Miri Eisen, in Tel Aviv where her parents had moved the family in 1970, began talking to her eldest, 6-year-old Yiftach, after Yasser Arafat’s death. “I talk to him about the future and the importance of peace,” she said. “He would tell people that Mom is lecturing about Israel and that a bad man died, but hopefully now there will be a chance for peace. They know I am continuing to study Arabic, that I meet Arabs and Jews, and that all people deserve to live in peace.”
Darwish cannot speak her mind in her own country, but on U.S. soil, she is passionate. “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why are they not speaking out?” she asks. “It is these people who need to uplift the compassion and tolerance I know exists in Islam. Our children must be taught that support of Israel does not mean lack of support for Arabs.”
It is the fundamentalists, she said, “who are shaming us Arabs, in our culture which is based on pride — and shame. Fear of a common enemy has become their system for uniting Arabs — and Israel has become the most useful enemy. Blaming Israel has become an industry. Even the Asian tsunami was blamed on the Jews! It’s an industry that enabled Yasser Arafat to become one of the richest men in the world — while his people live in poverty.”
Life in Israel is different in so many ways. “We are a thriving democracy, and most Israelis really don’t want to live anywhere else, Eisen explained.
“We do live a life of drama,” she continued. “We tune into the news 24/7. But in the past six months, even we have been knocked out by the amount of drama we must endure.”
An impossible task — to change a system that indoctrinates children from the youngest ages to hate and to seek vengeance?
“Palestinians, on the whole, think that most Israelis do not want peace, or a settlement of any kind, and that most Israelis want to deny the Palestinians any chance at statehood,” Eisen says. “They see Israel, on the whole, as an aggressive militaristic society waiting to destroy them. The only way to change this is through education — a very big hurdle.”
The solution, adds Darwish, must begin with soul-searching by Muslims, both in the Middle East and in the U.S. Looking inward, she believes, is the first step to restoring Arab culture to its original greatness.
My dream? To bring together the leaders of every country in the Middle East — and have Darwish and Eisen, two mothers, as the guest speakers.