Can Stars Provide
Answers for Resolving Israeli-Palestinian Dispute?
By Ray Hanania
Is there a place where Palestinians and Jews can
look to find answers to their unending conflict?
One answer is to look to the stars.
Now, I'm not a big believer in Horoscopes, short
paragraphs written by "psychics" of sorts
who interpret the alignment of planets and stars
to explain how people born on certain dates may
or may not act.
When I was younger and the most popular astrologer
was a writer named "Omar," I did follow
his writings because he was the only journalist
when I was growing up who had an Arab name.
The American news media is so biased that it took
generations for Arabs to be allowed into the exclusive
club of the Fourth Estate. So when you come across
a journalist named "Omar," you read his
writings even if they dwell on things like finding
a wife, or losing weight.
Palestinians and Israelis all pray to the Heavens
for answers. So far, we haven't seen any good answers.
But maybe, we are looking too far. Maybe we should
be looking towards the moon?
When you think about it, the moon doesn't just have
a tremendous impact on Earth, tugging on our oceans
with its gravity pull to keep our planet from spinning
out of control. The moon has a tremendous impact
on our individual lives, too, as Jews, Christians
Every year, I hear my wife Alison ask her father
the same question: "Dad, can you quit calling
the FBI and turning in my husband? The credit card
refuses to cover his bond any more."
Wrong question. Actually, the one I hear her ask
with lesser frequency is, "Tatti, when is Chanukah
this year?" Her father wisely replies, "The
same day it always is. The 25th of Kislev."
Of course, he always lectures me, "If you can't
say something nice, say it in Yiddish."
The truth is, although Palestinians and Israelis
live in a modern world, the ancient world still
impacts our lives, starting with the calendar.
Clearly, we can't have a religious celebration or
religious event without first looking up and fixating
on the moon, which, because of its nature, changes
shape every day - every 29.5 days, to be precise,
or 13 times a year.
We move from a crescent moon to a full moon. Sometimes,
the shadow of the earth from the sun's light casts
itself onto the moon, causing a creeping and creepy
We just had a lunar eclipse. Most Palestinians and
Israelis probably didn't even notice the event,
too busy throwing rocks and lobbing bombs at each
But a few of us put down our stones and Qassem rockets
to go outside as the moon was being eclipsed. They
carried pots and pans that they clapped together
to create a loud noise to frighten away the bad
I always thought that if you believed in the One
God - Jew, Christian or Muslim - you didn't have
to worry about the Jin, or the evil-doers. I'm referring
to the spiritual evil-doers, not the political ones
President George Bush is so fond of citing every
time he is about to start a military conflict.
That's because the moon does play an important part
in our lives.
For example, without the moon, we wouldn't know
when to celebrate our religious holidays, which
change dates from year to year.
When does Ramadan begin? As soon as a faithful Muslim
first sights the crescent moon.
When is Passover? Got to check the moon.
This year, traditional Western Easter was celebrated
on April 16, while the Orthodox Christians who rely
on the Julian Calendar, which is based on the moon,
celebrated it one week later. It's also tied to
It's the same for the Orthodox Christmas, too.
Priests and Rabbis and Imams use complex algorithms
to determine the precise dates in the contemporary
calendar, which constantly change because of the
switch from the Gregorian to Julian calendars sometime
in the 16th Century.
The whole problem of date conflicts has its ups
and its downs, especially for me as an Orthodox
Christian living in America.
Once Americans finish celebrating Christmas or Easter,
the stores put all the holiday decorations, candy
and baskets on sale. I can save mucho moolah waiting
until the American holidays are past to buy my Christmas
and Easter decorations. Any time you save money
because of your religion, that is a good thing,
although to most Americans, the holidays are all
about commercialism and making money.
There is a down side that not even saving money
can comfort, especially for people of the Middle
I mean, there are only two people who I know who
are influenced by the phases of the moon.
The werewolf, whose frightening transformation occurs
13 times a year from a mortal man into a vicious
monster, in, coincidentally, much the same way that
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators often transform,
too, from lovers of peace to cruel terrorists.
And, my wife.
Regardless of how loving and caring she is, I know
there are a few days each month I had better stay
out of her way, or pay the steep consequences.
It's just a fact of life, I guess.
A new language
My wife and I have rivalries about everything, but
the most competitive was to teach our son how to
speak. We each wanted to be the one to teach him
his first word.
For Alison, being Jewish, she wanted him to say
For me, being Palestinian, I wanted to teach him
something simple like "Palestine is Arab Land.
Free Palestine. Long Live the Revolution. Down with
the Shah. The people, united will never be defeated."
But I ended up compromising with myself, as many
Palestinians often do. And I settled on just trying
to teach him to say the word "Salam."
When Alison wasn't watching, I would turn towards
my son and repeat the word over and over again.
"Salam! Salam! Salam!" Being only two,
he just looked at me like I was some kind of nut.
I am sure Alison was doing the same thing when I
wasn't around. I often overheard her repeatedly
whispering the word "Shalom," and even
the entire lyrics from HaTikvah slowly and steadily
in the baby's room.
Still, after all those concentrated by failed teaching
lessons, our son never seemed to pick up either
of our intended phrases.
The truth is you can't force human beings of any
age to do or say anything, unless they want to do
or say something themselves. Kids, especially, never
learn what you want them to learn, and neither do
some adults. They learn what they want to learn,
when they want to learn it.
So the first words our son spoke came on his schedule,
unexpectedly, and surprising us both, of course.
Beware of what you say in front of children
I was driving my SUV Taxi Cab decorated with the
15 snap-on American flags (to discourage sneers
from other Americans as I drove by) and bumper stickers
that proclaimed, despite my ethnic appearance, that
I was a "proud American." And I was stuck
As hard as you try not to say bad words in front
of your child, some words inevitably just slip past.
Impatient with rush hour traffic, I started a stream
of angry and frustrating epithets.
No, I'm not talking about the final words one says
at the end of a person's life, at the closing remarks
of a religious service, or at leaving one's settlement
in the Gaza Strip.
I mean bad words. Words you wouldn't repeat in good
At the end of the stream of angry epithets, I ended
it with one of my favorite. "Moron!"
And from the back of the car in the passenger seat,
safely and snuggly wrapped in his seat belt and
baby chair, I heard my son utter his first word.
Of course, that began the toughest conversation
I have ever had with my wife, other than our first
one: "You a Jew? I thought you said you were
"Honey," I began a little reluctantly.
"Don't tell me," my wife said. "Aaron
spoke his first words and I wasn't even there. What
I could hear the excitement in her voice.
"Well, it's good news and it's bad news,"
"You mean his first word wasn't just a word?
It was a phrase?" she asked perplexed.
"Aaaaaah. Not exactly a phrase," I said.
"The good news, honey, is Aaron did utter his
"And the bad news?" my wife demanded.
Well, as you can imagine, it took us both a lot
of hard work to undo the damage and teach him another
We both continued with our political messages of
peace. "Shalom," Alison said. "Salam,"
I quickly contributed.
And then one day, on his own, Aaron looked up and
surprised us both as we sat around the dinner table.
It was a very simple phrase. But he said it so clearly
and with such a bright smile, it made us both sigh
with relief and hope.
Aaron simply said "Shalam."
Palestinians and Israelis share
It's too easy to come up with the things Palestinians
and Israelis hate about each other. So I thought
about trying to identify those things that might
help bring us together, like things that we share.
I got the idea from the Network of Spiritual Activism
conference I attended last week in San Francisco,
where I was invited to entertain 1,350 activists
with my Palestinian-Jewish standup comedy.
Humor is definitely something Palestinians and Jews
The conference was hosted by Tikkun and its founder,
anti-war legend and the author of "Healing
Israel, Healing Palestine," Rabbi Michael Lerner.
So many people came up after the show and said they
are so tired of hearing about the things that keep
our peoples apart. They want to hear things that
might bring us together. We share so much, we can
certainly share the Holy Land.
Here are a few things we share.
We both eat a lot. A recent study showed that 39
percent of Israelis are overweight. In the Arab
World, they measure it by how many Arabs are thin.
I have a theory about all this. The more conservative
you are, Palestinian or Jewish, the fatter you want
your wives and children. The more liberal, the more
you are drawn into the Western image of anorexia.
So our mothers force feed us like ducks to produce
a human version of foie gras.
Semites and food
We also claim the same foods as our own. So like
the debate over the Wall or the Fence, which people
in the middle simply call the Barrier, I'll refer
to Arab and Jewish food simply as the Shinui Party
Platter, which offers something for everyone.
We both bring food on the airplane. And, we eat
the food during the flight, not before or after.
It's not about being kosher, halal or safe, but
about wanting something that tastes good. Airline
food is like cardboard with salt on it.
Nothing beats fruit, dates, corned beef or falafel.
The downside is Middle East food has a heavy odor.
I remember my mom opening a cellophane covered dish
of grape leaves on a flight, once, and everyone
jumped from their seat with frightened looks on
their faces, the way many airline passengers react
when they see me enter the plane wearing my kafeyeh.
Upon entering the plane, security often asks me
straight out, "Do you have any weapons of mass
destruction on you?"
To which I reply, "I am a weapon of mass destruction.
I just ate a whole bowl of tabouli."
It won't be grape leaves forcing the other passengers
to their feet during this flight.
We both are emotional. Very emotional. We love and
hate each other all in the same moment. And we usually
will say something kinder to a stranger than we
will to members of our own family.
We both have overbearing mothers whose constant
doting turns many of us into either physicians or
psychotics. The line that separates genius from
insanity is indeed very fine with Palestinians and
We both look a lot alike. Same skin color, same
accents, same noses and we're both cheap. That's
why we need a wall to keep us apart. In fact, at
airports in Europe, Palestinians and Israelis are
often mistaken for Pakistanis.
We both love to give advice, but we never take it
We both blame everyone else for our problems, rather
We both have witty little derogatory sayings about
each other that are intended to hurt, like, the
favorite of the Jews: "Palestinians never miss
an opportunity to miss an opportunity." And
the favorite of the Palestinians, "Jews never
miss an opportunity to force Palestinians to miss
Finally, we both love parables, like the one about
the frog and the scorpion at the lake.
The scorpion asks the frog to give him a ride across
the lake (which symbolizes peace). The frog says
sure, but cautions, "I trust you won't sting
me because we will both drown." Halfway across,
the scorpion stings the frog and before they both
die, the shocked frog asks why? The scorpion, not
very creatively, replies, "Because this is
the Middle East."
The only problem with that story, of course, is
that we both think we're the frog.