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Out of the Mouths of Babes
We'll call her Naima (though she anglicizes her name). She's my daughter's pen pal. They met on a LiveJournal Web site, and soon featured on each other's "friends" lists.
Naima grew up in the United States, and was brought back to Jordan by her folks a year ago. Her dad is quite wealthy, and the family resides in a posh Amman suburb. Naima is the quintessential antithesis to a Muslim fundamentalist. A young adult, she's hardly religious (fanatical only about soccer), a confirmed feminist and an outspoken supporter of gay rights. Naima loves horror movies, watches Japanese anime, reads English-language best-sellers, listens to American heavy-metal music, struts about in oversized rapper jeans and Goth T-shirts, wears her hair short and in stylish spikes. She hates studying, and is partial to off-color expressions.
She's very high-tech, is into the latest computer gadgetry and apparently downloads pirated software.
She told my daughter that she had crossed the Israeli-Jordanian border for "fun days" at Israeli tourist attractions. There's nothing reactionary or seemingly sinister about her. She sounds and looks like a citizen of the world, indistinguishable from her age-group peers anywhere in the West. She's everything Shimon Peres could envision as enlightened denizens of his "New Middle East." Indeed, hopes for peace are pinned on young Arabs like Naima.
That's why those among us who keep harping on the "need for dialogue" and incessantly stress that present hostilities "must be superseded by a round of meaningful negotiations" should consider Naima a very relevant touchstone. Precisely the fact that she appears to be the live-and-let-live poster child makes what she wrote my daughter -- with whom she'd struck up a warm correspondence -- particularly significant and spine-chilling.
As the first shells started raining on northern Israel last summer, Naima advised my daughter to "stay safe."
But a few sentences afterward, she added: "I'm a full supporter of Hezbollah. I don't consider them to be terrorists. I believe all Israelis involved in this war and in this conflict are terrorists."
Months elapsed before she elaborated: "Yes, I understand that a few Arabs had bombed Israel and sacrificed themselves for their cause, killing some women and children, which is why people call them terrorists, but ... what you are doing to the Arabs is what the Nazis did to Jews. If I look up the definition of 'terrorist,' it should say 'Israel.' "
My daughter wrote back: "Israelis don't want to fight, but to be left alone. That's why Israelis ceded territory unilaterally in both Gaza and Lebanon -- in order not to be called occupiers and to be left alone. The trouble is that the Arabs won't let us alone. They invade our side of the border, even after we withdraw.
"They don't want us to be -- this is the source of conflict. It isn't so-called 'occupation,' but the very existence of a Jewish state. Our BEING is anathema to them. Borders don't matter. This conflict isn't about Palestinian self-determination (otherwise, a Palestinian state would have been founded between 1948-67.) It's about destroying Jewish self-determination."
Naima rose to the challenge, and admitted, candidly, that "yes, the problem really is the very existence of a Jewish state. You are living on land that isn't yours to begin with. ... How can you expect Arabs to leave you alone? ... Israel isn't a state. It isn't a country. It's just miles and miles of occupied land.
"Do I feel sorry for children who're dying in Israel? Yes -- because their parents are content to live in a land that isn't theirs. Israelis are acting like Nazis, killing off people just because they are Arabs. Israel is the true terrorist."
My daughter replied: "Arabs should be wary of castigating Jews as Nazis -- not only because it's a cynical lie, but because the Arabs were Hitler's enthusiastic collaborators." Most of all, she protested "the implication that Arabs have the right to murder Jewish children if their parents live in Israel."
Naima never responded. She simply removed her Israeli cyber-pal from her contacts list. Thus ended what promised to be a beautiful friendship.
My daughter was stunned that someone as cosmopolitan as Naima equates justice with our death or disappearance.
What then can be expected of less moderate Arabs? What's left to negotiate, other than the terms of our termination?
Sarah Honig is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.