Just bringing you up to date, in case you’ve missed the memo: all Arabs are cowards, stupid, have an eagle-nose, and carry long curved knives, ready to kill you if you ever turn your back. All Jews have hidden satanic horns, big noses, are hunchbacks, and draw blood of non-Jewish children for religious ceremonies, mostly before Passover, but not on a Saturday if it falls on the third week of the month… Don’t believe me? How about opening some Israeli children literature from the 70s? Or standard text books in many of the Arab countries today?
“Children are the most naïve creatures you will ever run into,” I once heard a parenting expert say; “they will believe anything demeaning an adult tells them, especially if it is their parent or teacher. Tell a child he is clumsy and he will prove you right. Tell your daughter, in a flash of anger, that she is stupid, and she will certainly grow up to be one. But,” he added after a short pause, “Children are also the most wonderful beings you will ever encounter. If you tell a child he is smart, he will do anything he can to stand up to your praises. If you tell your daughter that no matter what, you believe in her, she will rise to the occasion and shine ever so brightly.”
Growing up in Israel in the 70s, I loved reading. I still do. Maybe it was a telltale sign of my draw towards writing. I read whatever I was able to lay my hands on – mysteries and adventures, fantasies and science-fiction. Not least of which, were serial books by Israeli writers of the time, that told of the adventures of my countrymen’s fictional heroes, fighting against the Arab enemy. In those young-adult novels, the stories where full of wonder; champions with super powers, bravery and… slant, prejudice and propaganda that would have made Joseph Goebbels blush. It included protagonists such as Oz Yaoz, Tzuptzik and Danidin; the latter being a kid that could become invisible after drinking a purple portion. These childhood heroes went behind enemy lines and dealt a blow to the Arabs, a people which were presented in a hateful way.
I can share with you that even though this was many years ago –in the neighborhood of four decades, and despite me since meeting plenty of generous, smart and caring Arabs, the prejudice imprinted onto my young mind, cannot be easily erased; not by rational, not by my life-experience and not even by compassion. I recognize today that those books were nothing but cheap propaganda, yet the inscription it left on a young, impressionable brain, is quite deep. If you are not an Israeli of my generation, and you think this doesn’t apply to you, please contemplate for a moment about a minority or an “enemy” of your country. Please take note of the very first and true reaction that pops into your mind upon thinking of that group of “others”. It is an impression we typically promptly tend to brush off, as we are too noble to acknowledge we all have prejudice. As an example, for White Americans, there may be a strong imprint of bias against Blacks; even those liberals who seem completely at ease. It is not their fault, it is conditioned. And so long as we deny it, we can never address it head-on.
First impression counts. It actually counts a lot. If you are about to meet someone you have never met before, and everyone tells you ahead of time how bright she is, even if all this person will say in the meeting would just be a few simple words, in your mind it will reaffirm her outstanding reputation. Jerzy Kosinski’s book Being There, made into a fantastic film starring Peter Sellers, elevates this disturbing fact of life to an art. In the story, a simple-minded middle-aged man, whose entire knowledge is derived from watching TV, as well as his experience as a gardener, is perceived as a superbly wise person, because of an endorsement from a successful businessman. The simpleton’s subsequent rise to glory, is the result of a chain-effect that started with that incorrect first impression. Round and about, a friend of mine once told me, that in an appearance by the Dalai Lama (or some other known spiritual figure,) the Master insisted that he is not an enlightened being. Yet, all those present took his sincere comment for a sign of his humbleness… If we believe something about someone, it will be hard to change our minds once it is set.
The excellent 1998 film American History X, staring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, tells the story of two Venice, Los Angeles brothers, who become involved in the neo-Nazi White-Supremacy movement. It is a highly recommended movie, and I would have loved to see it as part of the school curriculum in the USA. In particular I liked how, in a flashback scene during the film, the brothers’ father is shown displaying racist tendencies, lacing his angry words with a host of comments against Jews and Blacks. That his children will later turn into skinheads, serves as no surprise. Remember? Children believe everything their parents tell them, well, at least up to a certain age. When they turn teenagers, it may be a different story…
The truth is that we have been duped and there is very little we can do about it. The adults we looked up to when we were young, set a course for us. Yes, I want to believe I have the power to change that course, and I often work on it. But the damage had been done. This is one reason that I rather smack my kids if they behave really badly, than say one bad word about their character. The memory of the physical slap will soon be gone, but the wounds left by a verbal insult tend to stay forever. In his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients, Sheldon Kopp mentions such an incident (verbal insult that haunted him to his adult life,) and I wholeheartedly concur. I was, occasionally, smacked by my parents. With one exception, I remember none of those incidents. But I do remember the two times my dad, losing his temper due to reasons I know today had nothing to do with me, called me names. Words, coming from someone we respect and trust, which during our younger years include just about anyone who is older than us, have tremendous power.
This brings me to the sad reality of the Middle East; a region where hate continues to pour into the veins of new generations. I believe that those books, so popular in my youth, are all long-gone from the shelves of modern Israel. Sadly I know for a fact that this is not the case in most Arab countries. School text books, not to mention fiction and comics, still teach a new generation of children the same horrible prejudice about Jews, forged in the ovens of Nazi Germany. It is further reinforced by these kids’ parents, teachers and religious preachers. Many Arabs, even the intellectuals among them, who may crave peace, cannot shake the conditioned twisted images of the hated Jews (and the despised Americans for that matter.) It means that we are mostly doomed. Such people will have an impossible task of signing a peace treaty with the monsters of their childhood. The imprint of their earlier years’ education is way too deep. And I am not referring to Israel’s bombing of Gaza – those scars, as horrible as they may be, can be healed. Words leave a deeper impact than bombs.
My only hope is that a rare occurrence will take place, and that a leader will rise above the popular belief. This true Arab governor, powerful enough to sway the masses, will be able to put the past where it belongs and move forward; a champion his people will be willing to follow. The current generation will never believe in reconciliation but, with a little bit of luck, removal of all hatred materials from the libraries, and plenty of time, their children’s children may finally enjoy the fruits of real peace.
Learned from: several discussions on and offline with various people.
p.s. in my research for this post I run into the following, and thought it would be interesting to share:
Question: What is the story behind the rumor about why Jews have horns? How did that get started?
Answer: To my knowledge, it began with a mistranslation of Exodus 34:29—“…and Moses didn’t know that his face shone when He [God] spoke with him.” The Hebrew word for the verb “shone” is “karan” and is phonetically close to the word “keren,” which can mean horn. The error was compounded by the Italian artist, Michelangelo, in his sculpture of Moses, which portrays our leader with two horns.
With best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton
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