Sunday, November 01, 2009

The lack of Arab empathy

At Ya Libnan, a fairly prominent Lebanese news site, we see an op-ed that at first blush appears to be an anti-Israel polemic. The headline and subhead reads:
Can a Zionist be fair to an Arab?
There is no doubt that the Palestinian people have not been treated justly and fairly over the past sixty years or so.
This is a shame, because the article's clear conclusion is "yes," as it approvingly cites Shulamit Aloni and Richard Goldstone as Jewish Zionists who are not afraid to take pro-Arab positions. No matter what you think about them, it is clear that many Jews and Zionists will not hesitate to defend Arabs when they believe that it is the right thing to do.

This is in contrast with the Arab world, which is described in damning terms by the author, Ghassan Karam:
[The] inability to differentiate between one Jew and another or even one Zionist and another has served to inflame the Palestinian Israeli problem when a more liberal and objective understanding could have helped ease the pain and maybe even hasten an end to the suffering.

To suggest that the Palestinian Israeli problem has become the opiate of the authoritarian Arab regimes is not an exaggeration. Each and every Arab ruler is constantly engaged in grandstanding and in advocating positions that would demonstrate the opposition of his regime to everything Jewish and his devotion to everything Arab and Palestinian. That is why Arab “sham democracies” are invariably opposed to anything Jewish and why they favour supporting resistance groups and even terrorist actions. Blowing up school children in Tel Aviv is to be commended while harming those in say Damascus is barbaric. Our love for the Palestinians is best demonstrated by the squalid living conditions that we have provided for them and the severe constraints that we have placed on their ability to integrate in our societies, own property and acquire citizenship. On the other hand we are constantly proud of our ability to blame the Jew for each of our problems be it social, economic, scientific or political. It has even been reported recently that a major Hollywood producer was denied the right to land at Beirut International because his private jet had some Israeli manufactured parts.

Kharam touches upon perhaps the biggest obstacle to peace.

Jews and Zionists, even the right wing, can and do empathize with the suffering of Palestinian Arabs and in general have no desire to gratuitously cause them pain. One can argue about where to place the line between security for Israelis and fair treatment for PalArabs, but Zionists at least recognize that there is a balance between the two.

The Arab world, however, does not seem to share this basic human characteristic of empathy with Jews and Zionists. To the vast majority of Arabs, it is black and white: Jews, and certainly Israelis, are evil. Jews must be at best second class citizens subservient to their Arab superiors and Zionists must be killed, or at best tolerated until the Arab world gains enough strength to finish them off in a decade or a century.

A stark example of this thinking can be seen in an exchange of letters between a Jewish Israeli mother whose son was killed and the Palestinian Arab sniper who killed him, now in an Israeli prison.

The mother, Robi Damelin, wrote a piece in Ha'aretz before Yom Kippur saying that she forgave her son's killer. Her letter oozes pain at her loss and empathy for the family of the jailed killer.

The killer, by contrast, has nothing but hate is response:
Hamad bluntly rejected the bereaved mother's outstretched hand. "Mrs. Robi did not explain what led the soldier David to enlist," he continues. "She doesn't know the iron fact that her son not only took part in the torture of my people, but stood at the head of the perpetrators of the killing and murder. From her letter, it appears that she is living on another planet. She forgets that the late Abu Amar (Yasser Arafat) called for peace 35 years ago. I wish to remind the mother of the soldier David that history proves that a people that does not fight an occupation with all means, including arms, cannot obtain its rights. .... You must remove your hands from our land and from our people, and if not, it is our duty to kill the murderers.
This lack of Arab empathy is hardly new; it was documented by Martha Gellhorn in 1961 in her interviews of Arab refugees at the time:
"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."

The idea of a real peace is illusory as long as Arabs have no conception of empathy with Jews and with the rights of Jews for self-determination. The quasi-peace that exists now between Israel and some Arab countries are not a result of Arab recognition of Jewish rights, but rather of Arab recognition of Jewish strength (along with practical benefits provided by the US.) Empathy with the suffering of one's enemy and identification with the way the other side thinks are necessary preconditions to rapprochement, and the Arab psyche does not admit such thought.