Coexistence in the Middle East

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Coexistence is a condition in which two or more groups live together peacefully by respecting their differences, communicating as an entity, and solving their possible conflicts non-violently. The term used to describe this state was introduced during the Cold War, where the idea of “peaceful coexistence” was used to attempt to describe the relations between the US and the USSR. Coexistence was initially utilized to cover up for their constant aggression, which later evolved as a guide for reframing a relationship between their powers.

When one looks at the current state of the Middle East, coexistence is probably the last term to come to mind. Coming from that part of the world, I am a person always in search of some form of absolute truth, whether or not that really exists, and how much of an impact it has on my life. The core of seeking truth comes from understanding and gaining knowledge of current, past, and reoccurring issues. There are some parts of the world where conflicts never seem to die and as Middle Easterners living in the West, we must examine how much, or how little “coexistence” means in the lives of our real homes.

Unfortunately the answer for this question depends on who is answering it, and where they are from. The news will portray each nation will point fingers at its enemy (who is their neighbor), we often hear the Palestinians saying Israel is committing a war crime, and at the same time Israel will state that Palestine is posing a deadly threat to its people. Therefore, if we rely on today’s politics, the answer will be simple, coexistence means nothing in the Middle East, and we should just forget about it.

Interestingly enough, in 2005 a film called “Knowledge is the Beginning” was made that created a lot of buzz, especially for Middle Easterners. In this film, an unusual and unique friendship flourishes between a Jewish symphony conductor and pianist, David Barenboim, and Palestinian proud activist and English Professor, Edward Said. What on earth can blossom such a combination? Music. The two brilliant minds created a bond that merged their cultural differences, and focused on the beauty of their similarities.

What is sad is that while our cultures are so beautifully intertwined, all we can focus on – as students and young adults – is protesting against each other in Universities, and the public outdoors. Today, when the role of leading is proposed, everyone puts up their hand, yet when we are given the option of being lead, we let our pride get in the way and turn our heads around. Barenboim and Said both prove themselves to be leaders as they work and learn together.

When they bring together a musical ensemble composed of Israeli and Arab artists in order to conduct symphonies in the West Bank, several political and administrative challenges arise. The heated students on the front line of the protests would think this musical ensemble is currently impossible, and that the two enemies (neighbors) would only be able to live in peace if they each take their own land and live in it – erasing the possibility of harmony and coexistence.

However, although the film demonstrated conflicts and problems that would arise during the first couple of rehearsals, we gradually see how the artists start to bond over their love of music, a harmonic ground that both cultures can engage in together. What this orchestra achieved is not just great music; they proved to all the “nay-sayers” and politically hungry folks out there that Barenboim and Said created a symbol of harmony that could be achieved in the Middle East.

Coexistence was accomplished by these are two men, who should have been miles apart politically, yet in our own university, with our own peers, coexistence is merely an idea, that is hardly ever discussed. As a Middle Eastern student, studying in the West, the conflicts back home have continued to encourage me to seek for the absolute truth. This film underlined the importance of such means for dialogue in order to stimulate compassion and hope.

Going alongside with coexistence, “the unfolding new world older leaves little room for individual states, especially the smaller ones, to make it on their own” (Khashan, Hilal pp142). Continuous determination to protest, and fight in order to “rebel” against the enemy will get us no where, in fact it will not only hurt our generation, but the future ones to come as well. In a kindergarten school in Israel, for both Israeli and Arab children a young girl recently came home and told her mother “Mommy, today we played war between Israel and Gaza” (Mitnick, Joshua). Is this really what five year olds should be playing?

Such an example is exactly why coexistence should no longer be looked at as an “idea” or a “dream”, it should be worked on as a necessity for our lives. Barenboim and Said took on this initiative through music, and it is now our time to take action. Nuclear bombs, guns, missiles, and stones: these are not the proper mediums that we should be utilizing in order to achieve “peace”, and neither are protests that get us no where. If peace and harmony is our true goal, then knowledge, and understanding are the only methods that will allow us to live in coexistence with one another.

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