We cannot rob anyone and live with a good conscience.
The fear of being hounded prevents people from speaking the truth, the need to be lauded keeps people from expressing honestly what is on their mind. It is these people that are not good for Israel or Palestine.
Thank God for blessing me with the ability to see the good and bad things in others without judgment.
If I say hateful things about Muslims and Jews, funds will pour in a hurry, what a shame! And that is the precise problem, everyone is after money. Neither the trumpeters for Israel nor drummers for the Palestinians really care about them, they cash in and run.
This blog has a few selected articles including my own writings. The hardliner Palestinians and Israelis lose their sights and of course attack me. I believe God is with me, as I have nothing to gain from anyone but do the right thing. I have toyed with the idea of going there and leading a sensible movement to bring about a positive change.
I will continue do my work, if it makes sense to a handful of people; I have done my share of Tikkun in the world and I can rest in peace, tying the loose ends of my life, just as my Mother did.
Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies and presents pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a speaker, thinker, moderator and an activist with a focus on Pluralism, Politics, Peace, Interfaith, Islam, India and cohesive Societies. His work is listed in 30 Blogs and four websites linked at www.MikeGhouse.net. His daily writings are at www.TheGhousediary.com