I just came back from Israel.
In my thirty years as a journalist traveling to many countries over a few continents, that sliver of land everyone is fighting over may be the pinnacle. (I brought a lot of souvenirs for my kids, but my daughter’s favorite was the Israeli chocolate appropriately named Bakar, which means cow in both Hebrew and Arabic).
The country of Israel, or Palestine, is laden with beauty. Of course, the name depends on which side of the fence you grew up on. (I am not being metaphorical here, there are literally fences and walls separating Arabs from Israelis). We traveled from The Negev desert to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Beersheba to Haifa. There is so much difference in geography and culture in an area smaller than the state of Alabama.
Israel became a country when Britain gave the Jews a sliver of land as a home state in 1948 following the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II. Over the next few decades, much war and turbulence took place dislocating millions of Palestinians and causing loss of life on both sides. My country of birth, Syria, lost the Golan Heights to Israel in 1973.
I grew up having to say not-very-nice-things about the Jews in school demonstrations. I wasn’t convinced I hated the Jews, but my dad told me just to move my lips so I won’t get in trouble. Now that I live here and have many Jewish and Israeli friends, I am working on reconciling so many opposing worldviews.
During my trip to Israel, I discovered a hidden reason for the decades-long conflict.
You might say ownership of the Dome of the Rock is that reason. That is the place Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, according to the Jews, or Ishmael according to the Muslims. Hence granting the land to one of the two peoples…if it was Isaac, then the land belongs to the Jews. If it was Ishmael, then Muslims would inherit it.
That issue will never be solved.
It has been a few thousand years, and all evidence of the child’s actual identity is based on the holy book of each religion. Since both sides say, “I am right, and you are wrong,” we are at a deadlock, (sort of like the American Congress at the moment).
I have come up with a different solution.
This may sound silly but hear me out. I noticed while in Israel that Jews say “Khummus” about the yummy Middle Eastern dish, otherwise known as “Hummus” for Arabs who have the letter H in their alphabet. Jews only have the letter KH in theirs. (Imagine clearing your throat in order to spit, I know I am not being appetizing here, but that is what my friends do when they imitate my Arabic).
My Jewish friends and I consumed a lot of Khummus, and I kept trying to tell them it should be pronounced: Hummus. They would laugh and deny me the thrill.
Then it hit me.
The way we say the word differently could be responsible for more than the waiter looking at you funny. SayingHummus in an Israeli town means you are an Arab, and you are immediately placed in a box. Saying Khummus in an Arabic town places you in a box as well.
That box is called prejudice, hate, conflict, years and years of bloodshed and land lost and family killed and terror inflicted – from both sides and onto both sides. Both have been right, and both have been wrong.
If Israelis and Arabs agree on saying Hummus/Khummus the same way, it could bring them closer. After all, it is the national food for both parties, (both claim to have invented it). Arabs and Israelis don’t agree on much, they should at least come to a consensus about the dish they love. And maybe we can find more consensus in the names we have for other foods, places and people, too.
Maybe then we can look at each other and smile, instead of shoot.
Can you pass the —ummus please?