By Dr Cesar Chelala
I have just returned from a concert by Gabriel Meyer Halevy, an Argentine-Israeli musician. He is the son of Marshall Meyer, an American rabbi who lived in Argentina during that country’s “Dirty War” in which thousands of people became “desaparecidos.” Marshall Meyer’s work helped save the lives of dozens of people who were persecuted by the Argentine military. His son Gabriel carries his father’s same concern for peace and human rights.
During the concert, Gabriel started by singing one of the most beautiful songs for peace, “I only ask of God”, a song known all over the world. The song was written by Leon Gieco, an Argentine musician, and its lyrics still resonate as I leave the concert.
I only ask of God
Not to let me be indifferent to the wars
It is a big monster that treads hard
On the poor innocence of the people
Gabriel, who lives in Israel, told the audience how, during the last Israeli offensive on Gaza he joined with several Arab friends and, in the middle of the conflict surrounding them – like staying in the eye of a storm, he said – lived for several days in an community of absolute working and praying for peace. Their action was part of a growing movement called ‘We Refuse to be Enemies’.
The movement has the participation of Arabs, Israelis and Israeli Arabs united in their longing for peace. The slogan ‘We Refuse to be Enemies’ has now turned into an international social media campaign against the unnecessary deaths in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the need for peace in the region.
During the time Gabriel was with his Palestinian friends, living without any of the modern conveniences of the age – no Wi-Fi, no cellular phones, no computers – they only learned of the war raging around them through one of the members of the group. She lived nearby, and twice a day returned to her home to learn what was happening and convey the news to the rest of the group.
“Totally isolated from our surroundings,” said Gabriel, “we cared for the animals in the farm, a donkey, a few chickens, rabbits, and planted some trees, trees that represented a counterpoint to the lives that were being destroyed at the time.”
Although a small movement at the moment, ‘We Refuse to be Enemies’ can become an important source of activities where both Palestinians and Israelis who want to know each other better join in a necessary step towards peace. In this regard, I remember an old Israeli professor who lives in Jerusalem who told me that, aside from his gardener, he had never spoken to a Palestinian person. How can there be peace among people who don’t know each other?
Ignorance breeds hate and hate breeds violence. By getting to know each other better, both Israelis and Palestinians create the necessary conditions for peace. As Israeli poet and composer Amir Paiss stated: “When we choose Love over Fear, we re-educate ourselves and educate our children to seeing one another as partners for Peace rather than rivals for war.”
Dr Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and a national journalism award from Argentina