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Jew, Arabs join as 'blood brothers'
David Staples
Edmonton Journal

Gitelman got out his telephone book. He looked up Arab and Islamic organizations and started calling.

"I wanted to find out, 'Hey, are you guys happy or are you sad? Are you dancing or are you crying?' I had to know."

Gitelman, 35, is a construction worker. He's also Jewish. A Toronto boy who spent his 20s hitch-hiking around and working odd jobs, including a six-month stay on a kibbutz in Israel.

On Tuesday, like most everyone else, Gitelman was appalled and frightened by what he saw on TV, particularly by the Palestinian celebration.

He had a paranoid reaction to that, he says, and started to think about the large Muslim temple outside of Edmonton. He wondered if the Arab-Canadians out there were celebrating, too, maybe planning to come out of the basement with guns and start shooting.

At that point, Gitelman told himself to calm down.

From his time in Israel, he knew that most Arabs might not like it that Jews dominated the area politically, but only a few were interested in taking violent action.

He recalled how one day in Israel, Palestinian radicals had declared that the Arab market had to shut down to honour a certain Muslim martyr. That same day, Gitelman was out shopping in the market, when gangs of Arab teens with chains came by, smashing in the window of any store that remained opened. One Arab store owner closed shop when the teens were around, then promptly opened up again right after, Gitelman recalls.

That's what most of the Palestinians are like, he thought, just normal people, the kind who work hard, go home, care for the kids, watch some TV, rest.

Still, to make sure things were OK in Edmonton, he started calling the Arab groups.

The first person he got on the line was Khalid Tarrabain. Tarrabain, a small businessman, came to Canada from Lebanon 15 years ago and is now president of the Canadian Islamic Centre.

Over the phone, Tarrabain assured Gitelman that he, too, had been horrified by the bombing.

"Terrible, terrible," Tarrabain says of the act. "No human would do something like that.

"All Muslim leaders and Muslim countries, they denounced the terrorist act."

At that point, Gitelman came up with an idea, to have a meeting between Edmonton's Jews, Christians and Arabs at the local Canadian Blood Services office.

"I wanted to dispel other people from having the fear I had, and to show that Edmonton's separate races aren't hating each other," Gitelman says. "I wanted to show that all Arabs aren't killers, and all Jews aren't Israeli soldiers, and that people are people."

Every human has blood, Gitelman thought, so people could show their common humanity by donating it. "We're all brothers. We all care about life, and giving blood is a statement about that."

Tarrabain was keen to participate. "We wanted to get together so that people don't think we're apart," he says. "We are one community here, and we live together, and that's the way it should be."

Gitelman lobbied numerous local religious groups to come: Jewish, Christian and Arab. In the end, only a handful of people showed up Wednesday night, including Gitelman, a dozen Arab-Canadians, and Unitarian minister Brian Kiely.

"There's so little we can do," Kiely said. "But we all bleed red. It's the one concrete thing we can do."

The entire group signed up to donate blood. Gitelman was satisfied with the effort.

"I wanted to do my part," he said. "I at least wanted to try."

To me, Gitelman succeeded. No, he didn't persuaded 500 Jews, Arabs and Christians to come out and hold hands on a cold Edmonton night, but that's not likely to happen, certainly not now, not with people feeling so shattered and confused, not even in as moderate a city as Edmonton.

But Gitelman had made a journey himself, from paranoia to fellowship, from ignorance to knowledge. In doing so, he showed guts, bravery, and a calm head, qualities that will be needed in coming weeks.

© Copyright 2001 Edmonton Journal


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