A life without bacon sandwiches ?

I wonder how many people currently responsive to the Middle East crisis actually have any experience with terrorism ? 

I do. 

The circumstances to be honest are rather like an out take from the Theatre of the Absurd. It goes back a long time, to 1973 in fact.

One morning I found myself called unexpectedly to a meeting with two rather sturdy fit  young gentlemen with very short haircuts. In retrospect they were probably from Mossad or something similar, they weren’t that keen to be specific. They came to me to point out that an Organisation called Black September had responded to my rather pathetic attempts at seeking at least some local rapprochement after the Yom Kippur War by  putting my name on an “ Assassination” list. Admittedly I was not the star  item on the list, my name was a long way down, the Chief Rabbi had more to worry about. 

My first reaction was to laugh, then we heard someone had “blown up” the dustbins outside the synagogue I met them in. To this day I think it was more to do with fireworks than anything else. I can’t quite get my head round the people who organised the Munich Massacre blowing up dustbins. Others chose to be more concerned. Possibly because it played to a particular narrative they were keen to have heard. That is the problem with narratives, they are usually partial and designed to divide. 

The only damage that came to me  personally was a family own goal. My mother was terrified that this could end badly and on receiving a large parcel in the post, sure it would explode at any moment,  left it  at the end of the garden. Had she looked harder she might have found that it was marked “ Books” and came from a well known London bookshop. Perhaps her reaction was more to do with the credibility of my status as a student? I’m sure she didn’t think I was doing much study at University! ( She may have been right .) As it was the books got  rained  on and were ruined. I put my lousy grades down to that. 

My “ sin” was to have befriended and worked with a delightful young Arab lad in trying to make sure that University Jewish and Arab Societies ( I chaired one on the Jewish side ) did not clash on University property but cooled things down. He and I were working to create a meeting where our two sides could;  break bread together, talk  and address things through the lens of respect and seeking peace. The meeting never happened. He was found beaten  tied and gagged by bigots from his own side in his room, who did not want any kind of rapprochement. People (on both sides) were far happier to be noisy and wave placards at one another. Neither my friend nor I were particular popular  with our own peers for trying to find a middle ground

That is the first thing that gets lost in conflict – a middle ground, even though, inevitably if there is to be Peace, that is where it will be found. Just look at any confrontation and the evidence is there. Would that people demonstrated for that rather than either cause. We all know the rights and wrongs of the causes, how can we not when the rights are so few and wrongs are so many ? 

There is a major irony here. I chaired the University Jewish Society  and did stuff at a national level. I was ostracised by my own family for marrying  out of my faith and carried that sense of guilt. Except at the age of 49, entirely by accident,   I found it wasn’t my faith at all! Adopted into a Jewish family at the age of 6 months, I was brought up in Jewish Culture by a really not very religiously observant family, who lied about my origins. My birth parents were Christians not Jews. Jewishness is granted through the maternal line or a process of conversion. Neither was true for me. Their  own “ truth” was more convenient to their societal conventions than the real truth. I was not Jewish . It had been a lie. 

All those years of anti Semitism for no reason! Though in fairness, and with very  extensive practice and research since, I think I missed out on bacon sandwiches most. 

I always say “ I might be bitter but I have chosen not to be twisted” about that experience. For me it opened up perspectives and opportunities. When I need spirituality I take it where I can find it; Mosque, Temple, Church, Synagogue, it doesn’t really matter. I no longer “do” organised religion.

Inevitably my past gives me a perspective. Sure my glasses have a degree of Jewish culture tinting them,  how can they not? I can see that perspective because I have been exposed to it. But in  terms of the Middle East as a sentient being I am still very much in the same room as my Arab friend in 1973. Nothing in that respect has changed. Everything that pushes us further apart causes us to extend not shorten conflict, everything that speaks to one side without addressing the other causes schisms not resolution. 

Medicines sometimes come through bitter pills, but if things are to get better they have to be swallowed. The big lessons from the Peace and Reconciliation process in South Africa, mirrored in Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia is that what has happened is not forgotten or even forgiven, but the future cannot be in that place. It has to move past it.

If we are to serve the purpose of Peace it is far more important to work for that than to recognise wrongs that only the mad or the bad cannot see. Respect to all who are thinking about these issues.


the sun rising over a bay
Photo Kenny Armet

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3 replies »

  1. Personal history makes us who we are. I grew up under apartheid in South Africa and until recently (physically decrepit) for 20 years stood silent vigil for peace and justice every Saturday in Edinburgh with Women in Black founded by Israeli Jewish and Arab women in Jerusalem. One of my favourite placards was, and it’s still in use, Pay for Peace not War – looking forward not back…

  2. “My mother was terrified that this could end badly and on receiving a large parcel in the post, sure it would explode at any moment, left it at the end of the garden. ”

    Yes, that is the root of terrorism.

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