July 3, 2003
Hello, you out there. I think I have seen and heard enough in the few months since I last wrote, that persuades me to write again.
In fact, recent events have been enough to fill their own history book.
When people ask me why I live in Israel, the easy answer of course is ‘love’ – for my wife, of course. Why I stay requires a deeper answer. I really do get some kind of masochistic thrill to be ‘living history’. (Sorry Hillary, but this seems a more appropriate title when referring to life in the Middle East than to wife of a US president). I find it fascinating to watch first hand a country trying to establish itself – two countries, in fact.
Another recent article on the subject said that in many parts of the world, life goes by. Here is goes through you. It is an extreme feeling. Here, life is dynamic, in the literal sense.
On Tuesday this week, there were reports on comments made by the EU’s outgoing Special Representative to the Middle East Process. His admiration for the achievements of Arafat were made very clear, causing many letters to be written to the Jerusalem Post. I added mine this morning:
“Sir – For those who do not have the doubtful pleasure of occasionally reading UK’s The Independent, may I add the name of Roland Challis, who I was shocked to be reminded is BBC correspondent in Cairo. On May 19, he wrote a letter to the Independent, praising Arafat’s contribution to the Palestinians, comparing him in the same sentence to Nelson Mandela.
I wrote to the newspaper as follows:
Sir – Were Nelson Mandela dead, Roland Challis’s lines (Arafat’s legacy, May 19) would surely have caused him to turn in his grave. The South African citizen today has hope, thanks to that giant of a man.
Until yesterday, the Palestinian had no hope. He is squeezed into refugee camps by his Arab neighbours and the international community – even in Gaza and the West Bank, the very home that the UN voted for them in 1947. Arafat has brought only misery for his people, while Forbes Magazine lists him as one of the World’s richest men.
He has faced a complete spectrum of Israeli leaders, yet has never had the vision of someone like Anwar Sadat, who put his personal feelings aside and realised that peace with Israel was the only logical step forward.
Today, there is a shaky hope for peace between the two foes. Abu Mazen is a new face to the fore. The Israeli cabinet has, for the first time, voted for a Palestinian state. May Arafat quietly retreat to family life, for the sake of the Palestinian people.
Tel Aviv, Israel”
May 26, I might add. That’s 5 weeks ago, and look how far we have come down that Abu Mazen road. Of course, the obstacles are numerous and high – and neither side has much optimism. But try we must.
It is sad that ‘settlements’ are being compared in political importance to ‘suicide killings’ , but that’s politics.
For me, the big problem is education – brain-washing’. Let’s first eliminate the extremists – on both sides. Extremism can have no place in decent society. What worries me is the continued mass mal-education of the Palestinians. From birth, and certainly through school and university, on the streets and in every camp, establishment of the Palestinian State in the whole land of current Palestine/Israel is the norm. Initially, there is no question that the conflict on the Arab side was based on anti-Israeli feelings, political, traditional. But since the mid-80s, with the dragging on of this situation, this has developed into anti-Semitism.
Some of you know that I, a Catholic-educated liberal, was the target of a vicious anti-Semitic attack early last year – from someone I considered to be ‘an old friend’. My almost immediate reaction was to go and get a book to learn something about this strange subject. What came out of Bernard Lewis’s book, written in 1985, was that, at that stage, there was little or no anti-Semitism in the Middle East. But if peace did not come soon, it would inevitably develop.
Now there are countless Arabic versions of ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ around, being distributed to the many who know no other language, who today have little chance of hearing at least 2 sides of this many-faceted story. Over the Christmas period in Egypt, they even ran a TV mini-series based on that infamous book.
I also read an article by a Libyan Jew, now living, I believe, in Baltimore. His were among the last Jewish families to leave that country. There had been over 2,000 years written history of the Libyan Jews. Now they are gone. All of them. With the over 1 million Arabs relatively thriving in Israel, as Israeli citizens (I wrote ‘relatively’ – none of them would secretly admit to want to live under any of the other Middle East regimes that have housed their people), one can safely say that there future in this country is not questioned. Yet they are related to a people who have been hostile to their ‘mother country’ for the length of its existence.
I have to stop there. I don’t want this to be a propaganda letter. Perhaps all I am illustrating is that the players on this deadly pitch are not playing the same game. Or at least are playing with totally different rules. That’s what the Americans (and British) are learning to appreciate about the developing quagmire in Iraq. It does not make them wrong. It just takes away much of the optimism.
Which takes us back to the Yellow Brick Road Map.
PS – I mentioned the BBC above. Did you know that
They are almost ‘at war’ with the British government over the handling of the UK’s Iraq policy.
They have been all but banned in Israel. The only next step is, in fact, to be expelled. But we have no BBC news on cable (They can’t stop the radio – nor satellite reception), travel is restricted, no official interviews, no automatic visas etc. etc.
I listen pretty closely to BBC World Service, and I have not been aware of their mentioning this, despite the fact that we don’t hear interviews with Israeli ministers any more. Not even with citizens. That appears to be making them even more biased.
And I’m British!
And finally – Did you read anything about Tuesday’s demolition of a half-constructed mosque in Nazareth? No? Well why should you. Just another bit of news.
I mentioned my Christian upbringing above. Yet my initial reaction to the news, quite big here, was ‘who cares’? Another piece in this tit-for-tat tragedy. But no – read on. This was illustrating the demise of the Christian communities in such important centers as Nazareth and Bethlehem.
This mosque was to be a giant, with 4 minarets – like those in Istanbul. It is located next to the Basilica of the Annunciation – would have dwarfed it from many angles. Apart from the fact that it was illegal, it would have been morally disastrous for the dwindling community of Arab Christians.
Israel is not the only one under threat from extremist Islam.
Finally, finally – I don’t like ending this with those words….yesterday I went shopping with Aviva to an enormous supermarket just north of Tel Aviv. The watermelons there are great. It is a popular shopping place for many of the Galilee Arabs. There were many, and I saw not one sign of any special treatment, let alone something negative.