I have been haunted since early boyhood by an infatuation with Bilad al-Sham, or Greater Syria – the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.The op-ed is interesting enough (and you should read the whole thing.) But what is more amazing is that this was not written for the Jerusalem Post - Eldin wrote and published this essay two weeks ago on his homepage on the International Quranic Center site, in Arabic, and other blogs picked it up.
For me, this fascination started with recognizing the voices of singers like Syrian Sabah Fakhry (born 1933) belonging to the al-Sham region.
I conjured up these images and feelings as I was boarding a plane heading for the “land of beauty,” dreaming of soirées in Aleppo, touring Damascus’s old marketplaces and hanging around its cafés.
Such daydreams were flashing through my imagination until the “blessed” plane landed in Syria, when all dreams faded away within half an hour at Damascus Airport.
I was quickly singled out by a security officer, who checked my passport. He reviewed a list, and asked me to stand aside until he had dealt with a “routine problem” that would not take time. Ten minutes later, a grim-faced officer in plainclothes came and told me to follow him....
An hour later, a fourth officer arrived, no less grimfaced than his predecessors. Addressing the would-be “ambassador of the devil,” he told me I was not welcome in Syria. It was “a sovereign decision,” according to him, and he said he was not obliged to give any explanation.
...Now, on board a plane heading to Cairo, I recalled all the opinion pieces and TV interviews in which I had been critical of the policies and remarks of some senior Syrian officials. That was the reason for what had happened! ...I cannot help smiling in bitterness whenever I listen to Syrian officials parroting the Ba’ath Party’s famous slogan: “One Arab nation with a timeless message.” I have now become totally aware of what that one nation and timeless message stand for!
I THOUGHT about visiting Beirut and attending a concert by Lebanon’s iconic diva Fayrouz that was scheduled at the Al-Bayal hotel, and actually began to prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime event.
I phoned a Lebanese friend and fellow journalist.
He was terrified by my daring thought, and taken by surprise by my naivete – merely thinking about visiting Lebanon with my record of dire assaults on Hizbullah (I had once dubbed the powerful Shi’ite group a “war contractor” and a proxy for Iran’s regional aspirations).
I was even oblivious to the fact that Hizbullah men are in de facto control of Beirut Airport – another source of amazement for my colleague, who feared for my safety.
Although it was once a part of Egypt, I don’t even feel safe visiting Sudan, due to my verbal attacks on the regime of Omar Bashir, who insists on presiding over a collapsing state.
I am sure that Muammar Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Command Council will not deny me access to Libya.
Yet I am almost as certain I would never come out again, just like many others.
FAILING TO find a glimpse of hope across the greater Arab world, we must concede that Israel has become the only “safe haven” where one can be sure of his life and dignity. Yes, Israel, the state our demagogues continue to call “the alleged entity.”
Just like the Palestinian Helles family who fled Hamas “jihadists” in Gaza to Israel, I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.
So, I urge you, dear fellow Arab, to visit Israel.
Someone should gather the small but growing number of Arab writings that favorably compare Israel with the Arab world in one spot.
(h/t Elder of Lobby)