Monday, May 22, 2006

Lessons Not Learned

In the country where I grew up, Finland, people always had a special place for the little country that could, Israel. The people in both nations had suffered a lot, and having been under the whims of the Russian Czar for a hundred years, my people could well understand what the Eastern European Jews had to endure. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was an all-time favorite musical; I don’t think there was a theater company in Finland that didn’t come up with its own production of it, and it is still performed. Of all the countries, more young people from my homeland went to Israel to work on a kibbutz than anyplace else.

Today the Finns view Israel very differently, and for a reason. They see that country using the same tactics against its Palestinian neighbors as they themselves were subjected to. The Gaza Strip is like a gigantic Warsaw ghetto, behind a visible or invisible wall, and the more sparsely populated West Bank doesn’t fare much better. Granted, Palestinian extremists have done their best to cause havoc, and managed to derail all the plans for peace which had been on the negotiation table. But also the Israelis have their hawkish fundamentalists that don’t want give their neighbors an opportunity to live a decent and productive life, to the point that they have been willing to murder their own for-peace leaders. Even within Israel there is a great divide between different groups of Jewish citizens, depending on their origins and skin color; not to mention the Arabs who are citizens as well. The blood donated by dark-skinned Ethiopian Jews was thrown out, because in an Ashkenazi’s eyes it wasn’t ‘pure’ enough.

The icing on the cake was the recent Israeli Supreme Court’s decision not to let spouses of Israeli citizens stay and live in the country if they had been born in the West Bank. In any civilized country, the sanctity of a family comes first, as it is the very foundation and building block of any society. This ruling either tears families apart or forces them to move abroad. Not that Europeans are all known for their tolerance (just think of recent numerous racially motivated bloody attacks in St Petersburg, Russia), but tearing families apart for no real reason is hard to swallow for most people.

Especially under our present administration, Finns and other Europeans see Israel as a mouthpiece and a bullhorn for America. Since we are so far from that area geographically, taking their frustrations out on ordinary innocent Israelis seems to be the only way the Palestinians can express their rage. Answering violence with violence is a vicious circle, and hatred grows like a cancer.

There are a lot of us wanting to have a productive dialogue between the Jews and Muslims; after all the two groups are almost first cousins in origin and even faith. Islam was built on the foundation of Judaism, and the Qur’an states that the Hebrews were God’s chosen people. But war is always more popular than peace, and people don’t want to hear the voices of people like Daniel Barenboim and his Palestinian friend Edward Said, now deceased. The hope has to be in the younger generation. My daughter Anna was very proud to be organizing a Tolerance Night at her university’s Hillel, and have the leader of the college’s Muslim student organization attend. But if you a growing up in the tiny area of Israel and Palestine, chances are your mind is filled bitter hate and revenge from early on. Teachings of the Holocaust, or Sho’Ah, should have taught the Jews valuable lessons. Why are they now acting like their own oppressors once did?