Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Memoriam, Courage

Abie Nathan, who died yesterday at the age of 81, is remembered as Israel's most legendary peace activist. The author of this blog is indebted to him. When I was a child It is he who inspired me (along with his chum and business-partner John Lennon), to take pacifism seriously. He also inspired something else in me: wanderlust.

Abie Nathan was a great traveler and should be remembered as one. He didn't travel very far, there was no need to: going to Egypt from Israel in 1966, a one hour flight, was the furthest you could go on earth. To the Israelis it seemed more dangerous and more implausable then going to Mars. Nathan vantured out in a small plane, landed in Port Said and asked to see president Nasser. In Israel the media declared him dead.

He returned a few days later. Nasser did not meet him but the Egyptians fed him well, listened to him, put him up for the night and treated him with utmost respect. The Martians were actually quite friendly, fancy that.

In returning safely from Port said, as well as from from his meetings with other "enemies", Nathan made a very strong point, which still needs to be made and remade: It's easy to cause people to hate and fight each other if you don't let them meet. Israelis today are not allowed to visit cities in the occupied territories, nor anywhere in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and many other places that are incredibely relevant to our lives. The people of these places can't visit us.

While I understand this country's security needs, these travel bans also help to perpetuate the existance of such security need, since they are invaluable in perpetuating conflict in the region. We only know the Middle Easterners as "the enemy". Once they make us coffee, we won't shoot them with the same fervour, god forbid, and then how can we be driven like blind geese to dumb wars like in 2006?

Abie Nathan got imprisoned for merely meeting members of the PLO. Ten years later, prime minister Rabin did the same on the White House lawn, with all present cheering and cameras clicking. The only shift ever caused in the stagnant local status quo was inspired by a "weirdo", "criminal" globetrotter, as well as by several of those who met him and showed him hospitality.

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