Blog from Istanbul: Turkey and Israel Should Unite
The Peoples of Turkey and Israel Should Work Together
By Aylin Kocaman
Turkey has sheltered Jews since Ottoman times. The Turkish people have a particular culture and conception of religion; Turkish people may go hungry, but they will make sure their neighbors have food. They will watch over them more than themselves. Their Jewish neighbors have always been very important for the Turkish people.
I grew up in this culture. I saw this behavior from the people around me. Our Jewish neighbors, be they Israeli or European or American, were always our friends. And so they remain. Such a culture of hospitality is foreign to many countries but an Israeli will understand it because they have shared the same culture with the Turks for many years. They were brothers for years, and they still are. They are merely uneasy at the moment.
There are political problems between Israel and Turkey; this cannot be denied. Neither Turks nor Israelis are happy with that. Some people imagine that a crisis between governments will also damage relations between nations. They are uneasy and fearful for the future but they are fearful for no reason.
Turkey has been the only Muslim country to oppose the illogical and unfortunately fashionable anti-Israeli feeling that has ignorantly spread in the Muslim world. This country is not under the influence of radicalism. It has a concept of religion, loyalty, love and friendship that fanaticism has not touched. There has therefore never been a deep-rooted fundamentalist problem between Turkey and Israel.
I shall not go into the details of the Mavi Marmara incident here. It was riddled with errors from start to finish. How has this affected politics? Apparently a great deal. But in practice? No commercial or, more importantly, military agreements between Israel and Turkey have been annulled in the wake of the incident. Borders have not been closed. Ambassadors have not been withdrawn for a long term, nor have ambassadors been expelled. Turkey has installed protective shields that will protect Israel against any potential external attacks, on its own territories. The NATO veto on Israel following the Mavi Marmara incident was lifted by Turkey. It is true that Prime Minister Erdogan addressed harsh words to the Israeli government in the immediate wake of the flotilla incident, but he did not neglect to send the requisite message to the Israeli people and the Jews in his own country: “Our Jewish brothers are always under our protection. They are the sons of the Abraham. Sons of Abraham cannot be killers.” (Sabah and Yeni Safak Newspapers, 9.25.2009) Sadly, neither the Turkish nor the Israeli media gave those statements, so necessary in those days, much coverage. Turkey was the first country to send planes to help with the terrible forest fires in Israel, which once again proved its friendship by unhesitatingly sending aid after the dreadful Marmara earthquake of 1999. Other “friendly countries” recommended help, but Turkey sent it.
These all prove there is no connection between politics and friendship. Politics always witnesses these ups and downs. We may not always hear words that express our feelings from politicians. Because they are making politics. In the political sense, of course unity between Israel and Turkey is important. Such a great union will eliminate all kinds of threats in the Middle East. Syria would calm down overnight. We would hear no more about Iran’s nuclear threat. Various radical groupings would immediately take a step backwards. Unity means strength; threats and oppression fall silent in the face of strong friendship. Egypt joining that union would also be a full guarantee of peace and integrity in the Middle East. First and foremost, the US would support such a union, and even Russia under Putin’s administration. Collaboration between these countries on matters such as easy movement across borders and the destruction of chemical weapons have the potential to change the world.
This is really very easy, but politicians are, for the moment, unable to do it. Politics paralyzes them. We must enter the equation here, the peoples of Israel and Turkey. Our friendship and brotherhood must not be founded on politics. After all, Turkey had political problems with Greece for many years, but we always loved the Greeks. We share the shores of the Aegean, and our neighbors were always Greeks. We inter-married and became related. Our friendship was never shaken. Indeed, while the EU largely abandoned Greece in the economic crisis, Turkey never did.
The peoples of Turkey and Israel must do this now. The age of Khalifah Umar, who saved the Jews in Jerusalem from oppression, the way the Turkish nation brought 500,000 of our Jewish brothers from Spain and the way that hundreds of thousands of Jews were protected by Turks during the Holocaust show Turkish and Muslim moral values. Those values are still very much alive in Turkey. What needs to be done is this: we must all keep the common aspects of our religions, cultures and histories alive. Israel is as strong as it is devout. What is most needed in the Middle East is a religious unification. There are many points that unite Judaism and Islam, and we need to focus on these. Even if governments send out the occasional harsh message, we must always speak of love. If the governments feel that they cannot talk to each other in an official capacity, then perhaps they can try addressing that government’s people directly. We must demand that visa requirements between the two countries be lifted and that easy movement across the borders be established. We must issue a joint call about halting the proliferation of chemical weapons, and insist upon their destruction. Together we must say that we do not want terror and anarchy. We must speak with one powerful voice. We are a huge majority, and as two nations working together we can bring peace to the region. We must use all possible means and “together” send a message to the entire world.
We can influence governments and change obsolete and sclerotic ideas. We as people can do what they cannot do as politicians. We must build a union of love for that purpose. We must always talk about what we have in common, not our differences. Good results require hard work. We understand the value of beauty as long as we striv for it. We must strive on this matter, too, and believe in a union of love and thus in the Might of God, not the power of governments.
The writer is a commentator and religious and political analyst on Turkish TV and also a peace activist. She is a host on the Building Bridges Show (http://bit.ly/UfTuVf) and writes as an op-ed column for the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Post and several online newspapers in Turkey. Her webpage is: http://en.aylinkocaman.com