Quite the opposite—my experience in Israel underscored for me the urgency of working out how Palestinians could emerge from under the often-brutal Israeli occupation. I also remain committed to keeping this conflict from continually leaching into America, poisoning the relations between the religions and inspiring the worst, drunk angels of Jewish and Muslim communities to rise and fight in a pyrrhic battle. But what my first trip with the initiative did for me was this: It turned the jews into complicated humans. It exposed me to their narratives. On my first trip, i was overwhelmed by the reality that this mess seemed unfixable. But I was also overwhelmed by what I discovered was a gap in my knowledge. I was surrounded, at the hartman Institute and on my forays into places such as Tel aviv, by liberal Israelis who supported a two-state solution.
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(I stopped him after the second scenario.). Abdullah cooked up the muslim leadership Initiative with Halevi in 2013. The Shalom Hartman Institute itself was created by david Hartman, a rabbi who left Montreal for Israel in 1971. He wanted to produce thinkers who would elevate the quality of Jewish life by debating and teaching how Judaism and Israel are functioning in the modern world. The institute is now run by his son Rabbi donniel Hartman. On my first Hartman Institute trip with Abdullah, in 2013, i had been asked to lead a panel about Islamophobia in America. At the end of the panel, one of the jewish Israeli attendees had told me, resume i didnt know Muslims could be funny. Another had confessed, When I heard they were bringing Muslim leaders here, i assumed youd all be like thenIranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The bar had been low. For my second trip, the bar was a lot higher. The muslim leadership Initiative didnt turn me into a zionist interfaith Trojan horse—as ive been described by a few Muslim and Arab American activists.
Ive moved quite a distance from my student-activist days. I first met Abdullah Antepli, the imam, in 2011. Abdullah is always in search of Jewish conversation partners who are willing to discuss something more than a shared affection for hummus. He found an unlikely one in Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli journalist, a shalom london Hartman Institute fellow, and a self-described former Jewish extremist. Born in Brooklyn to holocaust survivors, halevi grew up hearing warnings from his traumatized father about how the jews will always be hated and persecuted. Unsurprisingly, halevi became radicalized as a young man. He once told me, solemnly, that he could describe 24 ways that Israel could be destroyed by its neighbors.
I became a bit actor in a never-ending cosmic drama. I would parrot a script written by others, and serve as a proxy soldier for a tragedy happening across the Atlantic. The jewish kids from the campus Hillel were my foil. We showed up to debates, predictable affairs where each side cheered and booed when appropriate but rarely engaged in a constructive dialogue. We marched, chanted, rallied. We wore zionism is racism T-shirts. We thought we were differentiating Judaism from zionism, the political ideology espoused by Theodor Herzl at the turn of the 20th century, which argued for the creation of a jewish state in the jews ancestral homeland of Israel. But too few of us Muslims bothered to ask how the many American Jews who consider themselves in some way zionist felt upon hearing that zionism was racism. Video: The most Contentious Place on Earth.
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My father never dusted off. The Protocols of literature the Elders of zion from the living-room bookshelf. Instead, i carpooled to an all-male jesuit high school with my jewish neighbor Brian, with whom I never debated the implications of the wars of 1948 or 1967, but with whom I did regularly have heated exchanges about the merits. Star Trek: The next Generation versus, star Trek: deep Space nine. Growing up, i was taught that Christians and Jews were considered people of the book, part of the same Abrahamic tradition as Muslims. But the specter of Israel, the suffering of Palestinians, and the occupation of Jerusalem in particular loomed large in conversations at home and in the religious teachings I received. When visiting pakistan, i heard relatives and friends lament how the jews oppressed the muslims.
In America, the muslims i knew discussed their envy of Jewish power and influence: If only we muslims were as organized and strategic as the jews, we could replicate their success. Among my community, respect for the jews mythical status as the magical minority was its own subtle form of anti-semitism. Sometimes my dad would read aloud the credits at the end of a movie and say, spielberg jewish. See, wajahat, if Jews can dominate hollywood, theres no reason you cant! As an undergraduate at uc berkeley, i was a member of the muslim Student Association. I recall listening to more passionate khutbahs —Friday sermons—about the injustices in Palestine than stories about the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. The conflict in the holy land superseded all other Muslim suffering, including the ongoing occupation of Kashmir, the repression of Chechen Muslims, and the daily review racism experienced by many African-American Muslims.
He proffered his passport, mixing his Turkish-accented English with bits of Arabic and Hebrew. Abdullah, who is usually jovial, reddened as his frustration grew. The irony was thick. Abdullah, an imam and the director of Muslim affairs at duke university, as well as a teacher in the divinity school there, was in Jerusalem to head a delegation from the muslim leadership Initiative, which he created with the Shalom Hartman Institute. The initiative brings American Muslims to the proudly zionist Hartman Institute, headquartered in Jerusalem, for an intensive course about Judaism—and about how Jews understand the meaning of zionism.
Not me, i lied to the officer while pointing to Abdullah, who on a good day looks every one of his 44 years; that day, fortuitously, was not a good day. Okay, you come, the young officer said to Abdullah, allowing the exasperated imam inside the compound. You stay, he said to me officiously. With my small lie, abdullah, ostensibly a security threat, walked in at the nearest entry point—a darkly comic episode in a surreal landscape, where everyone is perpetually nervous and obsessed with security. I grew up eating, hebrew National kosher hot dogs in my Fremont, california, home. Back then, halal meat was alien to the local supermarket, so jewish dietary restrictions came to the rescue of an overweight pakistani American kid. Straightforward anti-semitism was not taught in my muslim household or in weekend Koran classes.
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Its a real-estate dispute, yes, but seeded with a profound religious complexity that casts a shadow across roles the middle east, and all the way to America, where many jewish and Muslim communities circle each other with apprehension and mistrust. The young Israeli soldier about asked. He inspected. Passport, hunting for my birth date. Muslim men who are 49 pose an existential threat to Israel; at 50, evidently, we turn into neutered kittens. Which means that all that stood between me and my chance to perform Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque was a simple lie—as well as a squad of nervous soldiers carrying automatic rifles. I figured Allah would give me a celestial get-out-of-jail-free card for a white lie, but I havent aged horribly and cant pass for. The soldier asked again, as I was pushed in the back by the bottleneck of Muslims trying to squeeze into a narrow gap. Next to me, abdullah Antepli, my guide and traveling companion, pleaded with another soldier.
the holy one, and, many hope, the site of a future palestinian capital; its currently occupied territory. For Jews, its their biblical home, finally liberated and reunified in 1967, a dream fulfilled after 2,000 years. For Christians, its the home of the Church of the holy sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of Jesuss crucifixion and entombment. Peace now, ever since the creation of the modern state of Israel—a miracle for the jews, the. Nakba (catastrophe) for the palestinians—Jerusalems daily weather forecast could be described as sunny with a slight chance of apocalypse. The city frequently erupts; lives are lost on both sides. Israelis fear their Palestinian neighbors, and Palestinians are suffocated and immiserated by the Israeli occupation.
Typically, when violence happens in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israeli authorities ban men younger than 50 from entering Haram al-Sharif, the compound known to jews and Christians as the temple mount. And there had just been a small—by middle eastern standards anyway—spasm of violence. Three palestinians had shot and killed two Israeli police officers near al-Aqsa mosque inside haram al-Sharif, which diary led to Israeli retaliations, which led to mass Palestinian protests, which led to yet another predictable round of stories datelined Jerusalem about the legendary middle eastern cycle. When I had arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, outside tel aviv, a few days earlier, i had not anticipated this conundrum. This was not my first time in Israel. Im a pakistani-American Muslim, and ive been to Israel more times than half the jews i know. At the airport, i had been greeted by the giant, flawless face of the model Bar Refaeli, stretched across a billboard to sell me designer sunglasses. Tel aviv is modern, its politics are progressive (at least by the dysfunctional standards of the middle east and much of the food there isnt kosher.
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Image above: a palestinian worker in Shiloh tends to the grounds of what some jews believe was the first capital of the Israelite kingdom. I was here to report on Jewish settlers, the 600,000 citizens of Israel living beyond its pre-1967 borders. My year main concern was whether the normally guarded and cautious settler community would open up and talk to me: a brown-skinned, practicing Muslim from the United States. The Old City, should I lie to an Israeli soldier in order to be allowed to pray? This was a theological dilemma i never studied in Sunday school, one i never thought I would have to confront. Anxious and on edge, the soldier was standing in front of me, rifle in hand, blocking my way, and all I had to do was tell him I was 50 years old, and then I could pray at one of Islams holiest sites. One minor problem:.