Authors denounce terrorism

BY ROBERT A. COHN

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Two authors of non-fiction books with widely differing backgrounds, one an Egyptian-born Muslim and the other an American-born Jew, offered presentations on the Arab-Israeli conflict in which each of them denounced terrorism and continued to express cautious hope for eventual peace between Israel and the Palestinians despite the violence in the Middle East.

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Nonie Darwish, author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounce Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror, received a sustained standing ovation from a large audience in the Pasternak Auditorium of the Jewish Community Center, for her personal narrative which many found to be both moving and extremely courageous. Darwish, born in Egypt, and whose father was the original leader by the the mid-l950s, of the Fedayeen terrorists who would attack Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, then controlled by Egypt, and who was considered a “Shahid,” or martyr because he had been killed in a targeted assassination by Israel, described how a series of experiences, culminating in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, combined to give her “a greater appreciation of the freedoms and democracy we enjoy in the United States,” as well as greater repugnance “for the terrorism which Israel has had to live with for so many years.”

The audience expressed astonishment at the forthright and strongly-worded denunciations by Darwish of both regional and global terrorism, including that carried out by Hamas and Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and by Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza. Darwish has emerged as one of the leading internal critics among Muslim intellectuals, and often receives death threats for openly expressing her views.

Jeffrey Rosen, winner of the Overseas Press Club Award for his reportage on the Middle East, and the ADL’s Daniel Pearl Award among many others, is author of Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, which Ted Koppel, longtime host of ABC-TV’s Nightline describes as “a brilliant journey of self-discovery” which “manages the near-impossible task of proclaiming Zionism while embracing some dreams of Palestinian nationalism without sacrificing good humor, great reporting and wonderful storytelling.”

Goldberg measured up to Koppel’s description as the culminating speaker of the 28th Annual Greater St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, which was hosted at Temple Israel as part of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association’s Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs Institute of Jewish Studies.

Goldberg describes the friendship he developed, despite many challenges with Rafiq, a rising leader in the Palestine Liberation Organization, while Goldberg was serving as a guard at Israel’s largest prison in l990, at the height of the first Palestinian uprising, called the First Intifada.

Goldberg, who described his parents as secular New York Jewish Zionists who had sent him to Zionist Socialist summer camps when he was a child, shared that he moved to Israel while still a college student. “There was already a war in my heart between the magnetic pull of the tribe, which is particularist, and the universalist ideal of attempting to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs.”

Goldberg said that his youthful Zionist Socialist idealism caused him to make aliyah, “but I soon discovered that the reality of serving in the Israeli Army was not like singing Kumbayah around the campfire. I ended up serving as a guard at the Ketziot prison camp, which housed over 6,300 prisoners, including rock-throwers, knifemen, bomb-makers and propagandists.

“I really did not like the assignment, because I wanted to protect Israel and not be a prison guard or a policeman, but I came to see my role as an opportunity to develop a dialogue with Palestinians who might someday play a meaningful role in the peace process, if that could be put back on track.”

Both Darwish, the Muslim who opposes terrorism and “Jihadist” hatred on the part of her own people, and Goldberg, a life-long Zionist and journalist who continues to favor dialogue despite the risks with Palestinians, engaged their large audiences in an active dialogue.

Darwish indicated that the reason there are not many members of the American or global Muslim and Arab communities who speak out as forcefully as she does against terrorism, includes “the violent reactions which any kind of criticism receives, whether it is against cartoons in a Danish newspaper; the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh for making a critical film about Muslims, or the violent reaction to a speech by the Pope,” which she says strike fear into other potential critics. “But I feel I must speak out,” she said.

Goldberg pointed out in answer to a question by the St. Louis Jewish Light, that Marwan Barghouti, a former PLO leader now in an Israeli prison, is playing an ongoing positive role in attempting to break the impasses resulting from the Hamas election victory in the Palestinian elections. Barghouti is attempting to mediate an agreement between the Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah, which would be headed by “technocrats” so as to allow financial aid to flow back into the Palestinian Authority and allow a resumption of the stalled peace process.

“It is difficult to be overly optimistic in view of recent violent events, but I do remain cautiously hopeful about such efforts as those of Barghouti,” Goldberg said.