One night in 2002, I took a taxi in Manhattan with a Pakistani driver. When he learned I was Jewish, he told me some traditional stories about Muslim-Jewish friendship. He said that hatred creates more hatred. Then he said that Israel was creating hatred among the Palestinians.
I said, “I agree that Israel’s policies are hurting the Palestinians, and I also think the Palestinians have to stop bombing innocent people.”
To my dismay, he began defending the bombings. “The Palestinians are victims with no other solution,” he said.
I protested, “But they have to find a peaceful solution that doesn’t involve killing innocent men, women, children, and babies.” He said it was impossible, and I said, “They should do what Gandhi and Martin Luther King did: nonviolent protest.” He said it would do no good. We had been parked for ten minutes, debating in circles, and I realized I could not leave until I got through to him. How could I just walk away? What if he convinced someone else, who convinced someone else, who convinced someone else to blow himself up in a crowd of innocents?
I thought, If only I could make him see that God doesn’t want this bloodshed. He had some teachings from the Koran in his taxi, and one said: “The intellect is of the angels, and sensuality is of the beasts. If we use our intellect to overcome our sensuality, we will be higher than the angels. If we allow our sensuality to overcome our intellect, we will be lower than the beasts.”
I said, “Look, this beautiful teaching from the Koran says people will be higher than the angels if they use their intellect to overcome their sensuality. What does ‘sensuality’ mean with the Palestinians? It’s their feelings of being hurt and angry, their feeling of being victims. This beautiful teaching is telling them that their holy duty to God is to use their intellect to conquer their ‘sensuality’ – their hurt and angry feelings because of the problems other people have created for them – and find peaceful solutions, instead of killing babies and throwing families into despair.”
He became still and silent, his head half turned toward me.
Finally, I asked, “Do you agree?” But he listed the Palestinians’ grievances again.
I repeated what I’d said about the teaching. He asked, “What about the Jews?”
I said, “It’s the same for them. The Jews in Israel have to study the Torah and find teachings that will allow them to overcome their ‘sensuality’ – their desire to be powerful, their feeling of being victimized – so they can stop hurting the Palestinians.”
Again, he was silent.
Finally, he said, “We must hope for peace. That is all we can do.” I said, “And work for peace, by studying our religious teachings and learning what they can tell us about solving our conflicts.”
He said, “That is true.” And then I went home.
I believe that dialogue is the answer to war.
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