COLUMN EIGHTY-NINE, APRIL 15, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
AN ARAB SCHOLAR VISITS ISRAELI PEACE CENTER
Standing on a rock atop the
Amir Mountain range, an Arab village divided by politics but joined by blood
ties down below, Professor Gehad Masarweh of Freiburg University started
reciting poems written by Israeli Bard Haim Nachman Bialik.
So, what's so astounding about that? Well, for one thing, the Professor
Masarweh holds Israeli citizenship but hasn't lived in the country for 40
years and, secondly, he is an Arab Moslem.
So, how come he was
reciting Bialik? Professor Masarweh, who was visiting Israel with eight other
German academics at the invitation of the Goethe Institute, left the country of
his birth when he was 21 years old.
Frustrated and angered by
the Military Administration imposed upon the Arab citizens of Israel until l963,
he'd decided to take up an offer of work from a Swiss industrialist and found
himself on a slow boat to Basle. He
bid farewell to his family and friends in the village of Taibe close to the
Green Line in an area known as The Triangle.
How long he would be away
from home he did not know, but basically apart from visiting from time to time,
he was permanently uprooting himself from his homeland. Now he was part of the
German delegation at Givat Haviva with Dr. Sarah-Ozacky Lazar and Riad Kabha,
Directors of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace. Also there were Etti
While visiting the
Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, the German academics were invited to join another
group from overseas on a guided tour around the Green Line in that area.
During the tour, at the Katzir Mt. Amir vantage point overlooking the
split village of Barta?a, that Professor Masarweh pulled out the poems of
Bialik firmly lodged in his memory since his school days in Taibe four decades
Not for nothing did Professor Masarweh began to recite Bialik. He did so in order to demonstrate a point made by the Israeli Jewish guide, who had no idea of the professor's
Kids could see one another in their schoolyards but couldn't play together
background. What made him begin reciting Bialik was the guide's
explanation with regard to the diversely different systems of education on
either side of the Green Line for the Arab populations.
In the case of Barta?a
village in the valley below, school kids who could physically see one another
playing in their schoolyards, could not play together because from l950 tol967
they were being educated in two different countries. In the case of Barta?a, immaterial as to whether they were
on the Jordanian or Israeli side of the divide, they all hailed from the same
extended clan and shared the family name of Kabha.
On the Jordanian controlled
eastern West Bank side of Barta?a, the educational process aimed at
influencing the Palestinian pupils to be good citizens with an emphasis on
learning about the Hashemite Kingdom and no reference to their own roots.
On the Israeli side, the
aim was the Israelisation of the Arab pupils through studying the Jewish
religion, Tanach and history, Zionism and Hebrew literature. Hence, they learned
the poetry of Bialik, and also nothing about themselves.
The identity crisis of the
Arab population inside Israel is a well documented if not too often discussed
issue in the average Jewish Israeli home---where, by the way, Bialik's name
wouldn't come up too often either these days.
A psychoanalyst, married to
a German citizen and the father of three sons, Professor Gahad Masarweh was born
in l941 and has eight siblings. Although
he has not lived in
His experiences as an
outsider first in Switzerland and then during his initial years in Germany had
taught him to respect this writer's Israeliness and had also endowed him with
an unwillingness to further divide his identity. As the years passed, he said he felt his ties to and
connections with his homeland and their prominence in his identity and
personality just kept getting stronger.
Beginning his working
career as a factory laborer in Basel, Masarweh found himself rubbing shoulders
with migrant workers from many different countries, all of whom suffered the
injustices and prejudices meted out by the locals.
'those who hated
foreigners in those days just lumped us Jews and Arabs together," Masarweh
reminisced. "I have to say that although in Israel the relationship between
the Jews and Arabs was also problematic at that time, outside of the country we
were supportive of each other."
Now a specialist in
treating victims of torture, Professor Masarweh, is well known throughout
Germany. His patients come from South American and African countries as well as
from the Middle East, where Masarweh has supported Jewish-Arab dialogue groups
and organizations in Israel.
With his close friend,
Peter Dreyfuss in Freiburg he has also founded a discussion group that includes
Jews and Palestinians. Professor Masarweh also encouraged the staff of Givat
Haviva's Jewish-Arab Center for Peace to continue with educational projects to
bring Jews and Arabs together in an effort to reach the common goal of peaceful
'the tragedy of our
peoples lies in the fact that we are raised on hatred and do not get the
opportunity to get to know each other," said Masarweh.
In order to bring that
particular point home, he told of an experience he had when, at the age of 26,
he traveled with a friend through Finland.
Not finding somewhere to spend the night, the two of them began erecting
their tent in a field. A friendly
gentleman approached the pair of backpackers and invited them to spend the night
in his house. At some point during the evening's conversation their host
happened to mention he was Jewish. At which point Masarweh, who had started
telling stories about Jews being killers, fearfully didn't shut his eyes all
The following day the fear
was replaced by shame for having thought so badly of the host just because he
was Jewish. And anger over the unmitigated hatred spawned by Arabs toward Jews
and vice versa.
"My hope," he said sadly, "is that the intifada has not destroyed everything because when hope dies so does the person." ##
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