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The Night the Stars Aligned: Nashville Welcomes His Excellency, Aziz Mekouar, Ambassador of Morocco to the United States

by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

On the night of Thursday, October 21, 2010, it was my pleasure and honor to meet His Excellency Aziz Mekouar, the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States. This was truly a night "the stars aligned" as political celebrities attended the festivities, along with musicians, poets and peace activists. But the star that dwarfed the individual lights, the true star of the night, was the Star of Peace and Tolerance.

The event was aptly named "Friendship from the Start," because Morocco, a Muslim nation, was the first nation to recognize the fledgling United States of America, in 1777, and the first nation to sign a friendship treaty with the United States, in 1786.

The event took place at Nashville's Vanderbilt Plaza hotel, in the Grand Ballroom. In the rightmost picture you can see the Moroccan and American flags side-by-side.

Here are three of the "star" politicians who attended. The two gentlemen on the left are United States Congressmen Bob Clement and Jim Cooper. The gentleman on the right is the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, Aziz Mekouar. Nashville mayor Karl Dean also attended the event and spoke briefly, but is not pictured.

The Master of Ceremonies and organizer of the event was Zainab Elberry, an Egyptian-American peace activist who is also my partner in creating the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, which I presented to Mr. Mekouar toward the end of the evening. That's Zainab in the middle. The woman on the right is Lynn Grassmeyer, a third-generation Palestinian-American peace activist who works for human rights for Palestinian children, and all the children of the world. I'm not sure who the gentleman on the right is.

This is me, on the left, smiling at the Muslim Imam.

The gentleman to the left is Dr. M. Nour Naciri, the husband of Zainab Elberry. He was the first Moroccan to live permanently in Nashville, having moved here more than thirty years ago to get his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University. I believe the gentleman to the right is probably someone spectacularly important, but I'm not good with names and faces, so I'm not sure who he is.

Here are the real stars of the show: the children. Several children presented Mr. Mekouar with gifts, including a locally-made confection: the famous Goo-Goo Bar! (I hope they also snuck him a Moon Pie or three!)

This woman, whose name I don't know, gets my vote for the best-dressed attendee of the evening.

There was lots of wonderful food, presumably of Moroccan origin.

The first performer was Native American flutist J. J. Kent. You can click on his name to visit his website, which is well worth your time. His music was wonderfully moving and earned resounding applause. He was introduced by Alison Shaw, also a native American, who spoke eloquently of her heritage and the injustices suffered by Native Americans at the hands of white Americans.

There was a twenty-minute documentary, "Morocco: Portrait of a Nation," followed by a speech delivered by Mr. Mekouar, who was an eloquent if not "high wattage" speaker. He certainly made a good impression on me. Morocco lies immediately south of Spain, as you can see in the map below. Morocco is ethnically and culturally diverse, with a population of around 32 million people. It has a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected parliament, somewhat similar to Great Britain's, except that the King of Morocco retains vastly more power than the British royals (something Mr. Mekouar either forgot or chose not to mention). Morocco was the first nation to publicly recognize the fledgling United States of America in 1777, and the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1986 by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Sultan Muhammad III, is the U.S.'s oldest unbroken friendship treaty, so our longest-established formal relationship is with a Muslim nation.

The attendees of the event were also ethically and culturally diverse, but they all seemed to have one thing in common: beaming smiles.

Two years ago, if you had told me that I would end up submitting a peace plan to the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Aziz Mekouar, I would have looked you straight in the eye and said, “You’re nuts!”  Two years ago, If you had told me that Jewish Holocaust survivors and poets would accuse me of “turning my back on Israel,” I would have been shocked, because I’m an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and I and my entire family had always been staunch supporters of Israel. But these things did happen; here’s why . . .

Ironically, it was my Jewish friends who first informed me, subliminally, that something was very wrong in Israel. One day, as we discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suddenly realized that what they were telling me just didn’t “add up.” When I began to ask them probing questions about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, they became defensive, insisting it was “unfair” to question Israel. Since Americans routinely question our government’s policies and actions, I found this odd and, quite frankly, disturbing.

My Jewish friends also seemed to be blaming all Christians for the Holocaust when American Christians opposed Hitler and helped liberate the Nazi death camps. Why should my family be accused of complicity in terrible crimes, when none of us had ever lifted a finger to harm any Jewish person? It seemed to me that for some unfathomable reason, my Jewish friends were inventing illogical reasons to keep me from questioning Israel. But why would they do that?
Puzzled, I decided to investigate the matter myself . . .

Knowing from history and my personal research on the Holocaust that modern civilization depends on fair laws and courts, and that the failure of nations to establish fair laws and courts invariably leads to injustice, which in turn invariably leads to violence, I began my investigation with the laws and courts of Israel. I had often been informed that Israel was “the only democracy” in the Middle East, and that Israel and the United States share “common values,” so I was shocked to discover that Israel has created a system of Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts clearly designed to make Jews vastly superior in rights to Palestinians. For instance, Israel’s laws allow any Jew anywhere in the world to emigrate to Israel and become a citizen of Israel, even if their families hadn’t set foot in the region for the better part of two thousand years. But multitudes of Palestinians are barred from returning to the places where they actually lived just a few years ago. This was just one of many racial injustices I found enshrined in the “laws” of Israel. Perhaps the worst laws are those that make it illegal for non-Jewish citizens of Israel to marry, live with and raise children with the spouses of their choice. If a non-Jewish citizen of Israel marries the “wrong” man (according to the whims of the racist laws of Israel), she can be separated from her husband and even her own children! I also discovered that Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians, without just cause or due process of law, leaving them homeless and destitute. As I studied Israel’s “laws” and “courts,” which are clearly travesties of justice, I became sick at heart. I and my Jewish friends had been saying “Never again!” to such terrible things, but it seemed they had a “special exemption” in mind for Palestinians, just as Nazis once had a “special exemption” in mind for Jews. But how could I oppose what Nazis did to the Jews, yet condone similar things being done by Jews to Palestinians? I felt betrayed, but of course my discomfort was nothing compared to what completely innocent Palestinian women and children were enduring at the hands of a government that my government supplies with financial aid and advanced weapons, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and “still counting.”

I then studied the so-called “security” walls erected by the government of Israel. National security walls are, of course, normally built along borders and lie within the territory of the nation attempting to secure itself. For example, the wall being erected to protect the United States from illegal immigrants is being built along the Mexican border, on territory owned by the United States. But Israel’s “security walls” are not built on its own land. The border between Israel and the West Bank is roughly two hundred miles long, but Israel’s “security” walls are over four hundred miles long, more than double the length of the border. These walls snake through the West Bank, and are obviously offensive in nature, stealing prime land and water sources from the Palestinians. These are clearly offensive, dividing, conquering walls. And they are also killing walls, because they cut Palestinians off from hospitals and doctors. Innocent women and children are dying in the shadows of those walls, in ambulances being held up at military checkpoints inside the West Bank.

Furthermore, Israel has created “Jewish only” roads, settlements and waterworks inside Occupied Palestine, in direct violation of international law, the Camp David Accords, and human decency. What does creating a “Jewish only” road on Palestinian land have to do with anyone’s security? Clearly, it is an overt act of violence to encamp one’s military on someone else’s land, then create roads they can’t drive on and settlements where they can’t live. How would we feel if foreigners started creating roads and settlements where Americans can’t drive or live, as if our children were not as good as theirs? What would do? Of course we would fight until our children’s rights and freedom were restored.

As I studied the horrors being inflicted on Palestinians by the government of Israel and its benefactor, the government of the United States, I suddenly understood the real reason for the 9-11 attacks. So I decided to do some more research. Sure enough, in the recorded testimonies of Osama bin Laden and other organizers of the 9-11 attacks, the plight of the Palestinians was cited as the major motive for the attacks, along with U.S. government interference in the Middle East. In effect, the men we call “terrorists” are saying, “If you’re going to cause our women and children to suffer and die, then we will fight fire with fire, until you cease and desist.” Other Muslim terrorists have said the same thing — that they are acting to protect Muslims in the Middle East from U.S. and Israeli terrorism — but it seems most Americans are deaf to the truth. We are not being attacked because Muslims hate our “values” or despise our religion. We are being attacked because the governments of Israel and the U.S. have colluded to cause innocent Muslims to suffer and die, on their own native soil. When the vice chair of the 9-11 Commission asked an FBI investigator what motivated the men who planned and executed the attacks, the agent replied that the men the FBI had been able to interrogate had cited the plight of the Palestinians and the actions of the U.S. government. But the agent’s testimony was stricken from the published findings of the committee. Why? Because many powerful Jews and Christians, like my Jewish friends, consider it “unfair” to criticize Israel.

While I obviously don’t condone acts of terrorism against the U.S., I also don’t condone U.S. acts of terrorism against the innocent civilians of Muslim nations. If I beat another man’s wife and children, I can expect him to retaliate. If I want peace with other men, I need to respect the rights of their loved ones. But the governments of Israel and the U.S. chose the ignore the golden rule, where Muslims are concerned, and 9-11 and the subsequent wars were the terrible consequences.

Since the day it first dawned on my consciousness and conscience that my Jewish friends were not saying “Never again!” to all Holocausts, but were making a “special exemption” of the Palestinians, I have devoted many hours of study and reflection to what I consider a very good cause: establishing equal human rights, freedom and justice for Palestinians. In the course of my studies I noticed something that became the seed of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative: I noticed that the U.N. had repeatedly tried to pass resolutions that would have helped the Palestinians become a free, independent nation, but the U.S. had repeatedly used its Security Council veto to quash such efforts. So I began to consider the idea of a new U.N. resolution that the U.S. couldn’t veto. What about a veto based on the American Creed of equal rights, fair laws and fair courts for all human beings, without exception? How could the U.S. veto the American Creed?
This idea became the “Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative,” which I presented to the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Aziz Mekouar, during his recent visit to Nashville, Tennessee. The event honoring Mr. Mekouar that night was hosted by Zainab Elberry, my partner in the initiative. I came up with the idea initially, Zainab thought the idea had merit, and we decided to try to bring it to the attention of people able to make it happen. Here’s the idea. If you think it has merit, please feel free to explain it in your own words, or cut and paste the text from the article, or direct other people to the web page:

by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts