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May Samra

A letter to Emilio and to the leaders of the Arab world

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may




Dear Emilio

I was born in Lebanon, which I left when I was eighteen. My grandfather was a Syrian Jew and a leather merchant and there’s a story about him I would like to share. Once, at the beginning of the twentieth century, my grandfather made a big commercial deal involving goat leather. As you know, in these days and time, deals were sealed with a handshake. There were no endless contracts or fine prints or attorneys to make sure you were going to comply. The next day, leather price went up to the double, so instead of making a profit, my grandfather was now facing bankruptcy. But the goods were still in his power and he was still able to retain the merchandise on the grounds that market conditions had changed. But there was one detail: My grandfather had given his word. And his word was something he could not betray, because, you see, in Arabic tradition, your word is your honor and whatever comes out of your mouth you have to respect, you very name being at stake.
So my grandfather gave the client the merchandise, losing almost his whole fortune. But his deed gained him a strong reputation of honorability that in turn translated into trust and respect of his peers. People rushed to do business with him and he became very wealthy.

Respect of your word is just one of many Arabic values. Arab culture is full of wonderful values that have sustained Arabic society for centuries and have been transmitted to us, Arab Jews. They are courage, hospitality, respect for the leaders and for your word, and, yes, respect for life. Sadly however, in what is covered in the media as Middle East Conflict and is about the fight of one country seeking survival and acceptance against the enmity of dozens refusing its legitimacy to the point of sending suicide against his citizens, those values have been betrayed and the Arab spirit and tradition desecrated. I see with shame the word Arab becoming an equivalent to terrorist, liar, and traitor. I feel embarrassment when people are looking suspiciously at me because I speak Arabic to my parents in a line at the airport. The language of exquisite poetry, breathtaking philosophy (Did you know Moshe Ben Maimon wrote in Arabic?), most sophisticated culture and amazing tradition is now something we are ashamed to show. The former, thanks to the Yassers, Bashars, and Saddams of the world.

And this is to the leaders of the Arabic World

One of the nicest sayings in Arabic refers to the relationship with your neighbor: “Your nearby neighbor” it says “is better than your faraway brother”( Jarak el karib ahsan Min Akhuk el ba’id)
Now, if this neighbor happens to be a long lost cousin of yours, who is back in town and bought himself (oh yes, bought) a house next to yours, tradition states you should open your arms wide to greet him and try to establish the best possible relationship between both of you. Israel is here to stay and peace (whatever this world means today), or maybe not peace but coexistence is offered to you on a platter. Israelis are willing to share with you the prosperity of what a tranquil Middle East can offer in terms of resource sharing, commerce, and tourism. After all, and as another Arabic saying states: “ Best friends are made after a fight.” (Ma andak saheb illa wara khna’a).

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