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  • January 2009
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Reminder: Arabs make good neighbors

I’m not sure what your image of the Arab people is right now.  It seems that we Americans get a sense for people we don’t know from what we see and hear in the media.  With all the violent news coming from Gaza of late, and the rhetoric I am hearing on this end, I can only imagine what is happening to the public image of Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general.

So here’s a brief vignette from my life here on this side of the ponde to remind us all that there are real people behind the rhetoric and it’s impossible to classify an entire people group by what we see on the evening news.


I had to visit the doctor tonight.  First time since moving to Jordan.  Not a real big fan of going to the Doctor so I’ve been holding off a bit.  He turned out to be quite nice.  After writing me a couple of prescriptions he walked me to the front and said that he wanted me to call him in a couple of days to tell him how I was doing.  He sounded like he was the old family doctor telling a well known patient to give a call rather than a doctor talking to a foreign patient he had just met.

He had advised me to go to the pharmacy next door as he was sure that they would have the medicine he had prescribed.  I was greeted at the door of the pharmacy by two very fat cats.  They seemed well cared for in this country where most cats make their meager existence out of dumpsters.  The pharmacy itself was bright and cheery, if a bit cluttered.  I was greeted with a smile by a a 50-something couple.  Maybe they were just colleagues, but something about their familiarity made me think that they were husband and wife or perhaps brother and sister.   They greeted me cheerfully and helped each other filling my prescriptions.

When the total was rung up it was more than I had on me in cash, so I offered my Visa card.  Unfortunately the machine was not working.   I asked if there was an ATM nearby and the woman indicated that there was, but only if I had a car – it was too far to walk in the dark. I said that I didn’t have a car.  No sooner were the words off my lips and the man was fetching his coat and said he would take me.  I protested and he insisted.  We repeated this Middle Eastern waltz as we walked to the car.  It’s expected that I refuse, but once hospitality has been offered it will not be rescinded.

So for the next 15 minutes I was ferried to and from the ATM by a pharmacist I had  just met.  We exchanged some pleasant small talk.  He spoke in English, I tried out my Arabic.  Back at the pharmacy we were greeted by the cats outside the door.  I paid for the medicine bid them a thousand thanks, and wished them a long life. They welcomed me to their country, wished me good health and a good night.  The cats meowed as I walked out.

Funny world we live in, eh?  No sure I would have had the same reception at a pharmacy at 7 pm in downtown Chicago.  And if a store employee offered me a lift I’d probably think 2 or 3 times before taking the ride.

A city doctor with small town sensibilities.  A pharmacist willing to drive me to an ATM at 7 o’clock at night.  Two small reminders that the Middle East is not all about bombs and fanaticism.  I am happy that in these difficult times we are living among a warm and hospitable people.


7 Responses

  1. Brian, this was a wonderful post.

  2. Hi Bob, Thanks for writing. I do indeed remember you – I just happen to know a few Bobs. Thanks for the clarification =)

    You’re right I did kind of latch on to the Mexico analogy. It’s hard to create analogous situations for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that capture all the subtleties and the issues at hand on both sides.

    I think we both agree that both sides have little or no justification for the kind of military campaigns they have been waging, not just now, but for decades. I agree with you – they both have reasons, but whether they are justified or not – that is another matter entirely isn’t it?

    I agree about the 6,000 or so dead on both sides. Lives and souls loved by God, snuffed out prematurely.

    I think a political answer is possible, but only if one or both sides give up the perceived right to revenge. I often wonder where the Ghandis, Mandelas, and Kings are in this situation. People who are able to take a radical stand for peace in the midst of serious physical threat. This would most likely require some sort of spiritual awakening as you say. Perhaps a neighbor willing to lay down his life, not just for his own people but for (and not against) his enemy as well.

    But, alas, we are both outsiders looking in at a horrific situation.

    Thanks for commenting and keep reading!

  3. BC,

    You do indeed know me, at least a little bit. Probably the best way for you to potentially recall me would be for me to tell you that my wife Joan and I hosted a young Liberian refugee (Jennifer) in our house for about a year. You were quite helpful in supporting our efforts to obtain medical treatment for her cancer and to get her enrolled in ESL classes at COD.

    Thank you for replying to my comments! I have actually been monitoring your blog for quite some time. The recent posts regarding the the Gaza Strip conflict brought me out of “stealth-mode” and into the discussion…

    1> I did indeed post my first reply to the wrong thread. This reply belonged with your first post regarding the Gaza Strip conflict, “Not Just Another Round of Violence in Gaza” (12/29)… not sure if you can fix that? My second reply was obviously intended for this thread.

    2> You seemed to skip right over my first paragraph, which questioned Israel’s “justification” to launch a relatively MASSIVE military offensive against the Palestinian Gaza Strip, including re-occupation of the territory. You seemed more interested in my second paragraph which questioned
    how the United States would react if faced with a similar situation.

    3> I didn’t want to go down a rabbit’s hole with regard my Mexico analogy, but my intent was to describe a reasonably analogous situation. I agree that for the analogy to work, the Mexican militant group needs to have a passionate motive similar to that of the militant Palestinians. Perhaps if the Mexican American War had never really ended? Of course, It didn’t really work out that way (the war did end, America kept the part of Mexico that we stole from them, and Mexico hasn’t been trying to take it back from us since 1848), so we have to pretend a little bit to create a viable analogy. In other words, let’s pretend that lingering militant Mexicans have remained in conflict with the United States over the fate of Texas ever since 1848. Let’s pretend that the United States finally withdraws from a portion of Texas (the Texas Strip), with a cease-fire agreement in-place.

    Bottomline is this… do whatever you need to do to imagine an analogous situation and then ask yourself these questions…

    a> Are the Mexican militants justified to continue indiscriminately launching thousands of Qassam rockets, mortar attacks, and suicide bombings from the Texas Strip into the Houston and Dallas metropolitan areas, targeted virtually 100% at civilians? Perhaps it is their military response to the ongoing occupation of their territory and the years of death and shattered lives that have been endured by the Mexican people, but is this justification?


    b> Under these circumstances, after a few years of putting up with the Mexican attacks, is the United States military justified to launch a relatively MASSIVE military campaign, killing 100’s (probably 1000’s) of Mexican militants and civilians in a matter of days or weeks, and re-occupy the Texas Strip? Perhaps they have intelligence that even more lethal weapons are arriving in the Texas Strip from another country. Whatever their reasons, are they justified?


    4> I hope that you did not (although it sounds like you did) interpret anything in my post to be an attempt to communicate JUSTIFICATION. The Palestinian militants have _reasons_ for their behavior, but they do not have ANY justification (in my humble opinion). The Israelis have _reasons_ for their behavior, but they do not have ANY justification (in my humble opinion). It highly unlikely that on either side of this conflict anything JUSTIFIED will ever take place. And I can’t think of anything further removed from a spiritual process of justification than body counts. But of course, my comments reflect my understanding of JUSTIFICATION, which I believe is, in general, very different from how the Israelis and Palestinians understand it. Albeit a bit morbid, this is exactly how the Israelis and Palestinians (and Russians, Chinese, Americans, etc.) “justify” military and political action, according to their understanding JUSTIFICATION.

    5> If I recall correctly, the number 500 was a combination of rocket AND mortar attacks from 2004 through 2008. Maybe it included some suicide attacks as well. Actually, the exact number was 480-something and I rounded up conservatively to include recent casualties. Anyway, to the extent that the body count numbers do matter, your numbers from B’Tselem tell the whole story. And, the numbers DO matter, not as justification for anything, but all 5912 matter because each is was a living soul, loved by God.

    Like I said, IMHO, there is no political or military answer… it simply does not exist. The only answer is spiritual justification… and even within the context of this required spiritual justification, there probably doesn’t exist even the slightest hints of political or military components. It’s just so much bigger than that.

    Lastly, I was piggy-backing on your post regarding your good Arab neighbors. When I read your story, it seemed appropriate that we should not simply be reminded that different types of people can make good neighbors, but that many of us fall way short in this area. Your story challenged me, and should challenge us all, to find ways to be as neighborly as your Jordanian doctor and Jordanian pharmacist were toward you, a total stranger and foreigner from their perspective!

  4. Hello Bob, not sure if I know you, but I’m glad you found my blog. I’m not sure why you posted your first reply on this post in particular, it’s tone might have fit better on one of my previous posts more directly about the conflict in Gaza. However, I will try to reply as briefly as possible here:

    1. I agree that the Israelis are in a tough spot re. the Qassam rocket attacks. But your analogy re. Mexico lobbing rockets into the US, although provocative, slightly misses something. It doesn’t mention why Mexico would do such a thing. Likewise analysis that points to the Qassam rocket attacks as justification for the current Israeli military operation often forget to address the reason why militant members of Hamas are launching rockets. The rocket attacks have been their military response to the ongoing occupation of their territory and the years of death and shattered lives that have been endured by the Palestinian people. Here this important thing: I am not saying that I think the Qassam rocket attacks are right – just that the Palestinians are not launching rockets just for the heck of it. They have a reason. I believe America fought a revolution with much less provocation.

    2. Where did you get your casualty numbers? I think its a bit morbid to use body counts to justify military or political action, however I think 500 is a high estimate on the number of people who have died in Qassam rocket attacks. They are notoriously ineffective. According to B’Tselem (an Israeli human rights watch organization) the number who have died in the 2nd intifada are as follows:

    4,850 Palestinians
    (20% minors)
    (45% civilians)

    1062 Israelis
    (8% minors)
    (68% civilians)

    Most of the Israeli deaths have been to suicide bombings and have targeted civilians. This is deplorable. However, I ask what is more terrifying having a civilian killed by a human bomb or a computer guided missile. It seems much the same to me. My only point here is that according to the very detailed statistics (name, age, date of death, location, means of death, civilian status) maintained by B’Tselem and regularly given to the Knesset, the Qassam rocket attacks have accounted for less than 2 dozen deaths in the last 8 years. I personally don’t think casualty statistics can justify either side’s actions, but if you look at the numbers far more Palestinians have perished.

    3. I 100% agree that spiritual awakening is necessary on both sides. Both the Israelis and the majority of Palestinians have religious views that include eye-for-an-eye type justice. Revenge can be justified and in many cases is expected in both cultures. I guess when I speak of peace I include the notion of spiritual awakening as part of the package.

    4. I 100% agree that some of all people groups make good neighbors and some of all people groups do not. And sometimes I’m a good neighbor and sometimes I’m not. Just wanted to point out that most of my experiences here have been with those who have been good neighbors.

  5. Perhaps it was simply God telling you to quit putting off the doctors visits. 🙂

    But seriously, what a charming story, and it says more I think about the non-committal western Christian, than it does about the Mid-East. I think the Mid-East is simply doing what it’s been doing. Stuff that somewhere since the 50’s we’ve seemed to have lost here… Shame. But it’s a great thing to see kindness and hospitality still alive and thriving elsewhere.

  6. Oh… I forgot… IMHO…

    Some Arabs make good neighbors, some do not.

    Some Americans make good neighbors, some do not.

    Some Israeli’s make good neighbors, some do not.

    Some Muslims make good neighbors, some do not.

    Some Christians make good neighbors, some do not.

    Some Jews make good neighbors, some do not.

    Sometimes I make a good neighbor, sometimes I do not.

    Do you make a good neighbor? Or do you not?

    Won’t you be my neighbor?

    This is another one of those spiritual awakening things.

  7. The Israeli offensive is a significant military operation against Hamas. How can it be justified against a government (the political wing of Hamas) that publicly declares it has little control over the militant wing of Hamas. Over 500 Palestinians dead in the past ten days. Only a handful of Israelis. Presumably, the Israelis are making some effort to minimize innocent civilian casualties, but there are many nonetheless (about 200 out of 540 according to the UN). This is very, very sad.

    But what would our government do if a Mexican militant group was indiscriminately lobbing thousands of Qassam rockets and mortar attacks into Browsville, McAllen, Laredo, and El Paso, killing over 500 Americans, virtually ALL innocent civilians, over the course of several years, even after some American concessions? What if we were receiving no real help from the Mexican government and found out that another country was beginning to supply this militant group with longer range, more destructive missiles that could reach San Diego, or even Los Angeles. Then what?

    There is no political or military answer. The only answer is spiritual. Pray, not just for peace, but for that which leads to peace… spiritual awakening.

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