2 December 2010

Happy Chanukah

 

Subject: Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh (A bit long but a must read)

Abu Toameh:

What the Western Media Misses

November 12th, 2010 at 8:26 am by Arsen Ostrovsky

A few days ago, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh in Jerusalem.

Toameh gave an incredibly wide ranging talk about the peace process, the double standards rife in the West and the media when it comes to coverage of the Middle East and his perspective as a Muslim Arab of Palestinian descent living in Israel (and you thought you had identity issues!).

Toameh has been working as a journalist for almost 30 years now, covering Palestinian affairs, focusing predominantly on the West Bank and Gaza, including for the Palestinian press under the PLO and for various international media outlets in the US and Europe. He is currently at the Jerusalem Post writing on Palestinian issues. Toameh is also an Israeli citizen living in Jerusalem. In other words, he is aptly qualified to comment on the issues of his discussion.

However, if you expected Toameh to jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon with the familiar cries that Israel is an un-democratic apartheid state responsible for all that is wrong including the bubonic plague or to have a single-minded focus on the occupation, you would have been sorely disappointed.

Instead, he spoke openly, courageously and in his words, said it “as it is”.  Asked what he thought was the essence of the conflict, Toameh said it was not about money or even settlements, as many so-called pundits often imply, as a precursor to blaming Israel. Rather, his answer was very simple: “This conflict is about Israel’s very existence in this part of the world.”

But before you get any conclusions, Toameh is not a card-carrying Zionist or as somebody once asked him “when did you get on the Israel lobby payroll”.   In his own words, he says:

“I’m not pro-Israel, I’m not pro-Palestinian and I’m not pro-American. But as a journalist, I’m pro the facts and pro the truth.”

Here are some of Toameh’s illuminating comments:

I asked Toameh how, as an Arab Muslim Israeli, he responds to accusations that Israel is an apartheid state.

His response:

“Israel is not an apartheid state. But there are problems and some discrimination with the Arab minority inside Israel. If Israel were an apartheid state, I, for example, would not be allowed to work for a Jewish newspaper or live in a Jewish neighborhood or own a home. The real apartheid is in Lebanon, where there is a law that bans Palestinians from working in over 50 professions. Can you imagine if the Knesset passed a law banning Arabs from working even in one profession? The real apartheid is also in many Arab and Muslim nations, like Kuwait, where my Palestinian uncle, who has been living there for 35 years, is banned from buying a house. The law of Israel does not distinguish between a Jew and an Arab.”

As for the uniqueness of the Israeli media in the middle East, Toameh added:

“Israel is a free and open country with a democracy, that respects the freedom of the media. You can basically write any anti-Israel story and still walk in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv without having to worry about your safety. Anyone can be a journalist in Israel.”

Toameh says he finds it ironic that as an Arab Muslim living in this part of the world, the only place he can express himself freely is in a ‘Jewish newspaper’, noting that:

“We don’t have a free media in the Palestinian area, we didn’t have one when I was working there in the late 70’s and early 80’s, we didn’t have one when the PLO came here after the signing of the Oslo accords and we still don’t have one under Fatah and Hamas.”

But what about the media’s need for an anti-Israeli angle on stories?  Toameh says that when he tried to alert many of his foreign colleagues that Palestinians were dying because of an internal power struggle or gross corruption by Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, their reflex response was:

Where’s the anti-Israel angle to the story? Give us an anti-occupation story. Make our lives much easier. An Arab killing an Arab, that’s not a story for us.

Toameh notes that the same foreign journalists would then ask him: “Are you on the payroll of the Israel lobby?” “Do they [the Jews] pay you to say these things against Arafat and the PLO?” Toameh’s response to them:

“What do the Jews have to do with this? I’m telling you what the Palestinians are saying about there being corruption in the Palestinian Authority.  I’m even telling you that the PA is saying that the PA is corrupt.

“It is a sad reflection on the state of society, and in particular, the media industry, that not only are they not sufficiently concerned or outraged at the death of Arabs by Arabs (which coincidentally has claimed many more lives than the Israel – Palestinian conflict), but that they will only muster even an iota of concern if they can put in an ‘anti-Israel’ angle.”

On the proposed loyalty oath as well, Toameh offered a pragmatic response: “I have no problem with it because it applies equally to both Jews and non-Jews alike.”

One of the biggest and most intractable sticking points has consistently been the Palestinian demand for a right of return, which Israel will not agree to because it would mean the death knell of Israel as a Jewish state.

However, Toameh offers a very simple and pragmatic three stage solution, where the Palestinian refugees could:

1. Go to the future Palestinian state;

2. Resettle elsewhere, including other Arab states; and

3. Be offered compensation.

Most tellingly though, and in a statement seldom ever heard from Arabs (or the West), Toameh then asked: “And what about Jewish refugees that were forced to flee Arab nations”, suggesting that the issue of Jewish refugees must also be part of any future solution.

Focusing on the problem from Arab dictatorships and their insistence on inciting their people against Israel, Toameh says that we have a problem in the West in failing to believe what people tell us.

“If Hamas say they want to destroy you, you have no reason not to believe them. And if Ahmadinejad says he wants to destroy you, there’s no need to start analyzing what he means by that. Stop fooling ourselves, and if anyone thinks that Hamas will ever recognize Israel’s right to exist, you’re also living in an illusion. Take it from their mouth directly…the PLO however is different – they will tell you one thing in English and then another in Arabic.”

On the subject of Arab dictatorship, Toameh says:

“Arab dictators survive by constantly blaming the misery of their people on Jews and the West and never accepting responsibility for anything.  And by inciting against Israel and the West, you divert attention from problems at home. Why? Because you always need to make sure that your people are busy hating someone else. If they’re not hating Israel and the West, they might wake up one day and come to you, and God forbid, demand reform and democracy.”

The crux of the message is:

“If you keep inciting your people, then they ask ‘well, why are we then making peace with the Jews?’ We should be killing them as Hamas is saying’.”

So what does Toameh think about Mahmoud Abbas, the PA President?

“Abbas is corrupt, discredited, weak and does not have much power. He is reliant on Israel, whose presence in the West Bank is ironically the only reason he has managed to stay in power.”

And if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders as demanded by Abbas and the PLO:

“Abbas will collapse and Hamas will take over the West Bank in less than a day. If I were Israel, I would not give Abbas one inch of land in the West Bank – not for ideological reasons, but to avoid a situation where Hamas and others would take over the area.”

When we asked him how best to defeat the extremists, radicals and terrorists like Hamas and Hizbullah, Toameh answered:

“The first and most important thing is you go to the Arab governments and tell them, “Stop the incitement that’s feeding these radicals and driving people into their hands.” Sometimes there’s no difference between what is written about Israel and the Jews in the papers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia with what is written by Hamas.”

Noting again the billions of dollars in aid provided by the US and EU to various Arab dictatorships, Toameh says:  In other words, and even more clearly, they should tell them: “Stop calling for my death with my money.”

I asked Toameh about what steps were needed to move forward.  According to him, the answer is “very simple” and involves the following steps:

1) The Palestinians must start investing money (provided to them mainly by the US and EU) for the welfare of their people instead of incitement.  Then dismantle all militias, establish a free press and democratic institutions, end the infighting, insist on good governance and speak with one voice so at least we know who we’re talking to. And then, he suggests, they should go speak with Israel and see what it has to offer them.

2) Deal with the enemies of peace – if you weaken the enemies of peace, like Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, the moderates will rise and start speaking out. But as long as Iran is breathing down the neck and threatening, together with Hamas and Hizbullah, who are threatening to kill anyone who makes concessions, no moderate Arab will ever dare sign an agreement with Israel.  Toameh says:

“I don’t even rule out military action against any of them because this is the only language these guys understand. Talking to them and appeasing them is even more dangerous.”

3) “We can’t move forward when you don’t have a clear, strong, reliable and credible partner on the Palestinian side” says Toameh.  According to him: “Abbas is not a partner. He and Fayaad might be nice guys with good intentions – but they cannot deliver.  So the PA are not partners because they cannot deliver and Hamas are not partners because they don’t want to be partners.”

Addressing the issue of whether there was a clear and credible partner on the Israeli side, Toameh said:

“I don’t care who is in government in Israel. There is a partner. And my partner is the Jewish people. Why? Because a majority of Jews have already accepted a two-state solution. I see a majority of Jews who don’t care anymore about Gaza. I see a majority of Jews who want to disengage from the Palestinians. I see a majority of Jews over the last 15 years marching toward moderation and pragmatism. I don’t know today of one Jewish mother that wants to send her son back to the streets of Ramallah or Gaza. I don’t know of one Jew who wants to control the lives of the Palestinians and run their education and health system. Sadly though, while the Jewish public has been marching towards pragmatism and realism and moderation, on the Arab side the message remains no, no and no.”

In an incredibly candid address, for me perhaps the most defining statement Toameh made was when I asked him:   Would you rather continue living as a member of a minority in Israel or move to another Arab country? Toameh’s response was simple, honest, and telling:

“Israel is a free and open democratic country. I enjoy living here and I would rather live as a second-class citizen in Israel, even though I’m not, than a first-class citizen in any Arab country.”

In a world where it’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to courage, Khaled Abu Toameh is a welcome breath of fresh air. A man, deeply committed to peace, who is seen as a traitor by many and who bravely continues to put his own life on the line each day, Toameh perhaps says it best himself:

“I’m not pro-Israel, I’m not pro-Palestinian and I’m not pro-American. But as a journalist, I’m pro the facts and pro the truth.”

 

Musings, Chanukahs past.

I was thinking today about Chanukah, especially about last year when some friends who had made Alyiah around the same time as we did and who we met in Ulpan had us over for a Latke fest. We picked up sufganiot and had a wonderful time with them in their then new apartment.  Since then, they had to return to the States because his parents were ailing. So, I know you guys are reading this and I want you to know we miss you and hope that Dad is doing better after his surgery. we look forward to seeing you this Pesach if you do decide to come.

We  made a batch of latkes to bring to our Son and family in the Gush and I was remembering my mother’s latkes. Ours taste pretty much the same as hers, however, we could never make them as thin as crisp as she did. Even when we made them in her presence they could never be that crisp. Does anyone know the secret?

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