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2 sides of the coin

 - by Leo.M Jeyaraj, Canada -

By trade, I am a Physician Anesthesiologist and work in a busy tertiary teaching hospital in Canada. The Canadian population is diverse and represents every faith, colour, race and creed. Canada has a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants from all 4 corners of the globe and integrating well into society.

On my list one weekday were 2 booked (planned or elective) Cesarean deliveries. The first couple happened to be immigrants from West Bank, Palestine and the second couple happened to be Jews from Israel. Both Mothers received spinal anesthesia and their respective spouses were present inside the O.R to witness the arrival of their babies.

What surprised me is how much they have in common. The Palestinian Dad had Holy Quran in his hands and greeted the newborn baby with verses from Holy Quran. The Jewish Dad had holy book Torah and welcomed the newborn with verses from Holy book Torah. It was scripted to the letter “T”. The joy with which babies were welcomed and the religious traditions that followed illustrated the universal human values on both sides of the divide. My desire to visit Holy Land gathered momentum and it did materialize in Nov. 2017. I found myself waiting to board the El Al flight from Toronto. The young Israeli Security Officer took me aside and grilled me for 20+ minutes. The Kuwaiti, UAE and Egyptian stamps on my Canadian Passport attracted in-depth questioning and I gave honest answers. I was quizzed about my “friends and contacts” in the Middle East. The questioning ended when I mentioned how many Jewish friends and colleagues work in my Department and how we get along just fine. I landed safely in Holy Land. Thanks to Green Olive Tours, I visited all the important cities and places of historical, religious and cultural interest over many days in West Bank. Nablus, Jenin, Sebastia, Jericho, Hebron and Bethlehem are highlights of my West Bank tours. I did the same for Israel – guided professional tour from Golan Heights in the North to Dead Sea in the South. The tour of Knesset, Western Wall and Independence Hall are highlights of the tour.

Both sides are keen to welcome visitors and shower them with gracious hospitality that the Middle East is well known for. When it comes to history, culture, sites of religious importance both sides can match stone-for- stone. Though tourism infrastructure is well developed in Israel, only a fraction of the tourists takes the trouble of visiting West Bank. Passionate tour guides bring history to life. I saw the passion and tears of the Israeli Tour Guide when I was taken to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Palestinian tour guide was very emotional and in tears when he led our group on tour of Balata refugee camp and showed the cramped quarters and living conditions of refugees displaced since 1948. Hebron was “tense” on the day of my visit with TIPH in attendance. I heard both sides of the coin. Both sides quote Religion and Scriptures, history, traditions, legacies, architectural evidence to justify why they are right and the other side got it totally wrong. As a tourist, one cannot help but wonder if there is a genuine desire to reconcile and move forward. Peace is elusive and I am sorry to note that none can come up with a formula that will satisfy both sides of the divide. 3rd parties have complicated matters. However, I did see many examples of peaceful co-existence between the 2 communities. The Israeli tour guide greeted his Palestinian counterpart warmly when our tour group was handed over at the border crossing just outside Jerusalem. It was heartwarming to hear the Israeli tour guide greet his counterpart in Arabic and the Palestinian tour guide greet him in Hebrew.

If the peace-loving folks on both sides are given a chance, there will be reconciliation and hopefully peace and stability in this beautiful part of the world. There is more to this place than what we see and hear from media and politicians. Meeting people on both sides of the divide opened my eyes. I live in hope that peace will prevail and scars will heal.


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