Leave Us Alone and We Will Astonish the World
By Father Labib Kobti, Pacific News Service,
May 30, 2002


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The sins of Europeans against the Jews of Europe have been exported to the Middle East, writes PNS contributor Father Labib Kobti, an Arab and a Catholic. Jews of Arab origin -- Sephardi Jews -- have lived side by side with Muslim and Christian Arabs, and could again, if only the United States and Europe would stop funding and arming the Ashkenazi dream of a Jewish-only state.

I am an Arab, and I am a Roman Catholic priest.

In 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, I was studying there at the seminary in Beit-Jala. Suddenly, all of us seminarians were cut from our home countries and loved ones. I could no longer contact my parents in Lebanon.

Israel ordered all of us to obtain identification documents, so I went to Bethlehem to begin the process. When it was my turn at the office, an Israeli woman asked where I was from. When I told her I was from Lebanon, she burst into tears. "I am also Lebanese," she said.

She asked me about the Jewish section of Ras-Beirut and some other popular areas in Lebanon. She presented me to her colleagues, saying, "This person is from my home country." I received my identification in a few minutes and a hug.

I was a young adult at that time. I felt the love of an Israeli who was occupying our Palestinian people with military force. She did not want to identify herself with the occupiers at that moment, but with me, a fellow Arab from Lebanon.

Growing up in the occupied territories as a Catholic priest in charge of vocations, I visited almost all Palestinian and Israeli cities and villages, and met many Arab Jews: Iraqis, Moroccans, Yemenis, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Tunisians and Palestinians. They all spoke Arabic, and spoke with affection about the Arab countries from which they came. In fact, for centuries before the creation of Israel, Jews have lived side by side with Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.

Take Morocco. Earlier this month, a dubious story in the Jerusalem Post stated that because of the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis, Jews in Morocco were in danger and planning to move to Israel. The article was quickly denounced by San Ben-Chetrit, head of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry. He worried that it could damage the harmonious relationship that the 3,000-member Moroccan Jewish community has with its neighbors, and with the Moroccan government. "We, the Jews of Morocco, are seen as a model of coexistence," Ben-Chetrit said.

In Israel, meanwhile, those who maintain power are Jews who came from Europe and the United States -- Ashkenazi Jews -- not the Sephardi Jews of Arab origin.

European Jews have suffered tremendously at the hands of other Europeans. The Holocaust was a crime perpetrated against Jews by Europeans. The pogroms were crimes perpetrated against Jews by Europeans. It was the Europeans who refused to allow the Jews to return to the European countries of their origin. The United States refused to allow untold numbers of Jews to come to America to escape the Holocaust. Many went to Palestine instead.

In the Arab countries, the Jews were traditionally regarded as Semitic brothers and sisters with Arabs. In fact, Arab Muslims of the Holy Land invited Jews to return there after first the Roman-Byzantines and then the European Crusaders forced them out and destroyed their places of worship.

Descendants of anti-Semitic Europeans in the United States feel the guilt of what their ancestors have done to the Jews. So they in turn empowered European Jews and gave them the money and weapons they needed to take over Palestine.

Furthermore, European and U.S. media promote the ridiculous assumption that Arabs and Muslims are the enemies of the Jews and European and American Christians are Jews' friends. How easy it has been for Europeans to forget that 6 million Jews were slaughtered by Germany with the tacit approval of many other European countries, all of whom were Christian, but not Arab Christian nor Muslim.

It is European Jews such as Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and Benyamin Netanyahu who insist that peace will only come to the region at the expense of Palestinian blood. Indeed, almost the entire Israeli government is composed of Ashkenazi, or European Jews. Their outlook is colored by their past experiences at the hands of Europeans who systemically slaughtered Jews -- a mentality that will never bring peace to the region. These European Jews have never lived side-by-side with the Arabs as the Sephardi Jews have. The Sephardi did not have the European Jews' experience.

European Jews want the Palestinians to pay for the crimes of Europe. European Jews have characterized the conflict as an Israeli "fight against terrorism," when in reality the Palestinians are struggling against a European Jewish occupation.

Yet, the kind Israeli woman who helped me in 1967 still lives in the hearts of many Arab Jews.

Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews alike want the United States and Europe to stop pitting them against each other; to stop paying European Jews to kill Palestinians; to stop sending weapons and money to avenge world Jewry for the crimes committed against them by Europe; and to stop spreading misinformation about the Arabs, who have come yet again to the table to present at the Arab summit a plan for peace with Israel.

Empowered, Arab and Palestinian Jews, Christians and Muslims together will be able to create a secular, democratic country, a place where all might live in peace with equal rights and responsibilities.

Leave us alone, and we will astonish the world.

Labib (labibkobti@aol.com) grew up in Lebanon and studied to be a priest in Jerusalem. He is an advocate for non-violence and the pastor of St. John of God in San Francisco. In 1994, he created www.al-bushra.org, a Web site dedicated to peace and justice in the Middle East.