Can Stars Provide Answers for Resolving Israeli-Palestinian Dispute?
By Ray Hanania

Published 04.23.06
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 and Muslims.
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 lunar eclipse.
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 other.
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 spirits.
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 Passover.
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 East.
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 of peace
Published 08.17.05
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 "Shalom."
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 in traffic.
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 company.
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. "Mooooorrrrrrron!"
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 just Jew-ish?"
"Honey," I began a little reluctantly. "Guess what?"
"Don't tell me," my wife said. "Aaron spoke his first words and I wasn't even there. What was it?"
I could hear the excitement in her voice.
"Well, it's good news and it's bad news," I began.
"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 first word."
"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 "first" word.
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."

Things Palestinians and Israelis share
Published 07.25.05
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 share.
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.
Overbearing moms
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 Jews.
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 ourselves.
We both blame everyone else for our problems, rather than ourselves.
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 an opportunity."
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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