When a despairing Israeli who lives in the hell of the Middle East meets a tranquil European who lives in the new Paradise, he hears comforting words: Look at that - even sworn enemies like Germany and France now live in peace. When peace reigns between Israel and its neighbors, all of the hatred will waft away like so much smoke. Based on the same comparison, there is also talk of a New Middle East, a regional Benelux.
Yet, is there any foundation for such a comparison? The Europeans did, indeed, have to overcome the deep hatred that inflamed two horrific world wars, in which the blood of millions was spilled. But there is a fundamental difference: In spite of the bloodshed, a common cultural foundation in Europe remained intact. Besides the shared religious faith, due to which the two peoples sang the same cantatas about Jesus while the war raged, music written by German composers was being played in blitz-bombed London.
Dame Myra Hess played Bach, soloists sang Schubert and Mozart, and the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth became the jingle of victory. The fact that the symbol of victory was borrowed from a German composer did not bother Churchill.
When the new Europe arose from the ruins, it chose as its anthem Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," set to Schiller's words, from the Ninth Symphony. Beethoven went from the composer of victory to the composer of peace. Beethoven is, then, the common cultural denominator, a unifying symbol of liberty and peace, standing as a beacon above the fire and blood of the battlefields.
Regrettably, Jews and Arabs do not have any common cultural heroes like Beethoven. Yes, they have a substitute: a history on which it would have been possible to build a true peace. They have a common patriarch - Abraham - and a common golden age and comparable folklore, too. The trouble is that, as with the usage of the holy writings, it is the political leaders who decide what to choose and which perspective - peace or war, love or hate - to accentuate.
The leaders of the Arab states, and particularly the leaders of Egypt after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel, could have found parallels to Beethoven if they wanted to. Instead, they chose to accentuate what divides the peoples, the hatred. The conflict with the Palestinians, partly due to mistakes made by Israel, fanned the flames of opposition to it. Instead of coming to terms with the existence of the Jewish state, the Arab countries offer not only a rejection of the very idea of such a state, but frightful anti-Semitic propaganda.
The most extreme example of this is the utter disregard for the role played by Jews in the Arab national liberation movements, in general, and in Egypt, in particular. This sort of common past could have provided a basis for fostering understanding between Israel and the Arab world. But Egypt did the complete opposite: In the Egyptian television series "Horseman Without a Horse," directed by Mohammed al-Sobhi, the Jews of Egypt are portrayed - even prior to Israel's establishment - through a Nazi perspective, as a group seeking to dominate the world, and whose punishment, except for the children, is death. The series entirely disregards the fact that six Jews, led by Felix Benzakein, were the leaders of the Egyptian Wafd party. Although Mubarak's diplomatic adviser Osama el-Baz and several Egyptian intellectuals roundly condemned the series, the leaders of the Arab state with which Israel signed a peace treaty failed to join the condemnation. They are going in the opposite direction to the European example. Even that which could have been common to Israel and the Arab world has become the pretext for a propaganda of hatred. The opposite of Beethoven, the opposite of Europe.
Does this mean there is no possibility of a settlement? No. All of the parties have a vital need for an end to the violence, and Israel needs an end to the occupation like oxygen to breathe. But the expectations should be realistic: not a European peace - at least at this stage - but a peace that would primarily be an end of the bloodshed and the start of coexistence in a Beethoven-less Middle East.
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