I began this blog by offering it as a public forum in the hope that more people would step forward and tell their own stories. When the stories came too slowly, I began to write up more of my own thoughts. They've been well received and Breath of the Beast has grown.
I have never given up hope of hearing from others, though, because I believe that the sharing of authentic experience Is the most effective way to spread the awareness of the danger that stalks us all. I have been honored to post the first person accounts of five courageous and insightful men and women who have experienced brushes with the multi-headed beast of Caliphate Islam with its terrorism (Erica Sherman), misogyny (Mark Nelson, Jim Glendenning and Phyllis Chesler), and the insipid multiculturalism (Nancy Coppock) that enables it.
Now, just a year into the enterprise, Irad ben Zvi has stepped forward to be the sixth. His is a very serious and subtle account of a few incidents that have made up his beast encounter. It is a unique perspective and his observations are most revealing. Irad ben Zvi is an Israeli physician, working in Chicago. Here is his story:
I have a patient in my medical practice, a very gentle and polite Muslim Egyptian. We became friendly over the years, and he brought in his wife as a new patient. She was a Coptic Christian from a well-to-do family. She had a "liberal" upbringing and she even attended university in Cairo. Before moving to the US, she lived in Gaza and visited Tel-Aviv many times. She told me about her relatives living in London, South America, and the US. She seemed to come from a truly modern, cosmopolitan family. She had a nephew, also a Christian, who moved to Gaza. I asked her if her nephew felt intimidated by the Hamas government in Gaza. She answered that there are only 5,000 Christians in Gaza today, and they have all learned to keep a low profile. When I asked her why her nephew stayed in Gaza despite discrimination against Christians, she replied that he wanted to "fight the Zionists." I asked her why Gazans were still fighting after the Israelis had already left Gaza? She replied that Gazans are defending themselves from the Zionists, who threaten to "shoot every Arab and throw them into the sea!" I told her this is utter nonsense. I reminded her that this quote came from Egyptian president Gamal Nasser in 1967, and originally referred to Arab intentions toward the Jews. I then asked her why the good people of Gaza don't stop the few radical terrorists in their midst from firing rockets into Sderot? She replied that everyone in Gaza supports the rocket attacks. "Why?" I asked incredulously, to which she replied that it was a part of the struggle against the "Zionist occupation." I reminded her that Sderot was over a mile from the border of Gaza and well within the 1949 Armistice Lines that defined the State of Israel until the 1967 War. I also pointed out that Sderot has no military bases, and that the rockets are hurting innocent civilians. She replied melodramatically: "When the people of Gaza look out across the border to Sderot, they see their former homes. They yearn for their land! They just want their homes back!" Her impassioned pleas were worthy of an Oscar®. But this critic doesn't buy such nonsense. Gaza residents would need super-human vision to see their homes from over a mile away, past security barriers and walls. More importantly, if they wanted their homes back so badly, then why are they destroying them with rockets and mortars? Perhaps I was taking her too literally. English is her second language, after all. Perhaps she was speaking metaphorically. So I re-stated the question: "If, for the sake of argument, Sderot was built on the site of a previous Arab village, why then should innocent people living in Sderot today have to suffer for a 60 year old battle they had nothing to do with? If an Arab really had proof of ownership of any land in Israel, then I am certain there are dozens of Israeli lawyers willing to represent them in front of the Israeli Supreme Court. These disputes can be resolved without a single rocket fired." She completely ignored my appeal to judicial conflict resolution, and repeated the hackneyed phrase that "Palestinians are desperate! They have nothing left to loose!" She was clearly unwilling to address the moral implications of terrorism. From her perspective, the displacement of Arabs 60 years ago was a crime that deserves eternal worldwide media attention, and justifies bloody vigilante retribution against innocent bystanders today. In stark contrast, the present-day suffering, displacement, and deaths of completely innocent Israeli civilians is not criminal, and barely deserves acknowledgment in any media reports. If hers was the voice of liberal, educated, and affluent Arabs, then I, too, have felt the breath of the beast.
I eventually told her that I was born in Tel-Aviv, that my father was Ben-Gurion's bodyguard, and that I strongly support preserving Israel as a Jewish state. She was immediately embarrassed for having spoken so ill of Israelis. She realized I had caught her in the act of spreading false propaganda. I had exposed her anti-Semitism. When her husband returned to see me, he brought a box of halvah as a present, and he apologized, not for anything she said specifically, but for her "getting carried away." They both still see me, and they even referred their children as patients. The lesson I learned is that political correctness is not the answer to conflict resolution. Political correctness creates a false veneer of civility that hides deep seated hatred. If the source of the hatred is never addressed, it will never be resolved, especially if the source is misinformation.
I will admit that it doesn't always work out positively. An Iranian patient once visited my office, and, upon learning that I was Israeli, never came back. Yet another Iranian family has returned frequently and brought in their children. I am also friendly with a deeply religious Pakistani family. One of the sons has even taken flying lessons! My family ate at their house. The men and women gathered in separate parts of the house. We watched them pray after the meal, and we even engaged in a lively discussion about Israel. I am certain that I am the only Israeli they have ever met in their lives. Our families still join for social gatherings, and I feel perfectly comfortable in their home. While I would not feel safe visiting Pakistan, here in the United States I feel secure in engaging my would-be enemies in friendly political discussions.
Frank discussions are the most productive. During all my conversations, I never engage in personal attacks, and I never raise my voice. I also never back away from the facts, no matter how inconvenient they may be. By standing my ground, metaphorically speaking, I establish my self dignity. Only then could I confidently extend my hand and affirm my Arab friend's dignity. Middle East debates have the potential of becoming highly emotionally charged. I am cautious in avoiding emotionally labile personalities, in choosing the topic of discussion, and in deciding when to start and stop a discussion. My discussions have also been restricted to individuals with stable careers and at least some Western education.
One consistent observation I made from all of these encounters is that, by gaining the respect of my potential enemies, I could create lasting friendships. I learned that religious Muslims respect Jews who are knowledgeable about Judaism; secular Arabs respect Jews who are knowledgeable about history. Everyone respects a Jew who has a strong sense of his/her own identity, and who doesn't apologize for it. I learned that in Arab culture, rhetoric is a well developed art form. Everything and anything can be used in the service of persuasion, including a combination of facts, fiction, poetry, hyperbole, sweetness, and graphic violence. One moment I may hear a sincere, impassioned plea for Israel to "just give Palestinians a chance to show the goodness in their hearts." Yet, when I point out the inconvenient fact that the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel, I am told not to pay any attention to that, "it is all just rhetoric." I am reminded of the haggling that goes on in the Arab markets, where the cost of a rug can start at $1000, and ends up at $20. But I am quick to point out that Hamas not only uses violent rhetoric, they act on it. Sometimes debates become contests of who can recite the most historical facts. If I get the upper hand, the debate will suddenly morph into recitations about international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. If I successfully rebut these arguments, the discussion swerves into poetic sentimentalism about human rights and dignity. If I counter with the need for Jewish rights and dignity, I may get hit with accusations of Jewish racism. If I counter with Arab racism and point out the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, the conversation can take yet another turn. It can seem frustrating and futile. I often wonder if anything I am saying has any influence on them. If it is nothing more than a chess match, then all I can hope to accomplish is to gain their respect. It may seem like a lot of work for seemingly little effect, but I do believe it lays a foundation from which one can build. At the very least, I show that I am not afraid to talk face-to-face, and that I care enough to argue.
What have I learned from my Christian patients? Regardless of the denomination, the more devout they are in their faith, the friendlier they are toward me as a Jew, and the more sympathetic they are toward Israel. The most fervent Zionist I know is a Messianic Jew. We get along very well and share many of the same concerns about the world. Yes, he did invite me to worship at his church, but I didn't let that bother me. Instead, I suggested that I give his congregation a presentation about "Israel and the New Anti-Semitism." We're still working out the details. To all my Christian friends, I wish you a Very Merry Christmas! (editor's note: see this post- http://breathofthebeast.blogspot.com/2007/12/plea-for-merry-christmas.html ) I am truly overwhelmed by the love and support I have received from all of you.
Finally, to my liberal, secular, self-effacing Jewish friends, I wish you luck. You may think you are building cross-cultural bridges. In reality, you are building a house of cards. While you may show deep and abiding respect to your Arab and Muslim friends, they do not respect you. They see you as traitors to your own people. They see you as weak, immoral and unprincipled. The more you give, in your attempt to buy their friendship, the more they will demand from you, and the less they will respect you.
In his accompanying email Irad added:
My feelings towards my Arab and Muslim friends are mixed. I am fully aware that
they can turn against me at any time. But I try to set aside my feelings while
pursuing a more important goal. The only way to learn about a rival is to stay
close to them. I certainly don't work for any government, but I understand how
Israel excels in human intelligence. I instinctively want to learn as much as I
can about them. I want to know what they think about me, and where they get
Perhaps I can convince them to seek different sources of
information. As far as changing Islam's attitudes toward dhimmi, that will
probably take a few more centuries, so I don't try to argue about such
fundamental problems in the religion. I am convinced that cautious political
engagement is important. My father told me that during all of Israel's wars, the
Israeli government was in constant contact with its enemies, using back
channels. I see the wisdom in that. Unfortunately, I don't see much wisdom in
the current Israeli government. But, in time, they too shall pass.
In typical Israeli fashion, Irad does not speak directly of his feelings but his story may have even more emotional impact because of this reticence. The doctor-patient relationship is an interesting twist on the Beast Encounter in three dimensions. First, because a physician may have a very personal power over his patients. He can tell them that they "must" eat, behave and even live differently; he evaluates and informs them of the state of their body. By the state of their bodies he knows things about them that they may not even admit to themselves. He sees them naked in body and soul. This power relationship is complicated by the Arab honor-shame culture in which it is considered to be acceptable to lie, dissemble and behave dishonorably unless other people know (and verbalize) that you are guilty of those things. The whole situation is redolent of the Court Jews who, down through the centuries, served Caliphs and Sheiks while being treated as dhimmis.
Irad is no dhimmi. He gives as good as he gets and I'll wager he has more of an effect on his Arab patients than he gives himself credit for. His description of the typical Arab debating sequence of wild accusation and mis-representation of historical fact, cynical argumentation of dubious legalisms, and pathetic appeal to shame and emotion, all with the express aim not of getting to a resolution of the problem but of exhausting the resources and resistance of the opposition rings absolutely true. It strips the cynical honor-shame (anyone interested in a very clear explanation of honor-shame should look here) tactics naked and exposes the hypocrisy of it. His goodwill and open-mindedness is combined with exactly the right amounts of knowledge, realism and self-preservation. If we only had more like him!