Dalai Lama 'finds' harmony in Mideast

March 22, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- In a land burning with hatreds, a statesman came here this week claiming to have found a "spirit of reconciliation in the region."

To a people at war since the birth of their state, he spoke of pacifism and nonviolence. He said he found humanity in those who committed modern history's worst atrocity, though many in his audience were victims of the crime.

He talked of "mutual respect" in a place where everyday people demonize their enemy.

Snubbed by government officials, but mobbed by the people: Who is this red-robed man? The Dalai Lama of Tibet.

The Buddhist high priest is here for a five-day unofficial visit, a smiling and benign figure bringing a message of passivism to one of the least passive places in the world. But Israelis are eating it up.

They throng to watch him plant a tree. They jam his inspection tour of a hospital. They crowd the hall where he receives an honorary degree -- all to catch a few phrases of mystic philosophy in the Dalai Lama's garbled English.

He was not met by the prime minister, not greeted by the president and not serenaded by the army band. But he was prominent in all of the Hebrew papers yesterday. Tickets to his speeches are the hottest in town.

The official snub came because Israel is afraid to anger China. Since 1950, China has occupied Tibet, and it huffs and puffs whenever the Dalai Lama, in exile in India since 1959, is greeted as a state guest.

So as not to disrupt Israel's growing business of selling weapons to China, the Foreign Ministry took pains not to acknowledge the Tibetan preacher of pacifism.

A gracious guest, the Dalai Lama, 58, demurred that he was not expecting an official greeting, that he is a Buddhist pilgrim ("the first" to Israel, he contended) and that he came at the invitation of the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel.

But the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv grumbled editorially about official hypocrisy, given Israel's complaints when others had shunned the Jewish state under pressure.

"We were and still are angry at other countries and politicians who downplayed their relationship to Israel fearing the anger of Arabs. And here we have a political exile, a victim of communist tyranny, a god in the eyes of his believers in Tibet, a Nobel Prize laureate, and we are careful not to give him a tiny bit of official recognition," the editorial scoffed. "The fear of China has fallen on us."

The Dalai Lama maintained an Alice-in-Wonderland obliviousness to the political currents around him.

Three weeks ago a Jewish settler killed at least 29 Muslims in a mosque, but the Dalai Lama said this is "a moment of combining and harmony between peoples."

Daily clashes between Palestinians and Israelis send bleeding victims to hospitals, but the Tibetan leader noted: "We all belong to the great family of humanity."

Even at Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, he continued this upbeat theme. He laid a wreath, lighted a remembrance candle, and publicly contemplated the dark side of man, as most visitors there do. But then he added, pacifically, "in every man there is a seed of human feeling. . . . The human spirit is basically good and beneficial."

That did not sit well with some Israelis, for whom the Holocaust and its perpetrators remain man's demonstration of pure evil.

"None of us has to be an apologist for the Nazis," complained Yossi Sarid, minister of the environment and the only Cabinet member who has met the visitor.

The Dalai Lama said that his goal here was "to learn what I must do as a pilgrim." Navigating the political shoals would seem to be the first lesson, and he made the stops for a crash course. Yesterday he toured the Jewish Western Wall, the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Haram el-Sharif, where Muslims worship at the Dome of the Rock. He is to meet leaders of the Druze religion and will tour the Haifa temple of the Bahai faith.

Early this morning near the southernmost Israeli town of Eilat, he is to climb a mountain with a view of Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries that have been fighting on various fronts for 45 years.

The speech he will give in this setting is titled "The Essence of Peace and the Importance of Harmony." A sell-out crowd is expected.

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