A foul, evil-looking cloud descended on Jerusalem this afternoon. A cool wind blew dust from the desert into the city. Locals know the wind in Hebrew as a “Sharav” or, in Arabic, as a “hamsin”. Dust hung in the air. Our group of journalists traveling with the American Israel Educational Foundation have met with more than ten people from a variety of perspectives. One wind from the East we cannot escape is the one blowing across the sands from Iran.
In the Middle East, people are very attuned to the shifts in regional power. These changes are reflected in overt and discrete ways. I was very surprised, for instance, to hear Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the largely secular head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, a think tank based in East Jerusalem, praising the religious currents emanating out of Iran. Abdul Hadi, who served us date and pistachio pastry, contrasted Shiite clerics with the Sunnis with whom he was raised. The former, members of the minority sect of Islam, could more freely expound on the Koran. “The Iranian Muslim Shiites are the only ones with the confidence to interpret the text,” he said. Of the Sunni, he said “they don’t have the courage or the power or the conviction to express it.” He added that he had heard examples of Sunni Muslims becoming Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and elsewhere. I can’t speak to the veracity of Abdul Hadi’s claim. Yet the fact that he wants to praise the religious leaders who run Iran suggests which way the wind may be blowing among Palestinians.
At Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, the museum’s director of content, Dana Porath, talked about Iran’s recent Holocaust-denial conference. She said that, contrary to her expectations, a Farsi section on the Yad Vashem website had caught on. She said she had received numerous positive e-mails from Iran. “I was really overwhelmed by the interest,” she told me. “They tell me ‘we want you to know there are many of us out there.’ “