Rachel Wahba

Thomas Friedman’s “Arab Grocer”

I can imagine Mr. Sasson, Thomas Friedman’s “Arab grocer” in the 2012 re-issue of “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” shake his head with a “what’s the use trying to get this guy to understand…”

In “Talking with my Arab Grocer,” Friedman takes the trouble to introduce us to Sasson, a Baghdadi Arabic Jewish immigrant, owner of a grocery store in Jerusalem.  Friedman explains Sasson’s “whole life” as a Jew in Iraq “left him with the convictions that the Arabs would never willingly accept a Jewish state in their midst.”

However, in his self described “optimism” the American Friedman challenges Sasson’s conviction that “any concessions towards the Palestinians would eventually be used to liquidate the Jewish state.” Friedman believes not only in concessions but imagines Israel and Palestine as a troubled couple who must commit to each other by “impregnating” each other.

For that to happen, the mindsets of the Sassons of Israel have to be worked on. He sees his Arab Jew grocer as emblematic of a situation ripe for adjusting. Friedman sees Israel’s Arab Jews, a powerful voting block, as the untapped resource that has the potential to force peace in the region. Once Arab Jews move past tribal primitivism, they will potentially be pivotal in realizing Friedman’s solution that the two nations (Israel and Palestine) commit to by impregnating each other and be forced to co-exist.

Meanwhile, right now, Kerry and the Obama administration are desperately trying to modify the mindset of the Jewish state by encouraging Israel to make a concession that no other country would ever be asked or expected to do.  Israel is pressured to accept the ludicrous position held by Abbas, that the talking of peace and coexistence is not contingent on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. No Islamic country will agree that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. Israel is pressured to accept the Palestinian position articulated by Abbas as a “first step” towards a peace treaty.

Goodbye Zionism. Goodbye Jewish Israel.

Friedman makes a point of saying he used to be a super-champion of Israel in his youth. Too often I hear Jews claim passionately how they “used to be a Zionist.”  What happened? Do ex-Zionists wake up one day and look in the mirror and see their self image/Israel as flawed? Were these “I-used-to -be -a Zionist” Jews so deflated by the realization that Israel was a nation-state with all its political blunders, a besieged country forced into wars from day one, and still struggling to survive? That Israel’s only legitimacy lay in being a “light unto nations?”

Given what Israel has to deal with since its inception I think it’s shining plenty of light into the world. In fact this tiny country the size of New Jersey contributes more to the world than all the Arab nations combined by far.

With Hitler’s demise along with the torture and slaughter of 6 million Jews, a traumatized People were granted their ancient homeland back. Survivors from the horror of the European “Final Solution” poured into the modern State of Israel in l948. Two years later, Jews from Arab lands, victims of Arab rage, became the majority population of refugees in Israel.

The Holocaust is enough of a reason for the creation of a Jewish State, however the majority of refugees who poured into Israel were Jews from Arab lands expelled penniless from their countries all over the Middle East and North Africa.  The reality that these Jews now had a Jewish country to represent them was intolerable.

For Jews to be sovereign in our own land instead of being under Islam’s thumb is Haram, a sinful shame, an abomination. Traumatized, penniless Jews from all over the Arab Islamic world were settled, under extreme hardship, in tents in a brand new poor country, Israel of the 1950’s. Thousands of penniless Jews from intensely disparate cultural backgrounds from Russia to Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Poland, and later Ethiopia, found refuge in Israel.

The disgrace is what happened to the Palestinian refugees, a very different picture than what happened to Jewish Arab refugees. The numbers of Arab Jewish refugees mirror the numbers of displaced Palestinians. The haram is on the oil rich Arab states as they continue to cultivate the Palestinians as “refugees,” as human ammunition against the Jewish state.

And now we have brilliant “I used to be a Zionist” Jews and Mr. Kerry prescribing Israel to do what exactly? Friedman’s idea is to tap into and change the minds (erase their history) of the Sassons of Israel. Once this large Arab Jewish base is handled, the Palestinians and Israelis will be free to commit by impregnating each other and be forced to co-exist.  Kerry representing the Obama administration wants Israel to accept the concept of not being a Jewish country.

The Palestinians continue to echo the old song of the Arab world a Jewish country is simply intolerable and must be dismantled one way or the other. A Jew must be bowed in front of a Muslim. A Jewish Israel is haram. The Arab nations cry false tears for the Palestinians, waiting for the day their tears and United Nations appeals will accomplish what their wars did not. Instead of caring for their Arab family, the Arab states waged deadly wars on Israel.

Why are the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries not granted citizenship and equal rights as the Iraqi, Syrian, Yemenite, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Libyan, Moroccan, Jews became Israeli? What if Palestinians could have been settled and integrated into the oil rich Arab states instead of being kept in refugee camps, fed on hatred towards Israel and trained to be homicide bombers? Bullied into collusion, the Arab states use the Palestinians literally as live ammunition in their war to erase the Jewish state. They teach their children in nursery school that Israeli soldiers kill Mickey Mouse. Schoolbooks are full of hate and preparation for future suicide bombers.

Kerry is doing power politics as usual, but Friedman and all the “once upon a time I used to be a Zionist but still care about Israel crowd,” are not seeing clearly. Mirror Mirror on the wall, what happened to Israel being the fairest of them all? I look in the mirror and see a generic Jew. A flawed, confused, passionate Jew filled with light and shadows. I look at a map and see a tiny Israel besieged by Arab states repulsed by having to stomach an independent Jewish state in “their” midst.

Kerry needs to understand Friedman’s Arab grocer’s history and wisdom, and realize how untenable this “first step” of delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish country is. Its been a long journey home, for all Jews whether we live in Israel or not. Friedman, show some respect to your (Jewish) Arab grocer. He does not represent an untapped resource for an unviable marriage. It is time to validate what history and the map show us. Even if Israel and the Palestinians do what Friedman suggests, Sasson knows the in-laws surrounding them will scream haram.

About the Author
Rachel Wahba is a San Francisco Bay Area based writer, psychotherapist and the co-founder of Olivia Travel. An Egyptian-Iraqi Jew, Rachel was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. The many dimensions of her exile and displacement are a constant theme in her professional work as well as her activism as an advisory board member for JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).