Occasionally, when I am on the comedy stage, an American in the audience will stand up and blurt out, “Hey, camel jockey. How did the whole Arab-Israeli conflict start? What was the real cause?”
I know. Arab comedy can sometimes be a blast, but occasionally, it gets serious with audiences, especially with American audiences who get most of what they know about the rest of the world from Hollywood movies.
And since there have been few Hollywood movies focusing on Arab-Israeli issues in the past two decades, they are starving for "facts."
So how did the Arab-Israeli conflict start? One of my many answers (I have several theories I will share with you in future columns) is that the conflict started as a result of a miscommunication.
Yes. Someone said something years ago that the other didn’t understand.
It’s a lot like what happens with email today. Someone sends an email “Hello,” and they end up screaming at each other in flame wars - email brings out the worst in people. A typical “hello” email can quickly turn into an insult with attitude: “Hell. Oh!”
But long before former Vice President Al Gore invented the Internet, and Americans started intruding in Middle East events, Arabs and Jews had their own communications problems.
It wasn’t always the fault of the Americans.
An outing to the seaside
One of the great miscommunications occurred just after World War II.
An Arab guy, who felt terrible because of the suffering of the Jews at the hands of those White racist pigs in Europe, tried to be nice.
Arabs and Jews are both very hospitable people. Maybe, a little too hospitable. In addition to offering their guests food, Arabs also like to take them sightseeing.
"Be shim-al hawwa!" in Arabic.
So, the Arab guy asked the Jewish guy invitingly, “Hey, can I drive you to the sea?”
As we all know, no good deed goes unpunished. What began as a kind gesture has turned into a never ending war cry. Pure miscommunication.
Even growing up, I would often hear my father repeat the generous offer to the Jewish people. Out loud. In anger. And among his brothers.
“We're going to drive the Yehude to the sea,” he would say.
That always made me angry.
One night at a dinner where my dad and all the uncles were vowing to drive the Yehude to the sea, I had enough and I protested.
“Dad. I can’t believe you keep saying you want to drive the Jews to the sea,” I protested, “when you won’t even drive me to school. You care more about the Jews than you care about me.”
He shrugged his shoulders as he dipped the olive oil soaked Syrian bread into the zatar, and mumbled something that sounded like "Habeela!"
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized they weren’t planning to escort the Israelis to a beach party with 1960s American teenage stars, Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello.
But my dad wasn’t an unreasonable guy. He was upset about the Arabs losing the 1948 war. And the 1956 War. And the 1967 war. And the 1973 war. And the Lebanon war, despite all the propaganda about how Hizbullah supposedly chased the Israeli army out of Lebanon, after 20 years. Like the first intifada, the second intifada is becoming a draw.
Living in a 'Twilight Zone'
Since dad wasn’t much of a soccer fan, all those lost battles can surely drive someone up the emotional totem pole.
Dad had lots of justified reasons to be angry with the Israelis, although he should have been just as angry with the Arabs, too. Most of the Arab leaders couldn’t drive themselves to the sea, let alone drive the Jewish people to the sea.
So instead of admitting their failures as leaders, they came up with all kinds of excuses to blame the Jews for everything. Israelis have their own delusional leaders, too, of course.
It’s one reason why Palestinians and Israelis are all living in a 1948 "Twilight Zone."
Extremist Israelis figure they can keep everything and pretend to negotiate forever, while extremist Palestinians believe that any day now, the Arab armies will march across Israel’s borders and “drive the Yehude to the sea.”
But I figure, based on the way the wars have been going, if the Jews are going to go to the sea, they aren’t going to wait for us Arabs to give them a ride.
They’re going to do it on their own.
Ray Hanania is a Palestinian-American writer, peace activist and standup comedian who was raised in Chicago. He is from a Christian family; his father is from Jerusalem, his mother from Bethlehem. His wife and son are Jewish. He is the founder of "Comedy for Peace ," which hopes to bring joint Palestinian and Israeli comedy appearances to Israel and Palestine. This new column is exclusive for Ynetnews