On the Peaceful Coexistence of Arab and Jew

By Eve Berliner

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The incendiary advent of Benjamin Netanyahu onto the international scene sent shudders through our household, the Mideast boiling in Brooklyn, New York.

It is a relationship on the cusp of history, Said and Eve, the Egyptian and the Hebress, a deep connection, an ancient, mesmerizing alchemy.

He, startling, stunning, exotic.

She, a wild flame.

Said, blood of Ramses running in his veins, his face carved into the Pyramids of Giza. Eve, mother of the human race (“Om el pasher”), mother of the universe (“Om el donia”).

The fecundity of the union, the importance of it.

Stepping over the scars of history, we meet as human beings to reach beyond the barriers of culture, stereotype, dogma, to comprehend the other’s truth, to see the sweep of history through the other’s eyes.

His brother Mohammed who lost his life in the 1973 war with Israel, the forces of General Anwar el-Sadat crossing the impregnable Suez Canal and seizing the Sinai back from its captors who had conquered the land from Egypt in 1967, his brother’s blood spilled mortally on the sands of the Sinai, a martyr to his country, buried there at the soldier’s monument; for Said the loss of his brother its own mortal wound.

* * *

The day’s headlines are provocative: the Hebron massacre, Oklahoma City, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, renegade nuclear bomb on the black market, Louis Farrakhan on the march, bin Laden in hiding in Afghanistan. Slavery in the Sudan: “They’re not Moslems,” he utters solemnly. “They cannot be.”

The world detonates around us. It is the time of the assassin. The Egyptian patriot Anwar el-Sadat who gave his life to the consecration of peace with Israel, the Israeli visionary Yitzhak Rabin, slain by a fanatic Jewish fundamentalist in the name of God. The cauldron of the Mideast, the time bomb. Riyadh, al-Khobar, Hebron, Jerusalem.

Radical militant Arabs blow up a bus in Tel Aviv, a hemorrhage of death; Israel inflicts its own atrocity on a refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. The slaughter of the innocents. Both sides terrorist.

“Islam is peace. Islam is love. If you have a Jewish neighbor you have to give him peace and love. The face of Islam, the face of Islam is beautiful. Islam is not against the human being. The Islamic religion is for peace and for the human being to live, not to destroy. The Prophet Mohammed made peace with the Jews,” Said states softly. “In the Moslem religion, a Moslem man may take a Jewish wife.”

“Cousin,” he proclaimed when I informed him early on that I was Jewish.

For the biblical patriarch Abraham begat two sons: one by Sarah whom he called Isaac, the other by Hagar, who bore the name Ishmael; Isaac, from whom sprang the Jews, Ishmael, whose descendants became the Arabs, human brotherhood between Jew and Arab in the blood.

* * *

It is an elemental thing, the masculine/feminine mystique. Strong male essence to this brooding catlike man; magical black eyes, long sinewy body, sinewy sweet lips, this fellow who believes that Eve came from Adam’s rib!!!

“Get me a glass of water…please,” he intones.

Centuries of attitudes about women, so deeply ingrained, so complex. The subjugation of women in a culture of male autocracy, woman under the veil.

In the old culture a woman was not permitted to leave the house without the permission of her husband, young girls hidden behind shutters so as not to be seen by man. Only the surreptitious contact of eyes would occur, and that too was prohibited.

“Mutilation of Egyptian Girls: Despite Ban It Goes On” — reads the New York Times headline.

He is silent.

He is caught between two cultures, torn between the wildness of his own nature and the Islamic strictures of centuries; 18 years in America but his soul is steeped in Egypt.

And yet he is in fact a modern man. We meet as equals. He allows me my freedom. He respects my independence. And he loves to cook! This devout Muslim with the macho vulnerable core, this tender, fierce and beautiful man from Cairo, the lady from Brooklyn, New York.

Two different planets and yet the relationship is one of harmony. There is freedom of expression in our household and freedom of religion, Said passionate about Egypt, the crucible of human civilization, and proud of its critical place on the contemporary world stage.

I do not try to talk him out of his beliefs. He is entitled to them. I do not argue with his cultural inheritance — it is impossible — his historical perspective — it is his truth.

“I missed you. I missed America,” he uttered upon returning from his first visit to Egypt in 16 years. Inadvertently, the third world had become a shock to his sensibility.

He was inducted as an American citizen on August 9, 1996. “Can’t believe it. Can’t believe it. I’m an American. I’m an American,” he kept repeating joyfully.

“No one is exempt from the law in America. Not even the President of the United States. I admire that,” he noted quietly.

* * *

We rise above history, Eve and Said, the chronicle of slavery and enmity and war written in the sands of time.

The exodus is behind us.

The Red Seas have parted.

And we come together at the millennium as Arab and Jew, in love and peaceful coexistence.

Silurian News, May 1997

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