Continued cooperation key for Arab-Israeli peace


In 1998, my wife and I visited the Palestinian city of Hebron. We had come to see the Cave of Machpelah, the Biblical tomb of the Hebrew patriarchs and matriarchs. Upon exiting the tomb, we entered the city.We stepped into a wide, dusty street with elevated wooden sidewalks. It looked like Tombstone, Arizona, 1881, and the gunfight at the OK Corral. The place was not without more recent gunfights.

We bought some stuff from a shop where the owner’s father had been murdered at the cave, by Baruch Goldstein, an American-Jewish terrorist. The owner said he had no animosity toward us. Then we sat down in a market for tea with some guys from Islamic Jihad, Fatah and Hamas. 

Later, we visited the Jewish settlement where a few hundred settlers lived among 110,000 Palestinians. It was a hexagonal reinforced concrete building, three or four stories high, with a single entrance. Inside was a park and playground; children ran around and all the adults were armed. We drank tea with the leadership in an office that had several emergency radios.

What are you guys doing here? I asked. This was their answer.

“…Jews, expelled from Spain by the Inquisition, settled here in 1512. They established businesses and a hospital and lived in peace with their Arab neighbors until 1929. Then, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, organized a pogrom to throw the Jews into the sea. The Haganah militia offered to send a squad to defend the community but was refused. The Jews said, ‘We have lived here for 400 years. Our neighbors will defend us.’ Their neighbors did not. Many were killed and the rest escaped. We came back in 1967 and are here to stay…”

I wonder how it would be if the heirs of Haj Amin el-Husseini had made a different decision, that of living in peace with the Jews. Would co-prosperity have developed? Could any Arab or Palestinian make such a proposal and survive? Anwar el-Sadat tried and was assassinated. If el-Hussein’s heirs chose to live in friendship with a Jewish state, Arabs, Jews and Palestinians might have done even better than what Israel has done alone. 

Israel, with a population of 7.5 million, has a G.D.P. equal to that of Iran, a nation with 10 times its population. Its exports are almost entirely high-tech. The voice-over-internet that many of us use for phone calls was partially developed in Israel, reverse osmosis for water desalination is dominated by Israeli technology, Intel’s fastest chips are designed there and the technology Google uses for image recognition for autonomous vehicles comes from Mobileye, an Israeli company. If you look in your medicine cabinet, you are likely to find something from Teva, an Israeli company and the second largest manufacturer of generic drugs.

It would not be the first time. The science and medicine of the Emirate of Cordoba, in 12th century Spain, was a product of cooperation between Jews such as Maimonides and Muslims like Averroes. Similar cooperation existed before and since, frequently interrupted by persecutions and pogroms.

Within the past year or two, Arab modernizers are trying again, but quietly. Muhammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, granted all airlines flying to Israel, except El-Al, the right to overfly his country. Salman and the Emir of Qatar have arranged scientific cooperation between their new medical universities and those in Israel. Discussions are taking place to connect the Israeli railroad system to that in Jordan. Such infrastructure would allow manufactures from Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to reach Europe without a roundabout sea voyage.

I contend that cooperation between Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis is the key to prosperity and peace for all. I regret that none who have written recently in this newspaper have given much thought to these prospects. I hope that my letter helps to change that.


Chet Seligman has been a resident of Point Reyes Station and Inverness since 1971. He retired five years ago from his work as a bioinformatics scientist at the Buck Institute. He is active with the Marin Chapter of Organizing for America and has recently taken up martial arts.