July 27, 2000
[Thoughts that come to mind, surrounded by the misery and euphoria surrounding the collapse of the Camp David discussions.]
We know where the Middle East is, don’t we? Do we?
But we know little of the history, the geography, the emotions that boil in this little part of the World.
“We’re really fed up with that problem; “Why don’t they give in?”, “Why don’t they give it up?”, “Why don’t they just accept it?”, “Why don’t they go away?”
[Headline # 1: George Speight arrested in Fiji and put in jail.
Comment # 1: Grrrrreat! For once they made a promise to a criminal – and didn’t keep it. He could not accept that ‘Gastarbeiters’ actually worked harder than the natives, got a better education, and then – democratically – made inroads into society.
Headline # 2: President Suharto of Indonesia is charged for pocketing $150 million of his people’s money.
Comment # 2: Grrrrrreat!
Headline # 3: The Concorde had some trouble with one of the engines just before take-off.
Comment # 3: Well, that’s it then. Problem solved.]
It’s easy to read the headlines, maybe even the first paragraph. Well, we can only read so much; we read just enough to make us knowledgeable – or at least to know as much or a little more than the other.
Mustn’t appear stupid.How about some random headlines about this area, this Middle East. Even headlines, when they ‘don’t concern us’ are easily overlooked and forgotten.
Hanan Ashrawi, CNN’s equivalent of Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, keeps on referring to UN resolutions 242 and 339 – What about the UN resolution in 1947 that gave Israel the right to exist? The day independence was declared (not unilaterally – as Arafat plans to do on September 13 – but with the full backing of the UN), the Arab armies attacked. The Palestinians want part of Jerusalem as their capital. Why? Because it contains the 3rd holiest shrine in Islam – Mecca is the most important, but it ain’t the capital of anywhere. Mt. Arafat, I believe, is the next most important – but that ain’t the capital of anywhere either. It doesn’t wash.
The Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount was erected on that spot because it is where Mohammed was believed to have ridden on his white horse up to Heaven. I don’t wish to sound flippant or disrespectful, but could he not have chosen a spot just down the road? Did it have to be on the most holy site in Judaism, the Temple?
On the same subject, there have been serious outbreaks of civil war in India over the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a Muslim mosque. I remember clearly the Imam saying it is written in the Koran that it is forbidden to build on a holy site. Wow! Does that exclude the holiest site in Judaism?
The Intifada was perhaps the Palestinians’ greatest weapon against Israel. There was so much international condemnation. (I remember talking to Israeli soldiers who had to serve in Gaza and the West Bank. Many were devastated at the job they had to do; some were jailed for refusing to serve there. But some, usually the children of Sephardic Jews, whose families had suffered bitterly in the Arab countries, they were almost happy to be getting their own back. But still they were under strict orders). Of course it was horrible; every injury and death was a tragedy – and of course there were some stones and bullets that hit their targets the other way round.
But had the world forgotten how horribly worse it could have been had the shoe been on the other foot? In the northern Syrian town of Hamah, in 1982, there was a Muslim Brotherhood uprising against the state. Assad did not like that, and in a few days, an estimated 25,000 were massacred. The world just wagged its finger, I seem to recall.
And where did Black September get it’s name – the group that was responsible for, among other things, the massacre at the Munich Olympics? They got the name from that ominous month, when King Hussein decided to ‘take care’ of his Palestinian nuisances. Yet another very undemocratic way of handling an uprising.
Did you know that well over 20% of Israelis are Arabs – 1 million of them? And if they would all vote together, they would have even more than the 5 current Arab members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). I don’t recall Syria having many Jewish MP’s before the main Jewish population fled to Israel – or Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Ethiopia, etc. etc.
Refugees’ right to return? The first chutzpah is that they talk about 5 million with the right return. Very reproductive, these people. Then they talk of how they were thrown out of their land. Displaced, maybe, but not systematically thrown out. I know we don’t like being reminded, but the Jews did not come to Israel with guns in their hands. Since the time of Yehuda Maccabee, the Jews were not known as a fighting army. Listen to some of the Jackie Mason jokes on the subject. They came with spades and brains; little else. When you start a war, matey – ya gotta accept the consequences.
Refugees? During the years the Palestinians’ brothers became so oil-rich, big money was funneled to them. There were many reports of the wealth of Arafat. But not for housing, not for peaceful education, not for sanitation. It was provided by the Saudis, Libyas and Irans of this world to prolong the struggle. How can it be that there are, still today, Palestinian refugee camps in so many Arab countries, whereas many millions of refugees from Hitler, Amin, and their peers (my parents included) were welcomed and absorbed by their new countries?
And then they started peace negotiations. As soon as the first deals with Israel were cut, Arafat was at the door of the European Community, Japan and the U.S., begging for funds to rebuild Gaza and the West Bank. But where was all the money they had received, and where was the Arab flow of oil money now? Money for peace? Unheard of.
Refugees? It was Clinton who, just 2 days ago, reminded all of us of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries. Half of Israel is made up of them; Israel’s fastest-growing and currently 3rd largest political party is born out of them (Shas). Will they get compensation? They do not even get past the 2nd paragraph.
The ‘poor’ Palestinians have been a political football since the beginning of the conflict. They have been so badly advised. Just as the Jews desperately accepted whatever the U.N. offered them in 1947, so now the Palestinians should accept what they are offered, and build from there.
The silly and embarrassing thing is that the French and British are much to blame for the troubles. The one time I agree with Arik Sharon is his reference to Jordan being the real homeland of the Palestinians – the East Bank.
The Hashemite Royal family are the mistake – plucked from the deserts of recent history. They are not even from Jordan, but from the Arabian peninsula. Jordan is, even today, over 60% Palestinian. Divide and share the area – yes. But not into three.
Have you looked at the map of Israel recently? Have you taken notice of it? The Palestinians rightly scream that they are being given ‘bits and pieces’, channels of land. And Israel? I love asking ‘onlookers’ how far they think the West Bank is from the sea, from my home in Tel Aviv? And this West Bank is the planned Palestine, where many people live who still openly wish for the destruction of Israel, the driving of the Jews into the sea. Potential neighbours at peace with each other? Maybe. But in the meantime, that distance we have to cope with is just 15 km. From my 9th floor roof, it is there, in sight. Strategically, that’s not too clever.
What price peace? Here we have such a cacophony of peoples, thrown together from all parts of the world, trying to make peace with their neighbours. And what kind of people are their neighbours? These are ones who appear to hate the Jews, teach the fact in many of their schools, yet not enough to unite against them. It is sure that, were there not one Jew in the Middle East, the inhabitants would find plenty of time and excuse to battle each other – secular vs religious, Sunni vs. Shi’ite, Iraq vs Iran, Palestinian vs whichever country they happen to be in, Libya vs Egypt, Yemeni civil war, Eritrean vs Ethiopian, in Algeria, in Tunisia, Sudan – where IS there peace?
Israel fighting unfair – repeating recent history? Build a tiger out of a mouse, threaten and attack it for all 52 years of its existence, and the tiger will fight back, by whichever means it can. Of course Israel should rightly be criticized for some of its actions and reactions.
But that’s a bit rich after what it has been through. Believe it or not, it is still the only true democracy in the area – a few Israelis dream of sometimes being an autocratic or dictatorial society. Problems would disappear almost overnight……
Religious freedom – In 1947, the U.N. declared the right for the Jews to have a homeland in Israel. Did you know that, at that time, it was agreed that Jerusalem would be an internationally-controlled city? Did you know that David Ben-Gurion agreed to this? He could have been stubborn, like today’s Palestinians. He could have started a war (although there was no guaranteed flow of funds available, as there is to the Palestinians). He accepted this.
The Arabs attacked on the day independence was declared, hoping to annihilate Israel. By losing that war, they gave up their right to choose. In fact, from 1948 till 1967, Jerusalem was not only divided, but the Jewish religious areas, especially the Western or Wailing Wall, were closed to the Jews. No religious freedom and tolerance.
When the land was won back in 1967, not only could the Jews once again pray at their holiest site, but so also could the Moslems (and the Christians of course – Catholic, Protestant, Armenian, Greek and Russian Orthodox etc.). In fact, the Moslems were given control of the Temple Mount, much against the wishes of the right wing and orthodox Jews. They really want their cake and to eat it, too.
I am left wing – a Peace Now supporter. But with such politics flying around, it is natural to swing politically from one end of the spectrum to the other. “Let’s just build a high wall around us, and plonk them on the head every now and then”, I hear myself shout – in my lonelier moments.
At the end of the day, however, we have to live with our neighbours. Is it too much to ask that they don’t throw stones?
So ends The Second Paragraph.
….but please turn the page..
– Arafat’s first speech to his people – after returning from Camp David – stressed “not only the holy sites of Jerusalem, not only east Jerusalem, but ALL of Jerusalem”.
– As soon as the talks broke down, Arafat supporters were celebrating in the streets. Clinton (wow, is HE becoming clever in his old age!) commented how easy it is to applaud defiance. It is easy to say no, not to give in. It is compromise, even risk-taking, that takes courage.
– Re Clinton’s reminder of the Jewish refugees from the Arab lands, Arafat commented that this is a fair point, and compensation should also be considered. He’s pretty generous with his brothers’ money – he is the only one of the Arab leaders not to have a country from which Jews were expelled or escaped to avoid conflict and further persecution.
I think this wily old gentlemen, suffering from Parkinson’s, should retire from public life and hand the reins over to another younger leader; one who is more divorced from terrorist connections and memories.