Recently Swiss journalist Pierre Heumann interviewed the editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh
, a man of Palestinian origin. The following excerpt is particularly interesting:
(Ahmed Sheikh:) In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can teachers do their jobs in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.
(Pierre Heumann:) Who is responsible for the situation?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.
Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?
I think so.
Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?
The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.
In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?
Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.
I think he is absolutely right in those final remarks. We don't realize enough how much the Arabs are driven by humiliation and insulted pride. See the extreme reactions to the Danish cartoons and to the speech by the Pope in Regensburg, and a political murder and many threats because of the film Submission
in the Netherlands. But the worst of all is Israel, which came out of nothing and within decades grew to be the most prosperous, strongest and most democratic state of the region. And which grew from their own midst, while they did everything to prevent this (the Arab League was founded in part for that very purpose). Israel shows most clearly the failure of the Arab states, their lack of unity (without which they would have probably succeeded in defeating Israel), and the hegemony of the West. The difference between the Arab world and the West is visible between the Gaza Strip and Ashkelon, 20 kilometers apart, or between Ariel and the nearby Palestinian refugee camps. Nowhere it is as close as where Palestinians work inside Jewish settlements for less than Israeli minimum wages, but multiple of what they would earn in the Palestinian territories.
The question of Palestine is not 'central to Arab thinking' because the Palestinians are more oppressed than Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East, or in Chechnya or in Iran, but because the humiliation is felt as so much worse. 'Such a small country can defeat the Arab nation. That hurts our collective ego'.
The rest is, excuse me, nonsense. Without Israel no school or hospital in the Arab world would have better teachers or more medicine, women and dissidents would not have more rights and the Syrians and Egyptians would not be more thriving nations. The problems of the Middle East existed before Israel's foundation, and will be no less after her eventual disappearance. Israel put them under a magnifying glass, made them visible, like a good pupil in a class of mediocres makes the latter's failing painfully obvious and contradicts all excuses like that the lessons or the teacher are no good. The frustration about the lack of development in the Arab world finds an outlet in hate for Israel.
Ahmed Sheikh's remarks also show that it is not so much about the occupation, but about Israel itself, about the fact that it exists and that the Arab states have been incompetent in abolishing it. The Arab world has set an unattainable goal in destroying Israel, and can apparently only regain its dignity and pride by defeating Israel. Small or partial victories (or even not being utterly defeated) are played up, like the Egyptian 'victory' in 1973 or the 'victory' of Hezbollah in the recent war in Lebanon. Although this could be the key for ending the deadlock between Israel and the Arab states (after all, Egypt was capable of making peace with Israel only after it felt it had restored its honor), the recent 'victories' of Hezbollah and Hamas (which Palestinians generally believe succeeded in chasing Israel out of the Gaza Strip), did not lead towards any moderation or a more reconciliatory attitude, but have merely increased the desire for more victories and the conviction that this would be possible.
In stead of aiming to restore their honor by continuing to fight, they would be better advised to restore their honor by showing to the world that they are capable of building their own society, of providing proper education and health care to their own citizens, and of creating employment. Wouldn't it be the greatest victory over Israel if the Palestinians were capable of surpassing it in economic growth and education level? If there would be more Arab than Jewish Nobel Prize winners? Ratna Pelle
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Replies: 4 Comments
Yes indeed, Lyn. Driving Jews out has been the policy of any number of countries and I can't think of any offhand who found it was a good idea. Doesn't stop anyone, though.
Alex Bensky, Tuesday, December 19th
lyn, you are not entirely wrong, but remember that the Arab world began its decline centuries ago. It was not just the loss of the Jews but the blinkered thinking that drove us out that really hurt the modern Arab world.
Esav Benyamin, Monday, December 18th
a wonderful example of Goebbel's "big lie" theory. For decades, the Arab masses have been told that they must tolerate corrupt autocracies because of "Israel", but that has nothing to do with this widely-held belief that 300 million Arabs live in squalor because 5 million Jews live in Israel.
Lynne T, Friday, December 15th
While I broadly agree with your analysis, I think it is worth pointing out that Arab society began its decline with the exodus of their Jewish population. The Jews were an important part of the urban middle class - traders,professionals,civil servants. The Arab world is still reeling from their loss, but would never admit to it.
lyn, Friday, December 15th
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