Thursday, 3 May 2007

Pints for peace

By Khaled Diab

Going out for a drink is great in and of itself. But boozing for a good cause is a wonderful cocktail of sin and virtue! In fact, I, for one, am willing to pub crawl all the way along the road to peace.

While in Jerusalem, I went out with The Guardian's ‘Comment is Free’ contributors Seth Freedman and Alex Stein. Seth even wrote this article about the encounter. And I've been berated by Alex for not replying to it yet. "Not good enough for yer, were we?" he quizzed in his booming voice.

In his column entitled 'Long live lunacy', Seth described our encounter so:

In a crowded bar in downtown Jerusalem, Khaled joined our crew for a night of heavy drinking and even heavier debate.
What began as a getting-to-know-you exercise soon descended (or ascended, depending on your interpretation) into a heated debate about last summer's war in Lebanon. In the blue corner was Khaled, the Egyptian born Muslim; in the red corner was Max, a boy I grew up with in London and who took part in the ground offensives inside Lebanese territory last year.
Max Terminator, as I was soon to start calling him, describes himself as “hardly a pacifist”. Being a strident, and sometimes aggressive pacifist myself, his Rambo approach to life was guaranteed to provoke me. Our verbal pub brawl did little to bridge our differences of opinion over the Lebanon war – which I perceive as a complete failure no matter how you look at it – but Max and I did discover that we shared some surprisingly similar views about the future, particularly regarding the possible emergence of a federal Israeli-Palestinian state.

One striking thing about our little get-together was the amount of common culture we shared – around the table, there were four Jewish ‘London boys’ and an Egyptian one. And I think the mixing and matching of the global melting pot offers some hope for the future by eroding perceived cultural differences even further. For instance, Alex, who was about to join the IDF, was my cavalry against Max Terminator’s sound offensive.

Although the decision of all these young Londoners to volunteer to join the IDF raises certain moral issues in my mind, I do not doubt their moral rectitude as individuals and I respect Alex and Seth’s attempts to be fair in their judgements and reach out to the other side.

Encounters, both virtual and in the flesh, are crucial to bridging gaps and breaking down misunderstandings and misconceptions. This was illustrated eloquently by our eagerness for a second encounter which I had with Alex and Max in Tel Aviv – where we were also joined by a couple of Haaretz guys and an American couple – and where the debate was less like a pub brawl and more like a debating society.

And we have more opportunities than ever before to do so.

As Seth put it:
And then comes Khaled – a man so keen to dive into the maelstrom that he flies across the world to meet the people on the street, such as my friends and me… and the more encounters like this… the closer we'll come to bridging the chasm and reaching solutions.

As I noted in an earlier post, Palestinians brew a very good micro-brewery beer. Israelis are not allowed into the Palestinian Territories and Palestinians need a permit to enter Israel. Why not set up impromptu tents at the checkpoints where Israelis and Palestinians can knock back a couple of pints for peace. I know a lot of people on both sides don’t drink. They can go for the alcohol-free version and chat over coffee or share a peace water pipe.
©Khaled Diab. Text and images.


Rachel said...

Just after the last American Presidential election, my husband Ethan posted an open invitation on his blog. He invited anyone who had voted for George W. Bush to come and have a pint of beer with him. He and I are both staunch liberals who were flabbergasted with Bush won the presidency, and he wanted to make a connection with someone who had supported Bush, because it seemed clear to him that we didn't remotely understand people on the "other side" and that it would be good for all of us to begin building some bridges. (In the end, we had a lovely lunch date with a conservative; he blogged about it here.)

Anyway, I thought of that when I read this post. How I wish more people were interested in doing exactly what you describe here! As you say, it doesn't resolve the fundamental differences between us, but it does show our common ground...

IsrealiMom said...

Well, good to know you got plenty of alcohol on these meetings. We were getting worried about having a guest from Europe and not offering any beer :p They sound like a bunch of nice guys. If they ever travel north and need to stop for coffee, give them our phone number, they are more than welcome to stop by.

As for the tents at the checkpoint idea... well, I can't imagine a better target for the Hammas suicide bombers :D Imagine, a place of total decadent corruptness... encouraging Muslims to drink beer and with the Zionist enemy, no less! Well, if you can get the security issues down, I'll be there for the non-alcoholic version!

deb said...

You will find me in the tents, finally with my "Taste of Revolution."

Khaled Diab said...

Rachel: "How I wish more people were interested in doing exactly what you describe here! As you say, it doesn't resolve the fundamental differences between us, but it does show our common ground..."

Absolutely! If it were up to me I would recruit an 'army' of ordinary people to go forth and dialogue.

IM: Will let them know. See what you mean about saboteurs. If the IDF can mobilise 3,000 soldiers to protect 300-400 settlers in Hebron - perhaps they can spare a couple of soldiers to watch over the tents (a far more worthy cause).

Deb, cheers to the revolution.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, I wanted to see your piece after reading Seth's article. Why don't you expand it and submit it to CiF?

rina said...

"go forth and dialogue"

Love it!

Andy said...

You should know that the Hebron settlers are very controversial figures in Israel. On the one hand they claim to have legally purchased the properties, so have every right to live there. They have been frequently shot at by their Palestinian neigbours, so their security concerns are genuine.

However their aggressive antics towards their Palestinian neigbours, and deliberate acts of provocation and abuse are condemned across the board by most other Israelis, including even other Israeli settlers who have little time for them.