by Michael Suedfeld
This is a critical time in Middle East history. Both the Palestinians and Israelis are eyeing painful concessions to achieve lasting peace and no one in the world is more acutely aware of this than Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The way forward is not through old rhetoric and the dredging of past events but through conciliation and dealing with the hard realities of 2005. Unfortunately, one of those realities is that some people, when presented with the possibility of turning to peace and progress, will be unable to leave their tired views behind.
How else to explain those such as William Hughes who, in this publication last month, went on a vitriolic tirade against Sharon and the nation he heads? Hughes repeated the many mantras of Israel-bashers, relying on falsehoods and half-truths to reach his goal.
It is fruitless to comment directly on such attacks. Those who forward them are on a mission. They want a very public humiliation, if not the outright dissolution, of the Middle East’s sole traditional democracy; the country that ranks highest among Middle East nations when rated for human development; a country that is a world leader in technological, medical and other scientific advances; a country with less than three per cent of the Middle East’s population; a country that is such a minute portion of the Middle East geographically, it can be measured in tenths of a per cent; a country with few natural resources and none of that most precious Middle East commodity--oil.
Rather, I challenge readers to ask themselves: why is Israel a world pariah?
Is it because of its actions? There are numerous areas around the world where the death tolls are hundreds of times higher and where oppression--particularly of women and minorities--is a routine part of daily life, including most, if not all, other Middle East countries.
Is it because of Sharon? Since Yasser Arafat’s death, Sharon has released hundreds of prisoners, allowed convicted and exiled Palestinian terrorists to return to their homes, strengthened his commitment to removing Gaza settlements, relaxed travel restrictions, removed checkpoints and turned over security to Palestinian forces. As for war crimes, if Sharon’s guilty so, too, are numerous world leaders with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan leading the list. Sharon may have stood by as between 500-1,000 innocents in Sabra and Shatila were murdered by Christian Phalangists (Arabs, not Jews or Israelis), Annan did exactly the same thing in Rwanda (500,000-plus dead), in the former Yugoslavia (more than 100,000 dead), and, today in Sudan (an estimated 300,000 dead).
Is it the media? As the second Intifidah began, there were 350 press organizations with permanent representatives in Israel and another 1,300 arrived shortly after. Those people were there to write “hard” news even if they had to create it. The Jenin refugee camp reporting was one of the great shams of modern journalism, yet people, including Hughes, still cite it as if there were actually a massacre there.
Do we hold Israel to a higher standard than its neighbors? That’s unfair to Israel but more so to Arabs. Lebanese historian Kemal Salibi described it this way: “The liberal tradition in the West tries to impute to the behavior of the native or the underdog an idealist position which is not really there...When it comes to the thinking about Middle East politics, the American liberal mind is often chasing rainbows. They are living in a world of delusion.” Arabs are not children and would be best served if we in the West demanded better from their leaders.
Is Israel perfect? No modern nation is. Israel is, however, home to a kaleidoscope of people from some 100 national backgrounds of diverse races and cultures. The Arab Muslim, Christian and Druze minorities comprise approximately 20 per cent of the population. Druze serve with distinction in the Israeli Defence Forces. There are Arab members of the Knesset, Arab members of the courts, including Supreme Court and, in the last two World Cup of Football (soccer) qualifying games, Arab-Israelis scored the tying goals becoming, at least briefly, national heroes. In contrast, Jews can’t even visit countries such as Saudi Arabia.
In short, there is no reason to hate or demean Israel in proportions so out of whack with its actions and significance. At least not for anyone really interested in peace, justice and the other ideals this publication’s operators profess to espouse.
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 Depending on which countries are included as “Middle East”, there are between 260 million and 300 million Middle East residents; approximately 6 million in Israel.
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