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Know Your Enemy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinian students from Bir Ziet university, February 19, 2013. (EPA/ATEF SAFADI)

I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.

This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.

My previous article was not about the Arabs’ political stance towards Israel because this was already settled during the Beirut Summit in 2002, when the Arabs endorsed their peace initiative. This summit will forever remain a key for political resolution because it entitled the Arabs to regain their rights and establish normal relations between themselves and Israel. In my previous article, I was merely blaming the Arabs for their arrogance and for declining to know their enemy under the pretext that it would be tantamount to recognizing Israel’s existence.

However, the bitter truth is that although we Arabs refuse to openly recognize Israel, we implicitly acknowledge it through the martyrs’ tombs, the refugee camps, the Palestinian diaspora, the occupied territories, the periodical wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the settlement projects. If we insist on denying the reality, we will remain alone in the dark.

Knowing how Israel lives, how it develops, how it learns, what it produces, and even what sports it plays is not the same as normalizing relations. Knowledge is not necessarily a relationship between two sides; it can be an individual relationship between one and oneself.

Ignorance is man’s worst enemy, whereas the greatest desire a man may have is to learn more. Curiosity and the urge to understand are intrinsic feelings akin to the instincts of thirst and hunger. The honorable Arab nation must ask how it can ever hope to find its way in the dark when it keeps turning away from the light of the torch.

It is not necessary for the Arabs to learn the Hebrew language in order to understand their enemy. Not all the Israelis can speak Arabic well, nor do they have the inclination to do so. However, because language is one of the tools of knowledge, Hebrew must at least be on the radar of Israel’s neighboring states because Israel will remain their neighbor as well as their enemy for some time to come. Do not believe the calls to wipe Israel off the map, only the US search engine Google can do this.

Arabic is an official language in Israel because one-fifth of the population is Arab. However, Israel’s Arabs are not the main impetus behind the push to study Arabic there. The reason for the Israeli eagerness to do so is because isolation, even if they were a stronger force, will never be in their interests. Although we believe that we are in a state of war with Israel, the war is a trick, a trick based on knowledge.

You do not have to go far to find this out. Just browse some internet sites and observe the number of pages Israel has posted with both Arabic and Hebrew language support for readers. Look at the number of Israeli newspapers and magazines with Arabic-language versions, some of which specialize in the customs and traditions of the Middle East, whereas others carry domestic news of Arab states that Israel considers as enemies.

To add further salt to the wound, consider what the spokesman of the Israeli ministry of defense says on Twitter. You would be amazed to know that he is a thirty-year-old man who speaks Arabic fluently, posting tweets and news on the Israeli army. During every Islamic religious occasion, he tweets the Israeli army’s congratulations to Muslims and says “may you have a happy Eid, may your fast be accepted and may your pilgrimage be blessed”. By the very nature of the medium, the Israeli spokesman is not addressing Israel’s Arabs or the Palestinians only, but rather he is addressing all the Arabs on Twitter. He is provoking them through calm dialogue and even if they react with outrage and unleash a torrent of swearwords and insults, he continues with his endeavor. He is not keeping pace with them, rather he is targeting their cultural depth.

In addition to the language issue, notice how the Arab media deals with Israel. It never dares to publish news of a cultural or economic nature-even some political stories are banned-because it fears that ordinary people would accuse it of championing Zionism. Thus, Arabic media outlets avoid presenting the facts in full and instead publish only a few of them. Even at the time when the wars on Gaza and Lebanon were at their peak, Arab satellite channels were cautious or altogether avoided hosting someone to speak for the Israeli side. Of course, this was to ensure that Arab self-opinionated audiences would not turn against such media outlets, even though listening to both sides of the story is the crux of any journalistic work. Only Al-Arabiya dared to buck the trend, and it was not long before some branded it as Zionist for choosing to do so.

The Arabs have been preoccupied with range and blind hatred since 1967. During this time, Israel has managed to build eight public universities and 200 museums that receive nearly 4 million tourists a year. It has also become a rival to the US in the programming and software industry.

Without meaning to further enrage those furious Arab zealots, let me also say that Israel’s annual GDP is USD 240 billion. Annual US aid does not exceed 1.5 percent of this figure and three quarters of this aid is spent on weaponry. In this sense Washington is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Hence it is untrue to claim that America is feeding the Israelis and funding their education and health; Israel is a rich state that does not need others to support it. Its economic figures, to a large extent, are close to that of South Korea.

We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.

Know your enemy so as not to suffer greater losses. This is all that I am saying.