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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
Inside this edition  
11 - 17 March 2010
Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity
by Zvi Zohar
In our third article on Muslims and Jews in each other's religious narratives, Professor of Jewish studies Zvi Zohar highlights the voices within the Jewish tradition that express an admiration for Muslim religiosity and illustrates how, at the highest levels of spirituality, Islam and Judaism have much in common.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 March 2010)
The sorrow and hope of Abraham: Public memory and conflict in the Holy Land
by Daniel Noah Moses
It is important for Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, to present their collective stories in a way that promotes understanding and empathy, writes peace worker Daniel Noah Moses, who encourages both sides to engage with the stories of the "Other".
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 February 2010)
"Apartheid week" or "weakness"
by Ray Hanania
Palestinian American columnist Ray Hanania takes issue with the use of the word "apartheid" to describe Israel's actions towards the Palestinians and calls on both sides to focus on words that promote peace not anger.
(Source: The Jerusalem Post, 10 March 2010)
Declare a Palestinian state
by Jerome Segal
Jerome M. Segal, who directs the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, argues that a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is a "highly constructive idea" that will not threaten Israeli interests.
(Source: The International Herald Tribune, 23 February 2010)
Israeli Arabs ask Mubarak to help Shalit
by Aviel Magnezi
Arabs in Israel demonstrate for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
(Source: Ynetnews, 03 March 2010)
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The Encounter organisation brings American Jewish leaders to Palestinian cities to encourage more compassion and nuance in the way they perceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity
Zvi Zohar
JERUSALEM - Within Jewish tradition there are sources that express not just a tolerance towards aspects of Muslim religiosity, but a real admiration and positive intellectual and religious respect. It is important for both Jews and Muslims to become acquainted with these sources, and to consider their implications. Here I consider one such source, found in the writings of Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi of Jerusalem (1782-1853). It tells of a relationship between two outstanding men in late 18th century Damascus: a great Sufi sheikh and the Chief Rabbi of Damascus.

One of the two heroes of Farhi's tale, the Sufi sheikh, attained great mastery of the Seven Wisdoms, i.e., the body of universal human knowledge. Since a person's perfection is contingent upon mastery of these wisdoms, the sheikh was more perfect than all the Jews of his generation, with the exception of the rabbi of Damascus, who was his equal and even slightly his superior in the realm of universal wisdom.

But the Seven Wisdoms are of course only one aspect of religious perfection: the highest form of religious accomplishment is the encounter with God and closeness to Him. In this realm, the realm of religious-mystical experience, it emerges quite clearly from Rabbi Farhi's account that the sheikh was on a higher level than the rabbi. In that account, it was the sheikh who guided the rabbi along the paths of mystical experience, by way of the garden and the pool, until their joint entry into the Holy of Holies to encounter the Divine Reality reflected in the holy name YHVH. The words on the golden tablet they gazed upon were: "I envision YHWH before me always". This formula is to be found in every synagogue. Yet as related by Farhi, the one who actualised the promise born by this verse, the person who was indeed able to envision in his consciousness "He Who Spoke and the universe was created", was not the Jewish rabbi but the Muslim sheikh.

At the end of their joint journey, the rabbi shed copious tears, acknowledged the sheikh's advantage in this crucial realm, and concluded: "It is becoming upon us to do even more than that".

Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi, addressing his audience in Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire in the fourth decade of the 19th century, presented the Sufi sheikh as an ideal spiritual figure reaching the greatest heights of awe of God. Incidentally, it becomes apparent to the reader that the Sufi sage exceeded his Jewish counterpart also in his personal qualities: he loves the truth for its own sake; he develops a relationship with his Jewish colleague out of an intellectual attraction and without a utilitarian agenda; he is not jealous of another whose intellectual accomplishments are greater than his own; he shows genuine admiration for the rabbi as a man of wisdom, regardless of the lower religious-communal status of the group to which the rabbi belonged.

From this story it is clear that at the highest levels of individual religious spirituality, there is a great deal of overlap and similarity between Judaism and Islam. This overlap is clearly expressed already in the first section of the story, when the reader discovers that there is a realm of universal intellectual discourse-the Seven Wisdoms-that is a highly regarded field of knowledge shared by the sheikh and the rabbi. Further on, it becomes clear that what these worlds share is not limited to the "neutral" intellectual dimension, but extends to the practices of preparing for mystical experience: fasting, repentant thoughts, immersion and change of garments. And above all else, there are shared elements and a partnership in the mystical experience itself-and in the joint focus of this experience: "He Who Spoke and the universe was created". Not a Muslim God, and not a Jewish God, but the God of all existence, the Creator of all.

Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi conveys to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem the possibility that a person who was born, raised and educated as a Muslim, who is a product of elite religious Muslim training, can as a result be no less capable (and perhaps even more so) of "connecting" to the universal Divine than a person who is a product of a parallel Jewish path. To some, it might seem inappropriate for a religious leader to show such respect and admiration for the achievements of a person rooted in a tradition that is not his own. To others, such as the current writer, Rabbi Farhi's attitude expresses a greatness of spirit that all of us would do well to contemplate-and to internalise.


* Zvi Zohar is a professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar Ilan University, where he also heads the Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and the Strengthening of Jewish Vitality, and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Advanced Judaic Studies in Jerusalem. A full translation, analysis and discussion of rabbi Farhi's account will soon be published in Jewish Studies Quarterly under the title "The Rabbi and the Sheikh". This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other's narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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The sorrow and hope of Abraham: Public memory and conflict in the Holy Land
Daniel Noah Moses
JERUSALEM - The flare-up over the Israeli government's decision to put Rachel's Tomb along with what Jews call the Cave of the Patriarchs and Muslims call the Ibrahimi Mosque on a list of Israeli heritage sites again puts history and memory at the centre of this conflict.

Again we are reminded that those who want a better future must do a better job at dealing with the past. A series of recent encounters has placed the question of how the past is represented in the present to the forefront of my mind.

While in Cairo visiting friends early this year, I joined a tour of Egyptian high school students at the "Panorama", a museum that the Egyptian government built to commemorate the 1973 War between Egypt and Israel.

The tour culminated with a rotating view of a battlefield diorama depicting what Egyptians consider to be their great victory over "the enemy". The clear impression: "we" fought bravely and liberated our land. There is nothing about negotiations between Sadat and Begin. There is no mention of Egypt's recognition of Israel, which is what made the return of the Sinai possible. Egypt's decision to exchange peace for land turned it temporarily into a pariah in the Arab world; it also set the stage for subsequent peacemaking. On all of this, the Panorama is silent-even though it is in walking distance from where Sadat was assassinated.

More recently, I sat in Jerusalem across the table from a Jewish couple in their sixties from the American Midwest. The man told a story about a friend of his who visited Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank.

The visit, arranged at an official level, was part of an initiative to encourage economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in adjacent areas of the north. The delegation stopped outside the city where the Haddad Tourist Village emerges from the lush rural landscape. In addition to a garden cafe, where families sit and eat together, an amphitheatre, a hotel and amusement park, there is a new museum of Palestinian culture and history.

The Palestinians led the visiting delegation into the museum. The Jewish visitors became upset: at least some, including the friend of the man sitting across the table, walked out.
This past week I asked the Haddad's manager, the son of the owner, about the visiting delegation. He nodded his head sadly. "Yes", he said, "they came here". He did not understand why the visitors walked out. I toured the museum, which is in the last stages of completion. It's beautifully done. Mostly, the dioramas focus on folkways, on Palestinian culture. The museum, which also depicts Palestinian dislocation and suffering, includes something on Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish Israeli who massacred Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque. Perhaps the visitors reacted to the implication that Goldstein represents them, for the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide reject such violence. Whatever the reasons, those who walked out missed a precious opportunity to engage with an authentic Palestinian perspective.

After telling the story about the Haddad museum, the man across the table spoke about a visit that he and his wife took to where her parents lived in Europe before narrowly escaping the Nazis. He told this story with such empathy, such tenderness towards the plight of his wife's family and his people. There were no Arabs at the table to listen, or to see the expression on this man's face, just as he has never seen the sorrow on the face of the Haddad manager-so proud of the museum his family has built-when the Jewish visitors walked out. With the experience and the humanity of the "other" blocked from view, people too often limit empathy and understanding to their own side.

In such a context, initiatives such as Project Aladdin, which provides Holocaust education in the Arab world, or PRIME, which presents the Palestinian and Israeli narratives side by side-are critical for the future. Unlike the Panorama museum in Cairo which represents a blatant manipulation, Project Aladdin, PRIME, and the Haddad museum outside of Jenin are serious efforts to represent public memory and history. They are opportunities to tell one's own story, to engage with the story of the "other", and to share memories in ways that enlarge the scope of empathy and understanding.

We need to introduce such initiatives on a larger scale. A recent USIP (United States Institute of Peace) report proposes a formal education track to ensure that the Israeli and Palestinian governments and societies engage with one another on this critical subject. Let's extend this track to reach the public memory beyond school buildings.

Along with the other patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims who are his spiritual children. The Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque-a site of intense primordial memory that somehow must be shared-could be a good place to start.


* Daniel Noah Moses, Ph.D., formerly a lecturer on social studies at Harvard University, is currently Director of the Delegation Leaders Program at Seeds of Peace. He recently published his first book, The Promise of Progress: The Life and Work of Lewis Henry Morgan. He lives in Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 March 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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"Apartheid week" or "weakness"
Ray Hanania
CHICAGO - There is one important fundamental about truth: Genuine truth gives one the power to tolerate even the most heinous criticism. Tolerance of criticism is a sign of confidence. Intolerance is a symptom that what you believe may not really be true. So throw the toughest, harshest argument against what I believe, because I have faith in my own truth. Do you?

The Middle East is ripe with intolerant views that reflect the insecurity of people who refuse to see the truth. And the first truth assaulted is existence. By denying one's existence, it becomes easy to respond to provocations with violence. It's easy to kill something that doesn't exist. Easy to deny something that doesn't exist. And easy to explain to your own people when things don't go your way that it's their nonexistence that is the problem, rather than your own failure.

Palestinians and Israelis have been denying each others' existence for years.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir declared: "There was no such thing as Palestinians." Israelis still argue that Palestinians don't exist.

Arabs do the same, insisting Israel does not exist. They refer to it as "the Zionist entity". Well, if Israel doesn't exist, how can it be an entity? Why are so many people afraid of something that doesn't exist? When denying existence doesn't work, people turn to denying the celebrations of existence.

Every year, Palestinians and Israelis mark 14 May in different ways. For Israelis, who mark Israel's creation using the Jewish calendar, it's a celebration. For Palestinians, the date is one of mourning.

Both sides take the reaction of the other as an offence rather than with understanding. Arabs see Israelis celebrating their victory in anger. Israelis watch as Palestinians commemorate their failure as a tragedy. So Jews are prohibited from celebrating Israel's existence in Arab countries, and Israel is moving to adopt laws prohibiting Palestinians from celebrating the nakba [the Arabic term for the events of 1948, meaning "catastrophe"]. When banning the words that address existence doesn't work, people turn to using words that hurt.

One word that hurts Jews is apartheid. Many Jews refuse to even speak the word itself, referring to it as the A-word in much the same way that Americans revile the pejorative racist description of black people, as the N-word. The word apartheid has more power to hurt than its actual meaning, which is why Palestinians seem to have glommed on to it.

What is the word apartheid and why are we fighting over it?

The word apartheid surfaced in, of all years, 1948 as the name of a political party in South Africa that symbolised the official policy of segregating blacks from whites.

In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, apartheid evoked a sinister meaning and became a bludgeon the world used to strike down South Africa's separation of the races. South Africa's racist white regime fell and the man it had imprisoned for 25 years, Nelson Mandela, became the new South Africa's first black president.

I can understand how Israelis fear the word. It invokes the issue of separation-a word Israelis have used to describe the wall. It plays to Arab claims that Israel is a racist country that discriminates against non-Jews.

Its first victim was Jimmy Carter, who while president ushered in the first peace accord between Israel and Egypt. He wrote a book that used the A-word in the title.

I think Carter is one of the most reputable people in the world: the most caring, genuine human being who ever became a leader. But like many Arabs, Carter exaggerated the problem by using the word. Carter tried to explain he wasn't talking about Israel, but about how Israel's occupation of the West Bank evoked images of apartheid.

Israelis and Jews around the world recoiled in anger and responded with punitive attacks against his character. Although Carter has backed down, the rejectionist Arabs have not.

Rejectionist and extremist Palestinians and their Arab allies have launched "apartheid week" to attack Israel. Although they are a minority they have built up a mirage of public support by exploiting the unanswered anger of the majority in the Arab world.

The word apartheid does not really apply accurately to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. The word occupation does. But the rejectionists no longer like the word occupation. Apartheid symbolises the creation of one state, while occupation fuels the movement to create two.

In misusing the word apartheid, the rejectionists and their angry, blind followers are pushing toward re-enacting the transformation of South Africa in Israel and Palestine.

Palestinians who support "apartheid week" do so either out of sinister hatred of Jews, or out of blind, unreasoning anger that simmers because they can't properly vent. The inability to release pent up anger empowers the rejectionist minority but stems from the failures of Palestinians and Arab leadership.

When Arabs couldn't defeat Israel, they turned toward demonization. And when demonization didn't work enough, they simply exaggerated the truth. Exaggeration is a common trait among Arabs and Israelis both.

It's not easy for Israelis to deal with. Israelis also come in two categories, those who hate Arabs and those who are angry with Arabs but don't know how to deal with the issue of justice and compromise.

Most Israelis simply denounce anyone who uses the word apartheid as anti-Semitic - another abused word used as a bludgeon for those who criticise Israel.

The word anti-Semitic is to Palestinians what apartheid is to Israelis.

I could ask Palestinians, "Won't it make the creation of a Palestinian state that much harder to achieve if they put all their bets on the word apartheid?" I could ask Israelis, "Doesn't it show a weakness in your beliefs if you are so afraid of one simple word?"

Maybe the answer is that both Palestinians and Israelis live in the dark shadows of one real truth-that they have done terrible things to each other over the years.

What frightens me more than the violence that has wracked the region over the past century is when people start attacking the use of words.

Is it anti-Semitic to criticise Israel? No. Tolerance of criticism of Israel or Palestine is a sign of strength and hope.

Is it "apartheid week?" Or is it really "apartheid weak"? Rather than hold celebrations that fuel a hatred of Israel around an exaggerated word like apartheid, Palestinians should instead organise rallies and conferences that call for compromise based on peace and the creation of two states.

But Palestinians have to ask themselves the same question that Israelis must face: Do we release our anger against each other, or do we control it, and focus it on peace?

Peace and compromise are words I feel very comfortable living with, even in a backdrop of anger.


* Ray Hanania is the 2006 winner of the New America Media's "Best Ethnic American Columnist". He is a political analyst, satirist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

Source: The Jerusalem Post, 10 March 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Declare a Palestinian state
Jerome Segal
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland - France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has alarmed the Israeli government with his recent statement that "one can envision the proclamation soon of a Palestinian state, and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before negotiating its borders".

Israel fears that this will develop into a full blown European Union initiative and has warned that with this approach the Palestinians will have no motivation to resume negotiations. But this argument is not convincing. Were the international community to recognise the State of Palestine, it is likely that it would do so without specifically recognising the claimed borders of that state, just as the international community does not recognise Israel's claimed borders.

For instance, the United States has never accepted Israeli claims to sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. Moreover, international recognition does not end the occupation, nor does it solve the refugee issue, nor the problem of Jerusalem. All of these issues will require negotiations, but early statehood would put such negotiations on a state-to-state basis, and this would be valuable in a variety of ways.

Of most importance in future negotiations is the issue of security, whether Palestinian forces can prevent attacks on Israel, either suicide terrorists, or rockets fired from the West Bank. If they cannot, then Israel will not withdraw from the West Bank, regardless of what the international community says.

Over the last year, praise has been heaped on the performance of Palestinian security forces, trained under US auspices, and operating under the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. However, without progress toward genuine statehood, what is today viewed as "successful security cooperation", will in time dissolve as it comes to be viewed as Palestinian collaboration, with its security forces having become "the police of the occupation".

Under early statehood, Israel's refusal to allow non-state actors to operate militarily from the West Bank is on a much stronger footing. A government's maintenance of a monopoly of force within the area of its claimed sovereignty is one of the basic requirements of statehood.

Early statehood will also contribute toward the resolution of the issues of refugees, Jerusalem and borders. On refugees, it is clear that very few of the six million Palestinian refugees will ever return to Israel. This however, is extremely difficult for the Palestinians to absorb politically. Within the context of statehood, this difficulty is somewhat eased as it is largely untenable for any state to demand that millions of its citizens should be allowed to become citizens of another state.

With respect to borders and security issues, the Israelis have often been tone-deaf in previous negotiations, failing to realise how demeaning to Palestinian dignity were their demands to control Palestinian airspace, or to have land swaps on an unequal basis.

In the context of state-to-state negotiations, there will be some natural evolution toward the symmetries that typified Israel's negotiations with Jordan and Egypt. Similarly with Jerusalem, the state-to-state context will also be supportive of the need to find a way to share control of the holy sites and to make Jerusalem the capital of both states.

In addition, early statehood offers a way to reduce the likelihood that Hamas will undertake steps to derail negotiations. This can be attained if Hamas is assured that the international community will respect the results of Palestinian democracy, unlike 2006, when following its victory in legislative elections, Hamas was denied the ability to govern. Instead the international community laid down conditions that Hamas rejected. So far there has been no resolution.

Fortunately, the state-to-state context offers a way to deal with the problematic conditions of the Quartet-the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Thus, the demand that Hamas provide prior recognition of Israel becomes instead one of mutual state-to-state recognition, and the demand that Hamas accept previous agreements negotiated by its PLO rival becomes the standard requirement of continuity of international treaties between state entities, when new governments are elected.

With early statehood there is a chance that the Palestinians will be able to put their house in order and have a government with sufficient legitimacy to bind the Palestinian people through negotiations.

Finally, it should be noted that for the Palestinian leadership, achieving international recognition of the State of Palestine, without Israeli permission, will be an act of assertiveness that will enhance their ability to make difficult concessions in the negotiations.

For all of these reasons, while international recognition of Palestinian statehood prior to an agreement with Israel is not a magic solution, it is a highly constructive idea that may make successful negotiations a genuine possibility.


*Jerome M. Segal directs the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He is co-author of Negotiating Jerusalem. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the International Herald Tribune.

Source: The International Herald Tribune, 23 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Israeli Arabs ask Mubarak to help Shalit
Aviel Magnezi
TEL AVIV - Dozens of Kfar Kassem residents protested in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv Wednesday for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

The protestors carried a letter addressed to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asking him to aid the release of Shalit as well as the Palestinian prisoners demanded in return, and the opening of the Rafah crossing. "Who else can do it - Lieberman?" they asked in the letter.

Those present were equipped with signs in Hebrew, English and Arabic, some of them plastered with pictures of the kidnapped soldier and Israeli flags, or faceless prisoners and Palestinian flags.

Malik Faraj, founder of the Candle for Peace and Harmony organisation, which organised the demonstration, told Ynet that Israeli Arabs were tired of the state's politicians.

"There are no foreign relations here because there is no foreign minister. No one in the Arab world recognises Lieberman, and only Mubarak has the ability to execute this move," Faraj said.

"This is the message coming from the Arab people in Israel. We want peace and for all prisoners on both sides to be released. This way we can turn a new leaf over. We are sorry for Noam (Gilad Shalit's father) -Gilad is like a son to me and Noam is like a father. Enough with the comments about blood on the hands; there was a war, but now let's say enough!"

Faraj added that the demonstration had received support in Gaza. "The Gazans are happy that the Arabs in Israel have woken up and we want to convey to them the message that there are good people here who want peace," he said.

As the protest went on, many passers-by on the street in Tel Aviv clapped their hands and called out encouragement to the Kfar Kassem residents.

Ahmed Hataha, 26, explained that he was protesting in order to show that the Israeli-Arab youth also care about what happens to Shalit. "We speak about it a lot in the village, among us guys, and everyone wants the deal to go through," he said. "The bottom line is that Shalit is our age and we want him to live his life."

Ismail Badir, father of 11, explained that he sees Shalit as his son. "I believe Mubarak can make this deal happen. Many Israelis are originally from Arab countries. We are cousins, so let's give each side back its people and start over on a new path," he said.

The Egyptian ambassador did not deign to come down and receive the letter, so the protestors gave it to his aide. They now plan to protest in front of the Knesset in order to affect Israeli politicians.


* Aviel Magnezi writes for Ynetnews. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Ynetnews.

Source: Ynetnews, 03 March 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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