“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” Chinese proverb.
This old proverb, commonly attributed to Confucius or Lao Tsu, has spawned a number of parodies, such as, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in the boat and drink beer all day.”
Here are a few more.
“Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Unless he doesn’t like sushi—then you have to teach him to cook.”
“Teach a man to fish and you can sell him fishing equipment.”
“Teach a man to fish; and you will not have to listen to his incessant whining about how hungry he is.”
“Give a man a fish, and he’ll probably look at you very oddly and say something like, “I’m sorry but you’ll still have to pay the speeding fine.”
Vice President Dan Quayle got in the act. “If you give a person a fish, they’ll fish for a day. But if you train a person to fish, they’ll fish for a lifetime.”
You get the idea. But what would happen if you taught a hungry Palestinian how to fish?
In the news the last couple weeks, Israeli commandos have been intercepting ships attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, that poverty-stricken strip of land along the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt. Naturally, Israel’s politicians defend their actions as necessary to keep dangerous materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.
That makes sense, of course. The Middle East, after all, is a snake pit. It’s a region where there’s no such thing as a true friend; just temporary alliances of convenience. It’s an area where personal relationships are often summed up as, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
So what sorts of things are prohibited from the Gaza Strip? According to a list from Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, there are a lot of dangerous items, such as spices and herbs, including sage, cardamon, cumin, coriander and ginger. The forbidden list also includes jam, chocolate, potato chips, fresh meat, size A4 paper (the European standard business letter, 8.3” x 11.7”), toys, goats, and chicks. Plastic chicken cages are okay; chicks aren’t.
Also on the banned list are fishing rods, fishing nets and ropes for fishing.
Certainly, potato chips should be banned. It’s just junk food, anyway. If you have thousands of hungry people you don’t want to tease them with junk food.
But fishing rods? It seems to me that if Israel’s perceived problem with Gaza is that the place is full of restive people intent on armed revolt and terrorism, then they should not only be allowing fishing rods to be brought in; they should be subsidizing importation of fishing rods. They should be hiring some of those people on American TV fishing shows to come to Gaza and give fishing lessons.
The way I see it, if we get all those people without jobs and constructive things to do out fishing, then all of a sudden, instead of sitting around and plotting terrorism, they’d be out on the long beaches of Gaza fishing and hopefully catching fish to take home to their families.
It wouldn’t stop there, of course. Pretty soon the more successful anglers would be creating TV shows and exclaiming, “Gollee! What a hawg!” Hmmm, they’d have to come up with a less-offensive term for a big fish, though. There would be people clamoring for special regulations, or advocating catch and release of game fish. There would be new cottage industries creating new fishing lures. There would be new fishing magazines—though, of course writing paper and writing implements are banned, so scratch that idea.
No, instead of banning fishing rods, Israel should be doing all it can to encourage sport fishing. That’s how I’d achieve lasting peace in the Holy Land. A ridiculous idea? Perhaps. On the other hand, consider the current policy. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof sums it up, “That’s not security; that’s a travesty,”