Ezra M. Tawil

The future of Gaza: A dream.

I hope that over the next few months, the IDF soundly defeats Hamas.  Yet no matter how decisive the military victory, a triumph seems unlikely.  When the shooting stops, the inevitable question:  now what?   Reverting to the previous status quo is unthinkable; but what alternative plausibly exists?

Given the current Arab mindset, I don’t see a way out.  But things need to change.  So let’s dream:  Let’s imagine a Palestinian leader who articulates a vision of co-existence that resonates with his fellow Muslims.  Let’s name this imaginary person Ahmed Darwish.  More than any billions of dollars in foreign aid, inspired leadership is the one thing that Palestinians  – & Israelis  – desperately need.  Below, is a rumination that looks back at our day from the vantage point a half century in the future, after the current paradigm is changed by this imagined leader.

So: it’s the year 2075.  A Palestinian father is speaking with his teenage son who asks him a question:   What’s with the Jews?

The Jews?  What do I think about the Jews?  Well, I know you hear all kinds of things about them.  Some nice; some not so nice.  So what do I think?   Let me start with a fact that I’m sure you’ve heard before, but which some Arabs still don’t like to acknowledge:  the Jews are our cousins.  Not our brothers, granted.  But we are related.  Even Jido (grandfather in Arabic) doesn’t deny that the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, had several sons. The Arabs are the children of his oldest, Ishmael.  But the Holy Quran also records that his son Ishak is the forefather of the Jewish people as well.   Everyone agrees on that.         

In fact, we actually have a lot in common with them.  Take language.  Have you ever noticed how close Arabic & Hebrew are?   (Pointing to his head, eye & hand)  We say: ras, ‘ayn, and eed; they say: rosh, ayin, & yad.  They’re the same words.  When you’re thirsty, you drink maye’ here in Gaza, and mayim  in Tel Aviv.  Our word for “son” is ibn; theirs is ben.  We greet someone with  ”salaam aleykum”; they say “shalom aleichem”.   We pray to al-Rahman  – the Merciful One; their prayers begin with:  “El male Rahamim” –  God, full of mercy. 

So we’re related by blood, and our languages are very similar.  Since we touched on prayers, I should point out that the area we have the most in common is  – believe it or not  – religion.  You know, Muslims take the idea of a single God very seriously.  “La ilaha illa Allah.”  There is no God but Allah.  This belief is much more important than any ritual or practice.  And on this very vital point, we share the same exact  belief as Jews. You may not be aware, but most Muslim traditions don’t regard the Trinity to be consistent with monotheism, and so consider Christians to be polytheists.  So of the world’s 8 billion people, there are  – again, this is according to strict Islam  – exactly two people that have this right:  Muslims & Jews.    

And when it comes to religious practice, again, look how similar we are.  Observant Jews pray three times a day, facing Jerusalem; devout Muslims pray five times a day, facing Mecca.  They fast one day a year on Kippur; we fast every day for the month of Ramadan.  They don’t eat pork & their meat is ritually slaughtered to be kosher; we don’t eat pork, and our meat is ritually slaughtered to be halal. 

Now.  I know there some families that still teach their children that the Jews are bad; they’re thieves, whatever.  That’s the way it was taught in the old days.  Ask Sito (Grandma) about her childhood; she’ll tell you.  Her parents weren’t bad people; that’s just how they were brought up: the Nakba, the Nakba, the Nakba.  It was drilled into them as children.   It’s so hard to get that out of a person.

But everything changed with Farid Darwish.  He was the key.  There’s a reason we celebrate his birthday & sing songs about him until today.  He was the first Palestinian leader  – really, the first Arab leader, after Sadat  – to show a different way.  A way of living together with the Jews.  Not just a vision of co-existence; that was proposed before.  But his daring idea that the real Nakba  – the real catastrophe  – was not Israel’s independence, but rather, the Arab rejection of Israel.  That concept was blasphemy!  To you, it seems normal; that’s how you’re taught in school.  But in those days, it was an insanely radical thing for an Arab leader to say.  People literally thought he was crazy.  But he had a gift.  The old timers say he could convince you that black was white.  They say the Arabic of his speeches was so beautiful, it was like listening to music. I’m sure you’ve seen downloads of his speeches.  He’s a master.  And the people were so mesmerized by his rhetoric, that when he proposed radical new ideas, they didn’t stone him; they continued to listen.  And little by little, his ideas started to sink in. All the phrases you are taught in school:  “Children of Ibrahim”.   “Mutual respect”.  “Partners in Peace.”   But it wasn’t just his oratory; it was his timing.  As I said, the people heard the same worn out slogans for 75 years, and were desperate to try something  – anything  – new.  And that’s when Darwish came along.    

If you remember your history, you know that the year 2024 was the low point.  It was a disaster.  After the last Hamas war with Israel, Gaza was a hellscape.  When you & your friends think of Gaza now, the first thing that comes to mind are beautiful beaches & the marina.  But it was very different then.  Jido can tell you stories of how bad things got.  Bombed-out neighborhoods.  No jobs.  No hope for the future. They had hit rock bottom.  But you know what? When people hit bottom, sometimes they’re willing to try anything.  And that’s what happened with Darwish.  You know some people claim he was a prophet.  I’m not going to get into that; it doesn’t really matter.  But whatever the reason  – hitting rock bottom, divine inspiration, or just luck  – for whatever reason, he started to speak about living together with the Jews.  Not, as some Arab leaders previously suggested  -temporarily, until we were strong enough to conquer them.  But permanently. “Not on a piece of paper; but in our hearts”.  I’m quoting Darwish here; you probably recognize that famous line.  And, as I said – it could be that the people were so tired of war, so tired of hearing the same lie that the Jews will eventually leave, so tired failing again & again, that they were willing to try something new.  Not everyone, of course.  A lot of people just couldn’t break the habits of a lifetime.  But there were enough people willing to give it a try. 

So 2025.  That’s when it started.  The war also changed Israel.  Though they destroyed Hamas, in Israel, the hardliners were completely discredited. After the war, the politicians who had assured the public that Palestinians could be occupied and denied their political rights indefinitely were thrown out of office and moderates were voted in.  It was a landslide.  So when Darwish came along, we were lucky that there was someone on the other side willing to listen.  And so, after 75 years, they finally worked it out.  It didn’t happen overnight, of course.  You know the famous picture of Darwish on the White House Lawn signing a peace agreement with Israel; that was 2028.   And then came the 20 year phase out; little by little – til 2048  when the Israel pulled out the last remaining troops from Palestine & Gaza.   It was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Israel’s independence.  Those were crazy years.  Each side not sure til the very end if the other would hold up its end of the bargain.  And of course there were setbacks & struggles.  There always are.  But I think the memory on both sides of the terrible war of 2024 was enough to keep both sides from walking away. 

As I said, not without some bumps.  Palestine was much poorer and less developed than Israel, and some Arabs suspected the Jews of a trick.  But somehow, with all the suspicion on both sides, it worked.  I was eighteen years old in 2048, so I still remember the last parts of the handover.   It’s funny.  The young people were excited, but growing up, all we heard about was the phase-out and independence.  So it seemed somewhat natural.  It was the older generations who couldn’t believe what was happening in front of their eyes.  And that was 25 years ago!  If they were here today?  If they could see you & your friends drive to Israel to play the latest hologram games, like it’s no big deal, they literally would think they were dreaming.  But you kids…. to you, it’s normal!  You don’t know how lucky you are!  You know, I have an Israeli client & we have lunch occasionally.  And he always tells the same joke:  the prophecy in their Holy Book about the lion lying down together with the lamb finally came true.  After a pause, he grins & delivers the punchline:  but tell me:  who is the lion & who is the lamb?  And we both laugh.  

We laugh.  Now.  But the road to where we are was paved with a lot of blood & tears.  Just be happy that we found a better way.  I want to leave you with one last thought.  Especially when I hear some of your friends say insulting things about Jews.  I know it sounds harmless; just joking that Israelis are rude or their girls are promiscuous.   But you and your friends take for granted how good you have it.  You think co-existence is natural.  It is not.  It’s fragile, and God forbid, it can fall apart.  The job of your generation is to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

So: who are the Jews?  They’re our cousins and our rivals.  Our fellow monotheists.  Our old enemies; our obnoxious neighbors.  By some crazy fluke of history, your generation has been blessed with a chance that many never thought was possible.  Don’t blow it.

About the Author
Ezra is a member of the Syrian-Sephardic community in Brooklyn. Graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush. His primary concern these days is to pass on the Sephardic tradition of a Halachic lifestyle to his grandchildren, and to teach them to embrace liberal - but not woke! - values.