Pomegranates for Sale (A Work of Fiction)

sarah-tuttle-singer-guest-blogSarah Tuttle-Singer is an LA expat growing roots in Israel where she lives with her two kids in a small village with a breathtaking view of rolling fields and endless sky. Sarah is a Contributing Editor at Kveller.com, the New Media Editor at The Times of Israel, and has written for several sites including The Times of Israel, Scary Mommy, Hevria, TIME.com, Jezebel, and Ladies Home Journal.

“You’re so lucky I am here to guide you, to protect you in this part of the city,” her friend had told her ten seasons past, while they walked through a wind-rubbed Muslim Quarter deep into December.

He said this when she pointed to words in Arabic written in blood-red paint, the letters drip-dried over old stone. “In this part of town, you never know,” he continued, “if Hamas or Islamic Jihad or even a salafi, perhaps, is close by and writing on walls.”

“What does it say?” she asked, as she glanced over each shoulder, right and left, afraid.

“It says Death to the Jews,” he replied. “But don’t be afraid. You’re with me and I will tell you everything you need to know to be safe.”

And small in the shadow of the stone and of the man who knew so much about this place, she believed, and would never pass that way again.

“We can’t go this way,” she would then say to others as the months passed into two years. “There’s a sign that says Death to the Jews. So it surely isn’t safe along this road.”

But then she learned the letters for herself, the dips and bends of the Arabic script carved in buildings and written on signs. She learned the names aren’t so different, its elementary, really : Alif Ba, (like Alef Bet).

Through rockets falling and a war, she traced her fingers line by line.

And she learned to say hello in this language, too, and how to get beyond the price of pita, or black coffee, until she forgot to be afraid and ended up again in that same bend of alley space beside that writing, and startled, she looked up:

The words in red had not faded in the least.

Still sanguine stark on stone, as when she had passed them on that winter day ten seasons before.

But all alone and unafraid, she read them for herself this time:

“Five shekels a kilogram. Pomegranates for sale.”

And she laughed until the tears came, at the sweetness she had missed.

This story is a work of fiction – it didn’t happen, but it could. So much of the history and the politics of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is shaped by fear — some real, yes… But some imagined. And until both sides learn the language of the other, we cannot hope to be on the same page.

For more on language as dividers in conflict, please read:

Posts by guest authors reflect their own views and opinions, and not necessarily the views and opinions of the Institute for Civility in Government.

Finding Civility amid Tragedy and Polarization in Israel

Town of Duma, in The West Bank
By NordNordWest, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed CC-BY-SA.

This past summer – and especially the last few weeks – have seen several pieces of news come out of Israel that are disturbing, and that deserve further consideration as we think about civility. And in a recent blog post for The Times of Israel titled Condemnation is Not Enough. We Need Change, author Sarah Tuttle-Singer does just that.

On July 31st, in the West Bank town of Duma, a Palestinian toddler was killed and three members of his family were injured in a deadly arson attack perpetrated by Israeli settlers in the disputed territory. According to The New York Times, the child killed was eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents are Saad, 32 and Riham, 27 (who was was still on fire when neighbors came on the scene). Hebrew graffiti was sprayed nearby reading Revenge, and accompanied by a Star of David.

Meanwhile, not two months earlier, The Times of Israel ran a story about a poll of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers conducted by the Rafi Smith Institute that found that:

Forty-five percent of Jewish teens said they were not prepared to sit in the same classroom with Arab classmates, while 39% of Arab students said the same of their Jewish peers.

The poll also found that only 28% of Jewish respondents said they condemned so-called price tag attacks associated with religious, far-right Jewish groups. Price tag attacks, writes The Times of Israel, are incidents of violence or vandalism like the arson in Duma that target Palestinians or Israeli security forces as payback for actions against the settlement enterprise.

This all points toward what seems to be an increased tolerance for violence as a problem-solving tool among Israeli youth. And it points toward a cause that seems particularly relevant to the question of civility: increased polarization brought about by a breakdown in communication.

Responses to the Duma attack have been sincere condemnation across the board. As The Jerusalem Post reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act, and called it an act of terrorism in every respect.

But as Sarah Tuttle-Singer tells us so passionately, it is no longer enough to condemn these attacks. It is not even enough to seek the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

In her Times of Israel blog post, Tuttle-Singer looks at the incident in Duma, and looks at the type of polarization indicated by the Rafi Smith Institute poll, and calls for a kind of radical civility that starts from below. She says – rightly – that hate is a learned behavior. And she says that the best solution to hate is for us – and especially our children – never to learn it at all.

The good news, she says, is that Israeli schools don’t teach hate. But leaving it at that is inadequate: Our kids grow up separated from Arabs, and all they learn is what they’ll see on TV when there’s a war. It’s disheartening, and dehumanizing, and it needs to be remedied.

Overcoming hate, Tuttle-Singer writes, means building bridges of communication and finding sameness amid difference. It means Israeli children having:

a real opportunity to meet Arab kids — kids who may pray differently, but who probably enjoy the same snacks. Kids whose first words were in a different language, but probably love swimming in the same big blue sea. Kids who may be shy at first — as my kids will be, too — but who will find common ground because kids always do when given that chance.

Specifically, what Tuttle-Singer calls for is action, not reaction – mandatory programs that require Israelis and Palestinians to get to know one another in a safe environment, where trust begins.

But what she is calling for in a more abstract sense is a kind of civility that privileges dialog across difference, and the ability to acknowledge cultural diversity while embracing, too, the idea that beneath it all, there is more about us that is the same than is alien.

Children, Tuttle-Singer implies, understand the polarizing consequences of longterm political disputes even before they understand the causes. And by inoculating children with a sense that the other side is alive, and human, and just trying to make their way in the world, we prepare them to tackle those disputes without embracing the hatred that has become their baggage and their legacy.

This simple idea of finding common humanity through dialog is good not just for children but for adults, too. And no less than in Israel, it can teach us here in the United States a thing or two about how to do civility right.

Civility Linkblogging: high school, history, and Hakarat Hatov

Civility Linkblogging
A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s links feature two pieces that are particularly notable. The first is an article by J. Patrick Coolican that should remind us, in slightly irreverent terms, that while working toward civility is important, incivility is not a new problem in the United States. It is as old as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, as old as Senator Charles Sumner being beaten on the floor of the Senate by Representative Preston Brooks. And acting as though it is a product of 21st century gridlock is disingenuous.

The second notable piece is in The Times of Israel. There, Rabbi Arnold Samlan makes the simple and powerful observation that we can learn civility — perhaps best — from the people with whom we most vehemently disagree. He tells us that simply recognizing when another human being has done something good for you should provide us enough common ground to cross political lines.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at [email protected]. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Is Civility a Lost Art?
Posted by Lynne Agress at The Baltimore Sun, March 12, 2015

When we live among others, we must be aware of them. Too many individuals think the world revolves only around them.

“Be agreeable,” says Professor Forni. Benjamin Franklin put it even better: “If you [want to] be loved, [then] love and be lovable,” which is, of course, a rephrasing from the Bible: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Celebrating Civility
Posted at U-T San Diego, March 21, 2015

Excerpts from Celebrating Civility Awards high-school essay contest finalists.

I see civility as respect for others and their opinions, acknowledging differences in each other and valuing them for the diversity that they bring, not the divisions they can create. To me, open-mindedness is a key part of civility, because politeness is not polite when only applied to the people who agree with you most. True respect is shown when you can give weight and value to a different perspective.

I think that my generation is better at this than any that came before us. We are more open-minded and accepting than our parents and grandparents. We see the divisions of race and gender and religion less starkly than those that came before us.

What We Can Learn From Patrick Henry’s ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death’ Speech
Posted by Carson Holloway at The Daily Signal, March 23, 2015

First, the speech reminds us of the importance of both civility and candor to a healthy politics. Perhaps surprisingly in view of its impassioned ending, the speech begins by noting the importance of civility. Henry opens his remarks by acknowledging the “patriotism, as well as the abilities” of those who spoke on the other side of the issue. He disclaims any intention to be “disrespectful” to them.

Nevertheless, the speech also points to the need for a candid civility. The stakes in play—freedom or slavery—require each citizen to speak his mind forthrightly. Only on the basis of such open debate, after all, can we “hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility we hold to God and our country.” Civility means not seeking to give offense. It does not mean avoiding hard truths because they may offend others.

Sarcasm in Politics? Whatever.
Posted by J. Patrick Coolican at StarTribune.com, March 28, 2015

Now come the civility finger-waggers. The news release says a team of policy fellows from the Humphrey School is launching “Keep It Civil MN.” …

The fever swamps of the Internet have certainly produced a vile stream of noxious rhetoric catalyzed by what’s been termed the “online disinhibition effect,” though the simple solution is to look away from the digital morass.

Because the stakes of the political process are often great — the role of government, war and peace, the rights of the individual vs. the state — these democratic debates arouse passion and sometimes even rancor. It has always been thus.

Lessons on Civility, Israeli Elections and President Obama from a Bad Food Experience
Posted by Arnold D. Samlan at The Times of Israel, March 29, 2015

And there you have it. Hakarat Hatov, the incredibly Jewish value of recognizing when another human being has done something good for you. And kavod, honoring the image of God, wherever you find it. And I apologize to you, my new friend. Because even though your opinions and mine do not align, you have taught me an object lesson in kavod haberiot, respect for God’s creatures. And you reminded me that, even though our opinions might be different, I should never believe for a moment that I don’t have something to learn from you. Because now that I have learned from you, you are my teacher and therefore are always to be treated with respect.

Civility Linkblogging: Maine, Palestine, and Conservative Publications

By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

Welcome to the first edition of Civility Linkblogging of 2014.

Civility Linkblogging is an ongoing segment in which we search out news and discussion from around the web that highlights issues surrounding civil discourse, or that considers principles of civility. We gather the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and abroad.

This week’s segment covers the very busy month of December, which saw several developments related to education: new rules instituted by the Indiana State School Board to curb incivility in meetings, and a serious discussion of cyber-bullying — both directed at middle- and high-school students, and directed toward school officials — in Michigan and Maryland.

Here, however, we are covering the inaugural event of Choose Civility Portland, an organization devoted to enacting respectful dialogue in Maine. We are covering approaches to civilizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — as it plays out among students at San Francisco State University. And we are covering two very different calls for civility from two conservative news sources: The Washington Times and The American Conservative.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at [email protected]. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now on to the list:

Portland Campaign Promotes Civility, Tolerance in Public Discourse
Posted by William Hall at The Forecaster, December 3, 2013

Civility means manners, but Choose Civility is not just about etiquette lessons.

“To maintain a level of openness and inclusion in our community, we have to have some level of civility,” said Kimberly Simmons, the library’s Choose Civility coordinator. Civility calls for respecting others and their opinions, she explained, even if they’re unpopular.

A Call for Civility in Leadership
Posted by Jennifer Olney at SteamFeed, December 3, 2013

We forget that long before “civility” became a buzzword, leaders built genuine relationships in work life. The organization in the past was based relationship-centered, mission-focused, and valued based. Good manners were common, not uncommon. Civility was not something that had to be mandated rather it was the norm. Organizations didn’t have to have training in civility, rather, it was a given. Our society has changed and our organizations and leaders are now having to be retrained in civility.

To Counter Courseness, Choose Civility
Posted by Ben S. Carson at The Washington Times, December 17, 2013

Civility and honesty are highly desirable traits, which should be imparted to our children both through example and planned lessons. This teaching should begin in the home, but certainly teachers, school administrators and other responsible adults should take every opportunity to facilitate the learning process. On the other hand, we must not fall into the trap of being so concerned about innocent words and deeds that we destroy people while worshipping ill-conceived rules of speech and behavior.

SFSU Student’s Call for Civility Starts With ‘I Feel Your Pain’
Posted by Ryan Ariel Simon at JWeekly.com, December 19, 2013

At the heart of this issue, and the pain of my community, is the inability and refusal to recognize or understand the pain of the other. This is a symptom, I believe, of the larger issue of the lack of empathy in the Israel-Palestine debate in general.

It is what scholar Herbert C. Kelman calls “the interdependence of Israeli and Palestinian national identities”: One group sees the recognition of the pain of “the other” as negating its own pain, its narrative.

How Snark & Smarm Fall Short
Posted by Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative, December 21, 2013

Smarm is bad. But the way in which we gleefully suck up snark’s sneering jabs is equally detrimental to society. Public discourse, in both cases, is more concerned with personal loftiness than truly elevating the needs and concerns of the public. Truth, one would hope, could offer us a different course: one in which “civility” is not saccharine, and “truth” is not nasty—a discourse in which mercy and truth can meet together.