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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An American Jew in Damascus

An American Jew made the unusual choice of spending eight months living in Damascus, instead of spending it in Israel like most American Jews would. He writes of his experiences here (Hat Tip: Solomonia). Here's part of it.
"My experiences in Syria, as well as my travel throughout Lebanon, Jordan, and Kurdish Iraq, ranged from the absurdly predictable to the wonderfully unexpected and surprising. My first observation upon arriving in Damascus was how Palestinian flags almost outnumber Syrian flags across the country. At the government subsidized Arabic language center, uncritically profiled by the New York Times, there is a map in every classroom of Palestine (without Israel, although Tel-Abeeb is on the map), some making dubious land claims to Lebanon and Turkey as well, while many teachers teach propaganda to students from all over the world. This can range from learning Palestinian resistance songs to learning about IDF 'massacres' and teaching the students about their perspectives on Zionism. This is done while extolling the Arab armies for their superior ethics in battle, which Judaism does not have, according to my teacher, and their "meticulous" distinctions between Jew, Israeli and Zionist.

"This last point was like a bad joke: the three terms are indistinguishable in everyday conversation, usually preceded or followed by an expletive. As an American I was confronted by eager Syrians wanting to educate me against the Jews/AIPAC/Israel/Zionists who are controlling America. My German friends were often greeted by shop-owners with a Heil Hitler while expressing their love for the Third Reich.

"What was most shocking to me was that even the most westernized and independent thinkers I met were obsessed with conspiracy theories. Many are convinced that 9/11 was carried out by the US or Jews; that the US caused the earthquake in Haiti in order to occupy it for its resources (which ones I do not know); that Israel caused the earthquake in order to send in medical teams to steal organs or to distract the world from Gaza; that the Mossad downed Ethiopian Airlines 737 leaving from Beirut; that the Department of Defense or Mossad created H1N1 while investing in pharmaceuticals to profit off of the sick; the list goes on.

"The front pages of Syria's largest newspapers, state-controlled of course, always had a story inciting hate against Israel, whether there was actual news to report on or not. I remember the day that the Hurva Synagogue was re-dedicated in the Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, a day dubbed by the Syrian press as a "day of rage," portraying the re-dedication as one more step to destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Nowhere was it ever mentioned that the synagogue was twice destroyed in over 200 years by Arabs and that it was in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. My Arabic tutor, brilliant and politically savvy, yet a very traditional Sunni, was the most outraged out of anyone I had met. He spent an entire lesson, two-and-a-half hours, lecturing me on the Torah and the Talmud, which he claimed to have read, and outlined the Elders' of Zion plot to control the world and dominate the Arabs. In one sentence he both denied the Holocaust and affirmed it in order to use it to compare Palestinian suffering.

"It is ironic that while most Syrians think that the US is controlled by Jews and that we are more than 2.5% of the population, they never imagine that the Americans they meet might be Jewish. The Arab world is full of Jews like myself learning Arabic-- by chance my American room-mate was Jewish. I am sure our two Syrian room-mates, one Shia and one Sunni, had no idea who they were living with. Occasionally I would venture to challenge someone's anti-semitic beliefs. I tried pointing out how the Jews had suffered in Syria, or would direct the conversation to why there are no more Jews, and where they might be. I was always met with blank stares, a confused look that did not understand why I was not agreeing with them. After all, any good person's moral compass in the Arab world has Palestine as the epitome of Good, and Israel/Jews as the epitome of Evil. No one I spoke to cared what the fate was of Syrian Jewry.
Read it all. You will conclude - as I have - that real peace with Syria isn't happening anytime soon.

The picture at the top is from Beit Murhad Farhi, which was once owned by a Syrian Jew.


At 9:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The greatest obstacle to peace besides the endemic Jew-hatred in the Arab World, is Arab egocentrism. They simply are not capable of seeing the world the way other people see it, let alone appreciate they do have interests and rights that deserve respect.


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