Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Two Middle Eastern Calendars
HIRAYAMA Kentaro  / Former NHK commentator

October 27, 2006
In Israel, the "Jewish calendar" is used as the official calendar of the state. According to this calendar, a new year started at sunset on September 22 this year. The new year is the 5767th year in the Jewish calendar, whose starting point goes back to the "creation of the world" depicted in the Old Testament. The 9th day of the Jewish New Year, which corresponds to October 1st in our calendar, is "Yom Kippur (the day of atonement)," commencing at sunset. It is the most important feast day of the year for Jews. Similarly, in the Islamic calendar, the same day is the beginning of Ramadan, the biggest annual event for Muslims who fast from dawn to dusk for a month. After dark, family members and friends get together and enjoy a feast and conversation. It is the most enjoyable yearly religious event for Muslims. At any rate, the great festivities for both Judaism and Islam occur at almost the same time this year.

Both Jewish and Islamic calendars change date at sunset. They are the same lunar calendars based on the waxing and waning of the moon. In the basic lunar calendar, the length of a year is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, and if it is used unadjusted, the seasons will shift from year to year. The Jewish calendar adjusts to the shift in the seasons by creating a leap month like the old Japanese lunar calendar. Thus, for Jews, every New Year day comes at around the same time in early autumn. But in the Islamic calendar, which is genuinely lunar-based and has no leap month, it takes 33 years for a season to make a circuit. For this reason, it is once in 33 years that the two religious feasts fall on the same dates.

The last time it occurred was in 1973--33 years ago--when the fourth Middle East war broke out causing the "oil shock" as a consequence, with the two religious feasts as a backdrop. The Egyptian and Syrian troops took the Israelis, who were completely off guard because of the consecutive holidays from New Year to Yom Kippur, by surprise and tried to regain the territories occupied by Israel during the third Middle East war six years before. The Egyptians crossing the Suez Canal established a bridgehead on the Sinai Peninsula and cleared themselves of their disgraced history of chronic defeats in the past. Both sides connected this war with their respective holidays, the Israelis calling it the "Yom Kippur war," and the Egyptians the "Ramadan war."

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, while fighting the war with weapons provided by the Soviet Union in the Nasser days, entrusted all the post-war settlements, including cease-fire arbitrations, to the United States. While the Cold War was going on, Sadat gradually gained credit with America, leaving the Soviet bloc and joining the American camp in the manner of a double-crosser, and succeeded in recovering the Sinai from Israel by concluding a peace treaty. It was virtually the last full-scale war between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries. Thereafter, as witnessed in the two invasions of Lebanon and military actions in the occupied territories in near-by Palestine, Israel has fought against guerrilla campaigns waged by Arab nationalists and Islamic extremist groups, but not against regular army troops of Arab countries. The only exception was the Gulf War centering on Kuwait that broke out 15 years ago. Iraq launched 39 missiles into Israel in an effort to get the latter involved. The current Iraq War is a second attempt, by the current Bush administration, to eliminate the Iraqi threat to Israel.

After the Cold War and the Gulf War ended, the U.S. took the political initiative all over the Middle East, both the Bush (the father) and Clinton administrations endeavored to bring about a solution to the Palestinian question, the root of all the conflicts. Thus the Palestinian National Authority and autonomous sectors within the occupied territories were established. Clinton, in particular, in his personal shuttle diplomacy between Washington and the places of dispute even including Gaza, came up with a pretty drastic peace plan rather severe to Israel: withdrawal of the Israelis from the whole Gaza area and 96-97% of the West Bank of the Jordan river and the division of the old city of Jerusalem where many holy places of both Jewish and Muslims overlap. These efforts, however, withered on the vine and the succeeding Bush administration has been taking a pro-Israeli stance, regarding the repressive actions by Israel (Sharon) against the Palestinian extremists as part of the global "struggle against terrorism." In the meantime, Hamas—who deny Israel's right of existence, won a landslide victory in the elections in Palestine early this year but they have been up against a wall as they are not only politically isolated but also the economic assistance from European countries, not to mention the U.S., was virtually cut off.

As the U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that the American military intervention may have worsened the terrorist threat has been made public, it reminds me of the advice contributed by General Brent Scowcroft and carried in the New York Times just before the invasion of Iraq. Gen. Scowcroft, who served as National Security Advisor to President Bush (the father), insisted that solution of the Palestinian question should be given priority to the intervention in Iraq. The 9/11 terrorist's "video will" recently made public also indicated that his motive for the terrorism attack was the anti-American sentiment related to the Palestinian problem. There are signs that the Bush administration, aware of the importance of the issue, is now feeling the necessity of changing horses midstream. Hamas' belligerent posture toward Israel, however, remains unchanged in spite of the efforts by the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas to bring them over to his point of view. On the Israeli side, the Likud, a right-wing opposition party led by Binyamin Netaniyahu, taking advantage of the recent war in Lebanon, is gaining great strength as shown in the negative public opinion poll of middle-of-the-roaders like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The current outlook for the resumption of peace process is, unfortunately, not very bright.

The so-called "road map," which President Bush (the son) announced as if he wanted to make up for attacking Iraq, under the joint signatures of the EU and UN, as the concept for a possible solution to the Palestinian question, aims at the establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with neighboring Israel. The map itself remains the same and the United Nations' role is to be reviewed in the hopes of breaking through the deadlock caused by the America's unilateralism. These facts will work for the better in the long run, but it will take time. When Yom Kippur and Ramadan overlap the next time, in 33 years, is it too naive to hope that Jewish and Muslim people will have exchanged invitations and dined together at each other's homes in celebration of their respective feasts in this Holy Land?

The writer is former NHK commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎 / 元NHK解説委員

2006年 10月 27日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟