Last Thursday October 19, 2023 we converged in what we thought would be a pro-Palestinian, Antisemitic fort, in the West of Amsterdam, and were surprisingly, positively informed otherwise.
It was already day 9 since that horrific Saturday. Nine days of tragedy and fear. One week before, we gathered at the Dam, sharing, and protesting. A few days later we saw, with gloomy worries, the huge demonstration of pro-Gazan supporters at the same place.
And I speak as WE, because that is what has become of us, since the sad, sad, Simchat Torah or Happiness of Torah 2023.
So, when I saw the many WhatsApp and Facebook posts calling to come and support our Hanna Luden, when she will face a pro-Palestinian journalist, in a Moroccan community center in Amsterdam-West, I rose for the call.
Careful not to speak Hebrew on the tram, and fearfully walking the ‘Arab neighborhood’ in the darkening evening, I reached Argan on time, to see a majority of Israelis and Jews. Relieved, I settled near my friends at the front rows, and smiled friendly at a couple of Muslim women who sat behind us. They smiled back, and we started chatting, very quickly descending to talk about, you know what.
That was my first pleasant surprise of the evening. These enlightened young women knew where to put the blame: the politicians on both sides.
Argan is in 1992 opgericht vanuit de Marokkaanse gemeenschap in Amsterdam. Argan begon als een buurtcentrum voor jongeren uit de omgeving. In de loop der jaren ontwikkelde Argan zich tot een centrum op stedelijk niveau dat Amsterdammers een breed programma biedt over maatschappelijke thema’s en actualiteiten.
Just before I put my phone on airplane mode, I saw a WhatsApp from Wanda: If I’d like to write about this evening for de Vrijdagavond. But of course, I’d like to do that! Little did I know what was awaiting me, when I asked my neighbor to give me a few pages from her notebook to write on, as I had none.
Not a debate, but a conversation
Lean and smart-looking Martijn de Greve, (a radio and TV presenter of political issues, and politically active himself as in the Asscher-Aboutaleb campaign) opens the evening by declaring that this is not a debate, but a conversation. I already like him. He says that his aim is that we’ll all leave this hall feeling that it was worth-while coming, that we spent a meaningful evening TOGETHER. I like him even more.
“Because (he says in Dutch and I’m translating furiously into English, scribbling on the pages I just got from my neighbor), because we must continue to talk together. We must find out how we can continue, together.”
Throughout the evening agitated people from the public ask to speak up, and Martijn halts the conversation on stage, and graciously gives the mike to anyone who wants to express a grievance.
Words of peace and co-existence
Laila Al-Zwaini, (daughter of an Iraqi father and Dutch mother, studied Arabic and specializes in Islamic and International Law) speaks words of peace and co-existence, telling about life in Iraq during the time of her father. How she became interested in politics of the Arab world, and beyond.
Hanna Luden tells how wonderful she felt when she first moved from Israel to the Netherlands: At long last, not having to deal with politics! Still, for the last eight years she was heading CIDI, and in the course of the evening we will all hear how fluent in politics, and convincing she’s become.
Martijn asks how each feels now about the situation, and Laila points out at the absurdity of a world that ignores atrocities and human disasters when they happen anywhere in the world, and specifically when they happen in Arab countries, (such as bombing of Turkey or earthquake in Afghanistan) while all attention goes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Somehow, this issue is so emotionally loaded.
Laila Al-Zwaini: my Iraqi family protected their neighboring Jews during pogroms.
Israel. the only democracy in the Middle East?
To the man that points out that Iraqi Jews were expelled, forcefully, from Iraq, following pogroms, as happened to Jews anywhere in the Arab world, Laila tells about her Iraqi family who actually protected their neighboring Jews during those pogroms. And Laila points out the atrocities committed in 1948 in the Arab villages of Tantura, as revealed in the documentary that was recently produced about it.
Hanna hastens to stress the fact that this documentary was done by Israelis, and it is another proof of the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israelis are free and able to criticize their government, while the same is not happening in the majority of Arab countries.
Arab countries created by colonization
Laila explains that many Arab countries were created by colonization, and therefore none of them is a democracy. Yet, says Laila, calling Israel the only democracy in the Middle East is a slight stretch of the facts, when we take in account that there are people living there who have no rights whatsoever.
As Martijn brings us back to the Here and Now, and asks Hanna about her feelings and thoughts, Hanna says that she has been in a state of shock ever since the October 7th barbarian attack. So many dead, murdered, burnt, beheaded, raped, kidnapped. Hanna concedes that the citizens of Gaza, too, are victims of Hamas. But, as the consensus now in Israel, says Hanna, is that Hamas must be eliminated, the question arises: How?
During the last nine months there were constant demonstrations against the extremists and corruption in the Israeli government, and it is very worrying that this corrupt government is still in power to decide about military actions.
Two million people suffering under Hamas
Laila reminds us – what any human person knows intuitively – that it is illegal to kill citizens during a war. War crimes are committed on both sides of the border, she says, while the world, and Europe specifically, do nothing to stop them. Hanna says that there are two million people suffering under Hamas, which is indeed recognized by many countries, the Netherlands included, as a terror group. The Hamas ‘soldiers’ don’t even wear uniforms, so how would it be possible to fight them and not attack citizens?
Martijn asks Hanna what she thinks about the withholding of water and electricity from the Gazans, and Hanna asks him back, what else can be done? Turning to Laila, Hanna asks: “What would you suggest to Israel to do?”
War is not the solution
This is a tough one, and Laila resorts to saying that war is not the solution, we should try other ways.
Martijn presses on and asks how else can this be solved? If Israel is not allowed to stop water and electricity, what would it be allowed to do, otherwise?
Lala reminds us that war on terror never worked. We’ve seen it in Iraq and in Afghanistan. While she too recognizes the right of Israel for self-defense, there are other solutions, she says.
As Laila can’t name those other solutions, Hanna in turn reminds us about the 1993 Oslo accord and prospects of peace it brought about; the creation of the Palestinian Authority; the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza in 2005, and the war that the Hamas waged against Fatah, a war that resulted in the terror control of Hamas over Gaza, and endless terror attacks on Israel, all those years – with no solution is sight.
We’re all in a trauma
Laila stresses yet again that war laws are very clear, and they forbid such terrible bombardment of Gaza. Having said that, she adds, we’re all in a trauma, also here in Europe, and while in a state of trauma it is impossible to feel the pain of the Other. Therefore, forces from the outside should intervene, from other countries.
The whole world donated money to Gaza, yet, says Hanna, Iran managed to weaponize Hamas.
Hanna too doesn’t know how to eliminate Hamas. In the past the Netherlands paid for the scanners on the Israeli-Gaza borders, which were supposed to ensure that no arms would enter Gaza. The whole world donated money to Gaza, yet, says Hanna, Iran managed to weaponize Hamas.
And Hanna puts a surprising question to the public: “How many of you think that the Media is in favor of Israel?”
I pause my ferocious writing (I already needed more and more pages from my kind neighbor) to look around me: four hands have risen up, all of them belong to Muslim members of the public.
And Hanna drives her point further: “How many of you think that the hospital in Gaza was bombarded by the Israeli army?”
Many more hands of Muslim public members, to the dismay and protest of the Israelis in the public. And Hanna sums-up this point by saying that Arab governments commit atrocities on their own citizens – while world-media is silent about it.
Bombarding the hospital
A Muslim man presses the point further, and asks Hanna what she knows about the bombarding of the hospital. Hanna answers that what we do know is that we don’t know. The facts are that in the beginning there were reports of 500 dead, while it was recently confirmed to be much less; that not the hospital was hit, but a parking garage.
The man shares that he felt hurt when Hanna said that Hamas did it, and Martijn hastens to intervene, saying that he too heard many versions. The investigation still goes on, so we should all breathe deeply and wait for the results. Hanna stresses that what we do know is that a large percentage of the bombs which the Hamas fires, do land in Gaza.
Martijn gives the mike to an Arab man, who says that the Hamas represents a fundamental Islam, Hamas aims to eliminate the state of Israel. So, he asks emphatically, how can you say that Israel should not defend itself?
And as I try to write every word I hear (not with much success, I have to admit) I do feel the hope rising within me, as I realize that we are in fact in the company of enlightened people, dissolving away my fears of prejudices, on both sides.
So it went for over two hours, until Martijn closed the evening, with a sigh of relief: we did manage to talk, we were together, it was a worthwhile evening for all, after all.
I felt the trust in humanity rising within me.
Walking back to the tram, (my right arm hurting from so much writing,) I felt the trust in humanity rising within me. Who knows, hopefully, we will not need to convene again like that, since there will be no more war…
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cover foto Erga Netz