Received via email from the Bay Area Alliance for a Just Peace In Palestine/Israel listserve:
A Call for Peace, Understanding and an end to the Violence: A Lesson from Lebanon
By Michael (Mike) Dahan
I am an Israeli political scientist currently participating in an academic conference in Cairo, Egypt. It is the annual meeting of the International Association of Media and Communication Research. Even under the best of circumstances, it is not easy for an Israeli to participate in a conference in Cairo due to issues related to normalization. Today, when Israel is at war with Lebanon, it is even more difficult. Indeed, almost all the Israeli participants cancelled at the last minute. I decided to go because I felt that as an academic, an intellectual, it was crucial for me to participate, to keep lines of communication open with my Arab and Muslim colleagues in the region. To talk and to discuss. To share knowledge.
The conference has a large number of participants from throughout the region -- Palestinians, Lebanese, Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians and others. I presented a paper co authored with an Egyptian colleague and friend. In the audience and on the panel with me were my "enemies". At least, that is what my government and to a certain extent, my society, would like me to believe.
The paper was very well received. The next day, one of the people at the conference who had heard the presentation approached me and complimented me on the paper. He introduced himself as a Professor at the American University in Beirut. He had also come to the conference in spite of the "situation", a word that has become a euphemism for the death and destruction, the agony and the pain that we all share. He noted that I was slightly nervous during the presentation, that he had felt this and wanted to tell me that I had no reason to be nervous, that it was a good paper. Under any other circumstances his comments would have been innocent, devoid of any emotional weight. A simple expression of respect and comraderie from one academic to another. Yet his remarks and his insight brought tears to my eyes. I expressed to him my disgust for the violence that is being perpetrated by my country against his own. He in turn expressed similar feelings about the suffering in northern Israel. He handed me a copy of his own paper. A little while later we met again. I told him that his remarks had brought tears to my eyes. We looked at each other and embraced. A few hours later, when I had a chance, I began to read his paper. In the prologue he noted the words of two Egyptian artists, Ahmad Fouad Negm, and the Oud player, Sheikh Imam. He brought forth only four lines which stress the power of words, the main tools of communication. These words echo and reverberate in my mind, refusing to leave me, to allow me any rest or respite:
Should the sun drown in the sea of clouds
And should the world be engulfed in waves of darkness
You who search, and care, for meaning
Shall find nothing to guide you, but eyes made of words.
I call on my colleagues back home, those "who search and care for meaning", to take heed of these words, to listen and to think, to rise above the pain and sorrow, and to let reason and humanity prevail. In the end, as human beings, all we have is our own basic humanity. As academics all we have in the end are words. Let us use these two very basic tools to end the suffering, to speak out loudly and clearly, before it is too late and we are all engulfed in the flames.
-- Michael (Mike) Dahan, Cairo, July 26th, 2006