Q. The Torah, with the story of Isaac and Ishmael, shows the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Do you think it will ever really end?
A. Isaac is the ancestor of the Jews and Ishmael of the Arabs. Islamic tradition exalts Abraham as an exemplar of faith and trust, though it regards Ishmael as the one who propagated the teaching of Abraham and as the son who was almost sacrificed.
The two ways, the Jewish and the Islamic, have had their periods of bitter tension, but also their times of cultural cross-fertilisation.
Jewish tradition regards Jews and Arabs as dodanim, cousins, who will eventually become reconciled, just as, according to the Midrash, Isaac and Ishmael became reconciled at the graveside of their father.
An Israeli poet, Shin Shalom, puts these words into Isaac’s mouth, “Ishmael, my brother, how long shall we fight each other? Time is running out, put hatred to sleep; shoulder to shoulder let us water our sheep.”
Jewish sheep and Arab sheep both need to be tended. Jewish children and Arab children both need to laugh, play and grow. Jews and Arabs are both there in the Middle East to stay. They do not have to kiss each other, but they have more to gain from living at peace than from letting hatred smoulder.