Ali Salem traveled to a place that only exists as an “entity” in the minds of some, yet discovered it is real. He wrote a book about the three-week trip called “A Drive to Israel.”
Years later, the place that is real wanted to recognize his bold trek, but his country would not allow him to be honored.
I’ve always wondered at this inconsistent practice of avoiding reality; it may not be unique to the Middle East conflict but is commonly practiced by both sides there when it comes to words and free thought:
Arabs and Israelis pretend that the other side doesn’t exist, as if they will just go away.
And when they don’t go away, they attack that which doesn’t exist and kill the non-existent civilians of the non-existent enemy that is so threatening.
Imagine how powerful each side might be if it really did exist?
We can find examples of this extremism on both sides. Golda Meir declared that the Palestinians don’t exist, upsetting my father to no end. And, for many years, Israel banned the Palestinian flag and struck images of Palestine from their maps.
The Arabs, too, refer to Israel as “the Zionist entity,” strike references to Israel from their maps and denounce it all as “normalization.” What a contradiction that is. There is nothing normal about opposing normalization.
Sari Nusseibeh had the courage to speak out against a counterproductive policy by a British teachers union to boycott an Israeli university that affiliated with a Jewish settler community called Ariel. Arab critics called for his head, denounced his opinions as traitorous, but worse, branded what he did as “normalization” that should not be tolerated. God forbid that we have any normal people negotiating an end to this abnormal conflict.
We know that all this comes from unrestrained emotions, and maybe a little too much sun. It’s hot there.
Arabs and Jews also have a tendency of kissing everything except their enemies. We kiss walls, kiss camels, kiss the cheeks of our relatives three times - anything less than three times is a sign of disrespect, which is why so many Israeli officials never wanted to kiss the late President Yasser Arafat’s stubbled five-day growth.
We can’t even agree on terms. The West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Arab East Jerusalem have different meanings in Israel, where Israelis refer to them as “Judea and Samaria,” and “Israel’s eternal capital that will never fall into the hands of the Arabs.”
Palestinians say they are “occupied.” Israelis say they are “disputed.” Palestinians can’t be too occupied if the unemployment rate is sky-high. Is it a wall? A fence? Or a barrier? Even such gruesome terms as “suicide bombings” have many different alternatives, such as “martyrdom operations” or “homicide attacks.”
Maybe that’s the problem. When Palestinians and Israelis finally reach the negotiating table, they literally can’t speak the same language.
Of course, maybe it’s just the “kha” sound, which is also unique to Arabs and Israelis. We’re the only people in the world that have that harsh sounding syllable in our vocabularies.
I can just see how a meeting might have gone between former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat back when peace seemed to be at hand.
“Khello, you Jordanian in denial,” Barak begins.
“Khello back, you Zionist Entity,” Arafat replies.
“Khwat’s the topic this morning?” Barak asks.
“Khonfis-khastions of khomes and khilltops,” Arafat answers.
“No. Let’s khalk about khamas,” Barak replies.
Even if you “khan’t” understand what just took place, the spitting back and forth from using that “kha” sound has just “khot” to be annoying.