In Munich, at the 1972 Olympic Games, 11 Israeli atheletes were killed at the hands of an Arab extremist group known as “Black September”. Speilberg, decided to make a movie about the events that followed and were triggered by this tragic event. I saw Munich tonight with Ron, David, Denise, and Juan. If someone took a snapshot of our faces before and after the movie it would look something like this:
The film hit us pretty deeply. We all left the theatre with few words, but by looking in each other’s eyes, I could see truly what each heart was saying. I knew what MY heart was saying, “how could this be?” Do we not bleed the same blood? Do we not eat and shit the same way? The Arab-Israeli conflict is almost as old as history itself. Though many would explain it away as a conflict of faiths, but I would argue that it’s more about two groups of people who desire a home, a place to call home, a home that’s safe, prosperous, peaceful; a natural right, due to every human on the planet.
What fuels this conflict is the dehumanization of both sides, by leaders, affecting and manipulating the common person, causing this horrible cycle of events that just won’t stop, and will not stop until some drastic change takes place.
And that is really the fact that brought me to tears, as I walked down 30th Street towards Lexington. My heart was broken. Broken for every Israeli and Palestinian child, that by nature, knows nothing of fear, until they are faced with the necessity to survive as those who have survived before them.
Again, this is the fact that broke my heart. The fact that this movie documents events that took place over 30 years ago, and nothing has changed. In fact, it has gotten worse. The conflict has arisen to the global level, and we’ve seen it on our own soil, in September 2001.
While watching the film, I wondered if Speilberg chose an inappropriate time to make such a movie. I watched the messages, and the motives, and the propaganda from both sides, on screen, being rehashed over and over again. Those messages that have ignited mass murders and destruction in the Middle East, being recounted time and time again, and I asked myself, does this world need a work of art that will continue fueling this anger in such a polarized manner? And as I walked away, all I was left with, was a sense of anguish. It was all so clear. No one will win. No one will win. No one… and it hit me. That’s exactly the message that was communicated through this film.
But maybe art can have more of an influence than money and power. Just maybe.
I remember visiting Israel in 2004. My attempted return to the states at the airport in Tel-Aviv, was an experience many Americans will not have to face in their travels. I was part of a tour group, all of whom were white Americans, many of whom were midwestern, and I stood out like a sore thumb, as my Egyptian features called out to the soldiers and security officials like neon lights beckoning patronization. And I was immediately pulled from the line, and entered a 90 minute ordeal of harsh interrogation. I was a threat. Not because I had done anything, not because anyone in my family and circle of friends had done anything, but I fit the profile of one who possibly could harm the well being of the state of Israel. Ironic that a 26 year old male from New York City, a musician, who’d never even got into a fist-fight in his life, was a threat to the country. And it hurt and angered me, but at the same time, I understood. Their country is surrounded by neighbors who would have them destroyed. Protection is their key to survival.
But I was angry. I was angry because I was judged. For a moment, I was no longer Paul, but I was “possible threat”. There’s a saying “I am who you think I am.” It’s challenging to not feel the projections of another person onto you. And these officers, who are humans with souls, and loves, and passions, like you and I, were no longer people, but they were a threat to me. And so the cycle continued, and continued.
Until, I was taken into a back room, where I was asked to remove my shirt and belt, and the security officer, a young man, in his early 20’s, put on a rubber latex glove. And no this is not the beginnings of a twisted romance, just bear with me, and it will all make sense. I was hoping to be 50 years old before I had my first rectal exam, so you can imagine my nerve as I was unpreparedly pushed to the front of the queue. And I looked him straight in the eye and said “before you do anything, just let me know what you do, before you do it.” Maybe it was the sincerity in my question, maybe it was something in my own eyes that this officer saw, but he looked at me with the same intensity as i looked at him, and took off the glove and said that it would not be necessary.
I asked him “How old are you?” he looked back at me and said “23…. you?” “26”, I replied as I would have if I was introduced to an acquaintance. “So, is this what you will do for the rest of your life? Is this your vocation?” “Oh no”, the young officer replied. “I’m a humanitarian. I wanna do something that will do well for the soul, and the souls of others… this is just until I finish school…. how about yourself?” “I’m a musician…” and tail end of a 90-minute interrogation session had morphed into a dialogue of souls. Where two people caught in the cyclical web, were able to break away for a moment and see the humanity in the other. I was no longer “a threatening passenger”. I was Paul. And he was no longer “a threatening officer”, but he was Elon. And he decided to escort me to my flight, taking me past the rest of the checkpoints, and saw me to my gate on time. And we shared a wonderful talk, and wished each other well.
I’m not sure if there’s something to be learned here, but I took away something very special: that beyond our agendas and motives, within each person resides a soul, a soul that desires connection, that desires peace, and that desires respect. How much easier a lesson is learned on a person to person level, in a back room, away from the onslaughts and viruses that corrupt our innocence and our innate desire for peace and connection.But for a second, being removed, one can see the truth, and one can appreciate life. It gives me hope. And hope is all we have.