Sunday, August 12, 2007

The utter lack of Arab empathy for others

As I research the next chapter of my series on the history of Palestinian Arabs, I have been having some troubles finding sources on how ordinary PalArabs were living or thinking in the 1950s and 1960s. But tonight I found a single article that is a goldmine - a long article in The Atlantic from Martha Gellhorn, who visited many Palestinian Arabs in a number of countries in 1961.

One part of this article is very illuminating (although the entire article is very worthwhile). Gellhorn spent a large part of her time trying to understand the PalArab mindset and how they can be understood by Westerners,and then she came across an Israeli Arab man who also clung to fantasies about 1948:
At this point, I decided to make one long, determined stand to see whether there was any meeting ground of minds on a basis of mutually accepted facts and reasoning.

"Please bear with me and help me," said I. "I am a simple American, and I am trying to understand how the Arab mind works, and I am finding it very difficult. I want to put some things in order; if I have everything wrong, you will correct me. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the Partition of Palestine. I have seen the Partition map and studied it. I cannot tell, but it does not look to me as if the Arabs were being cheated of their share of good land. The idea was that this division would work, if both Jews and Arabs accepted it and lived under an Economic Union. And, of course, the Arab countries around the borders would have to be peaceful and cooperative or else nothing would work at all. The Jews accepted this Partition plan; I suppose because they felt they had to. They were outnumbered about two to one inside the country, and there were the neighboring Arab states with five regular armies and forty million or more citizens, not feeling friendly. Are we agreed so far?"

"It is right."

"The Arab governments and the Palestinian Arabs rejected Partition absolutely. You wanted the whole country. There is no secret about this. The statements of the Arab representatives, in the UN are on record. The Arab governments never hid the fact that they started the war against Israel. But you, the Palestinian Arabs, agreed to this, you wanted it. And you thought, it seems to me very reasonably, that you would win and win quickly. It hardly seemed a gamble; it seemed a sure bet. You took the gamble and you lost. I can understand why you have all been searching for explanations of that defeat ever since, because it does seem incredible. I don't happen to accept your explanations, but that is beside the point. The point is that you lost."

"Yes." It was too astonishing; at long last, East and West were in accord on the meaning of words.

"Now you say that you want to return to the past; you want Partition. So, in fact you say, let us forget that war we started, and the defeat, and, after all, we think Partition is a good, sensible idea. Please answer me this, which is what I must, know. If the position were reversed, if the Jews had started the war and lost it, if you had won the war, would you now accept Partition? Would you give up part of the country and allow the 650,000 Jewish residents of Palestine -who had fled from the war--to come back?"

"Certainly not," he said, without an instant's hesitation. "But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea."

He had given me the missing clue. The fancy word we use nowadays is "empathy"--entering into the emotions of others. I had appreciated and admired individual refugees but realized I had felt no blanket empathy for the Palestinian refugees, and finally I knew why--owing to this nice, gray-haired schoolteacher. It is hard to sorrow for those who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring the heart past all doubt, those who cry aloud for justice must be innocent. They cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless. Some of them may be unfortunate human beings, and civilization would collapse (as it notoriously did in Nazi Germany) if most people did not naturally move to help their hurt fellow men. But a profound difference exists between victims of misfortune (there, but for the grace of God, go I) and victims of injustice. My empathy knew where it stood, thanks to the schoolteacher.

"Do you follow the Eichmann trial?" I asked. An Arabic daily paper, weeklies, and radio station thrive in Israel.

"Yes. Every day." He wrinkled his nose with disgust.

"Do you not imagine that all the Jews in Israel believe this massacre of their people could have been prevented if the Jews had had a homeland to escape to? Don't you think that they knew,, also, what you just said: there would have been no Jewish refugees from here--they would be dead or in the sea? Doesn't that perhaps explain them to you a little?"

He shrugged, he smiled; with these gestures he tacitly admitted the point, but it was of minor importance.

This is a brilliant observation. The Palestinian Arabs (who, for the most part in 1961 were living better lives than other Arabs due to the UNRWA and US aid) didn't want justice - they wanted to see all the Jews dead. When they whine about "justice" what they really mean is "give us everything we demand and ask nothing in return." In their mindset, they have no blame, no guilt, no shame - everything is always the Other's fault.

This is not only a Palestinian Arab trait - it is universal among Arabs. The Arabs, by their nature, seem to feel that they deserve everything and no one else deserves anything. You will not see Arab charities giving aid to non-Arabs or non-Muslims. You will not see them say that the Jews (or Kurds...) have a right to live in peace in their own country. What few concessions some of them may have made towards the West have been out of political necessity, never out of a true belief that these concessions were the right thing.

The absolute lack of Arab empathy is the key reason why true peace is illusory. Without empathy you cannot even begin to see how the other side thinks; you cannot even begin to come up with an equitable solution. The entire Arab point of view is not one based on a win/win or an accommodation, it is based on the pure selfishness that is a component of the inability to empathize.

How can two sides come to an agreement when one side has no ability to think past his own self?

Another section later in the article, starting with a conversation with her Israeli Jewish driver:
"What's the matter, Nissim?"

"Nothing. What the children say."

"You mean just now, shouting?"

"Yes. They say: 'Where you going, bastard? I spit on you.'"

What for, I thought, what for, and will it never stop?

"Do you hate the Arabs, Nissim?"

"No. Of course no."

"Why not?"

"What is the good of hate?"

What indeed? Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good has it done them?