Jeremy Bassali

A Flock in the Arab’s Bookshop

Friends, I had the pleasure of spending a week in the Holy Land with you.

We learned, we laughed, we connected to our roots, and we shared Jewish rituals with one another.

But on Saturday night, my friends, I felt miles away from you all. You were on one side of the ocean, and I stood way at the other end. And still, I stand firmly in my beliefs. What we did that night was dangerous. Well-intentioned, yes, but remarkably controversial and utterly irresponsible. Do you remember that night, friends? The pain of that experience stays with me to this day.

The group was herded into the bookshop’s basement.

As we grabbed our seats and quieted down, the intensity in the air weighed down on us. After all, we were deep in Jerusalem, sitting in a Palestinian’s bookshop. He sat up front on a cushioned chair, a knitted scarf resting on his shoulders, a cup of nana tea cupped between his palms.

I never saw his face though, friends. I never looked him in the eyes, didn’t give him a moment of recognition or respect. But to this day, I hear his voice clearly in my head.

“Welcome to my bookshop.”

He told us about his father and the suffering he endured to keep the shop running despite Israeli oppression. He framed my brothers and sisters in the IDF as monsters. The hateful rhetoric was unbearable

He told us that he would like to convert to Judaism so that he too could vote in Israeli elections and lead a normal life. “Why may I not convert?” he asked. “Why? Because I don’t have J-positive blood flowing through my veins?”

Friends, why didn’t you stop him at that moment? Where was your self-respect, your commitment to defending the Jewish name, to our Jewish brethren who perished because of hatred like this? Why did you stay silent?

Why did you say nothing when he referred to his life as “my struggle”?

Why didn’t you do a double-take when I pointed out the Nazi propaganda and Holocaust denial books sitting on his shop’s shelves? Why did you stay silent?

You sat and listened, hoping to gain some insight, to stir up some empathy within your biased, pro-Israel thoughts. But friends, who can empathize with a Holocaust denier? With a man whose leadership refused the right to vote in Israeli elections, a man who ignores the Jewish law permitting conversion? Why did you stay silent?

Why didn’t you tell him that he indeed could vote? That first of all, Judaism isn’t a race determined by blood type, and second, that he could apply for voting rights as a Palestinian? Where was your sensitivity to Holocaust-themed Jew-hatred? Why did you stay silent?

You were like a flock of sheep. You wanted to feel for him, and you left his shop with sorrow and a renewed determination to end the fighting. But he slipped something into your pockets before you left: He slipped you his lies.

He made no mention of the fact that today, he could add the word “Palestinian” to his bookshop’s name once again. That the circumstances had changed and that his life was far better than what he was painting it for you.

He made no mention of the conflict or the terror that his brothers carry out on ours. And when one of you brave souls brought it up, he brushed it off as if it were irrelevant. He never once condemned their actions. Why did you stay silent?

My brothers and sisters, my friends, you are all dear to my heart. We share a common love for the Jewish State, the only state that’s ever truly been ours. So I must warn you: never have empathy for a man like him.

You can strive for peace and work for it with all your might, but only when the Palestinians put down the stabbing knife and end the attacks. Only when they are willing to recognize their children’s Jihad as a sin, not a tragedy. Only when they stop playing victim and come clean with the honest truth.

He was not trying to tell you his life story that Saturday night in the small bookshop basement. He was planting a thought in your minds. He wouldn’t want peace if it was offered to him on a silver platter. How do I know? Because that silver platter has passed before the eyes of people like him time and again.

I want peace just as much as you all do, my friends. But I only want peace that’s rooted in mutual yearning for a better life, not a transaction. You can’t establish peace in exchange for an end to terror attacks, because as soon as the desire for peace dissipates or the desire to cause terror rejuvenates, all is lost.

I will look that man in the eyes when he denounces his people’s terrorism.

I will revisit his shop when he takes the Nazi propaganda off his shelves.

I will shake his hand and forge a peace agreement when he ends the victimizing lies and instead focuses on a truthful narrative.

My friends, do not be herded towards the doomful lies of Palestinian “peace-seekers”. Do not forget the lies your grandparents were told in the Poland ghettos. In the rural Iranian towns. In the countless stories we’ve heard from Jews who were tricked by their enemies.

Do not forget the peace agreements our leaders wrote that remain untouched by the Palestinians. Do not forget the sacrifices our soldiers make to defend us.

And for the love of God, do not stay silent in the face of his vile lies again! Our people gave up too much. Do not reach out your own hand unless you know what’s hidden in the other man’s palm.

Never again means never again.

About the Author
Jeremy Bassali is a Yeshiva student in the New York region. He is currently participating in the Write on for Israel program and is involved in pro-Israel advocacy at school and in the local community.
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