Bruce H. Bernstein: A “Listening Tour,” # 2

Our activities on this first day, Thursday, have been dominated by our fatigue from travel.  We went directly from Tel Aviv Airport to a wonderful Israeli lunch spot in the middle of Jerusalem, then waited on line to get to El Aksa and the Temple Mount. Eid starts on Saturday, so the Temple Mount was crowded with visitors wanting to reach it before it closes for the holiday. Eid means “holiday,” or celebration, in Arabic, but this particular Eid celebrates God relieving Abraham from having to sacrifice Ishmael (in the Arab version) by sending a lamb to take his place. This event, along with Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, took place in the area of the Temple Mount. You can’t help but be affected by the light, the history, and the awareness that Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus perhaps walked on these same cobblestones.

After a rest we met to review our itinerary, share our personal backgrounds with one another and our guides, and to ask one question that we’d like to examine during this trip. 

Wally, a retired CPA, talked about how his work had taken him to Saudi Arabia and made him aware of the politics in the region. Alice had been with the International Institute of Education for many years, traveling frequently to Europe and Asia. She describes herself as Protestant and a political conservative. She wonders whether it is possible to have a country in which a minority is treated fairly but not necessarily equally. (Later Tamer would respond by saying it’s not possible. This question would arise again at dinner).

The rest of our group consists of: Chick, a former MSW who worked in the inner city and later with a Peace Foundation on peace development; Tom, a CPA Tuck School graduate who worked in banking and later with the World Bank in China, Methodist and Conservative; Hanny, the Marines took him to Lebanon in ’58, marketing, the printing business; Carol, graduated late in life from TCU, active in church affairs, very concerned with social issues; Judy, retired minister, her husband made many trips to Israel selling planes to the government, very involved in issues of social justice; Lita, a psychotherapist very concerned about issues of social welfare; and Bruce, who organized this trip, a psychologist/psychoanalyst, interested in deepening the connection between his college class and Seeds of Peace.

Our leaders are: Daniel, the person most responsible for our itinerary, a Ph.D. in history, taught in the humanities program at Harvard, has worked with Seeds of Peace (SOP) for seven years, mostly as director of the delegates program; Nadir, Daniel’s long-time driver/friend and an active participant in the planning of the trip; Tamer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, former Seed and SOP counselor, musician, training to be a facilitator in conflict resolution.

After the go-around introducing ourselves in much greater detail than I have described above, we went to dinner at the Embassy in East Jerusalem, a first rate Palestinian hotel. Our custom is to have several invited guests join us for our meals. These guests are frequently people who have some connection to working toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

I sat near a young Palestinian woman named Bahia. She lives in the Arab section of the French Quarter of Jerusalem and teaches biology in the local high school. She talked about the isolation of the Arab school system from the Israeli system. There is almost no contact between the two. She has never spoken to a Jewish biology teacher, has no idea of their curriculum or standards. Similarly there is almost no connection between people living in her section of the French Quarter and those in the Jewish area. The stated reason for this academic separation is language: Arab courses are taught in Arabic; Jews are taught in Hebrew, and therefore the texts are in different languages. The effect is to create, as someone explained to me, two separate bubbles in which Arabs and Jews live side by side, and no one available to burst the bubbles so they can get to know one another. Another teacher from a Jewish school described his students as “little bigots.” They have no direct connections with Arabs.  To them, they are an “other” of lesser status. It is the goal of many of the SOP educators to find a way to pierce this bubble.


Bruce H. Bernstein is a 75-year-old psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice and on the faculty of the NYU Postdoctoral Program. He has had a long-time interest in the peaceful resolution of conflict, and in recent years made connections among his Dartmouth Class of 1957, Seeds of Peace, and the Dickey Center for International Understanding. The class now sponsors two interns who spend a summer at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine, followed by a term in Israel/Palestine.

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Comments (7)

  1. Clifford M. Bernstein - Reply

    Reading about the lack of of Arab contact with Jews in the Jewish state I took a look at Jews in Arab and Muslim states. Americans tend to connect Israel with European immigration after WW2. About 6,400 Jews live in Arab countries with most of them in Tunisia and Morocco. That’s less than 1% of the Jews in Arab countries in 1948. Morocco had 250K in ’48 and now has about 3K and Tunisia had 50-100K and now has about 1,100.

    Despite their dwindling numbers in Morocco, Jews continue to play a role; the King retains a Jewish senior adviser, André Azoulay, and Jewish schools and synagogues receive government subsidies. Despite this, Jewish targets have sometimes been attacked (notably the 2003 bombing attacks on a Jewish community center in Casablanca), and there is sporadic anti-Semitic rhetoric from radical Islamist groups. The late King Hassan II’s invitations for Jews to return to Morocco have not been taken up by the people who had emigrated.

    There are about 32K Jews in non-Arab Muslim countries down from 250K in 1948. Iran has 10.8K and Turkey has 23K. Jews have been in Iran since Cyrus the Great. Privately Iranian Jews today complain to foreign reporters of “discrimination, much of it of a social or bureaucratic nature.” The Islamic government appoints the officials who run Jewish schools, most of these being Muslims and requires that those schools must open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Criticism of this policy was the downfall of the last remaining newspaper of the Iranian Jewish community which was closed in 1991 after it criticized government control of Jewish schools.

    95% of Turkish Jews are Sephardim who live in Istanbul and they celebrated the 500th anniversary of their arrival from the Ottoman Empire in 2001. Turkish Jews are still legally represented by the Hakham Bashi, the Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Ishak Haleva, is assisted by a religious Council made up of a Rosh Bet Din and three Hahamim. Thirty-five Lay Counselors look after the secular affairs of the Community and an Executive Committee of fourteen, the president of which must be elected from among the Lay Counselors, runs the daily affairs.

    Jews lived in Arab and Muslim countries because for generations they were treated better there than in Christian countries. Their immigrations since 1948, under duress and leaving most of their posessions behind, may be having a lasting effect on Israelis today. Amertican knowledge of immigrations are limited to the U.S. are from Russia, Germany and Eastern Europe.

  2. Interesting to hear your perspectives, and looking forward to further posts. I have to make a comment, though, on the statement that Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed might have walked the cobblestones on the Temple Mount. While Abraham and Jesus do have historical connections to the Temple Mount area, Mohammed was born in Mecca, lived his whole life in Arabia, and died in Medina in 632 CE, where he is buried. He never set foot in the land of Israel or Jerusalem and certainly never walked on the Temple Mount. If you were looking to reference other historical figures, perhaps you could have mentioned Kings David and Solomon; the Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, or Judah Maccabee, all of whom likely walked on the Temple Mount during the days that the Jewish Temple stood there.

  3. True, but believing that Muhammed ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount is different from suggesting that the historical figure Muhammed actually walked on the Temple Mount. There is absolutely no evidence that the historical Muhammed ever left Arabia and got anywhere near the land of Israel and Jerusalem.

  4. Hi Rafe:
    This is my first chance to respond. Thanks for reading my posts. On most of these issues you are far better informed than I am. I talked with some of my Arab friends here on the tour. According to them, Muhammed flew here on some kind of mystical steed, similar to a horse, and tied it to the Wailing Wall. He then ascended to Heaven from the Temple Mount. No one knows if he got off the animal and walked around, or went directly to Heaven, so we could both be right. It gets tricky when you start talking about evidence in relation to this kind of myth. There is about as much evidence for Muhammed being in Jerusalem as there is for God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. Bruce

  5. Hi Bruce, I actually agree with your last comment. My only point was that Muhammed is a historical figure whose history and life have been pretty well documented by historians (unlike Abraham or Moses), and the historical record shows that Muhammed lived his life in Arabia and is buried in Medina.

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