In a thoughtful passage in his bestselling book, The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander writes about a program he set up for American high school students in England. He brought them there to study music, art, philosophy, and English. And each week, he would arrange for a scholar to come to dinner, and to talk with the students about his or her particular field. Here's what happened, one special night:
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"On one occasion I invited my father, Walter Zander, who had devoted a lifetime to thinking and writing about conflict, especially the conflict between Jews and Arabs. By candlelight over a dinner into which the students had put extra care, he began by describing the whole sweep of Jewish history reaching back to the days of Abraham. He poured his passion into the tale – the great biblical stories, the medieval ages, the accomplishments in the arts and sciences, the story of the Diaspora and the tragedy of the Holocaust. He brought the whole saga down to rest on the tiny sliver of land called Palestine in 1947, the year before the land was partitioned between Arabs and Jews so that the Jews could have a homeland.
Then he went back and narrated the whole sweep of history of the Arab people. He again started with Abraham, the acknowledged ancestor of the Arabs as well as of the Jews. He spoke of Arabic sciences and learning, the magnificent library at Alexandria, the great artistic achievements – the tapestries and the architecture, the music and the literature, the folkloric Tales of the Arabian Nights. Above all he spoke of the legendary courtesy of the Arab people.
What was most striking was that he seemed to speak with equal enthusiasm whether he was speaking about the Jews or the Arabs. When he brought the great four-thousand-year saga of the Arab people down to the same little sliver of land called Palestine in the year 1947, one of the students exclaimed, 'What a wonderful opportunity! What a privilege for both those peoples to share that land and that history!'
Imagine if this sentiment had been the one to guide Arab and Jewish relations in the Middle East since 1947."