Know Your Enemy

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.

The Israel We Do Not Know

Being something of an exception in the Middle East, the Israeli elections are often great fun and full of surprises. This time we saw the emergence of politician Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party that has won the admiration even of its political rivals after gaining 19 seats in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid is a TV presenter and a news anchor who decided only a few months ago to enter politics, competing with and even embarrassing senior politicians such as Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, and forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to ride on the back of coalitions in order to remain as prime minister. Lapid, a moderate political leader who we will hear more of in the future, is primarily concerned with developing education and achieving social equality. His liberal concepts are completely alien to the Jewish clergy and a source of ridicule among the far right.

Another interesting observation from these elections is that the majority of rival parties’ platforms emphasized improving the internal situation, including living standards, health and education, as well as achieving greater social justice. Political parties were largely indifferent towards foreign policies such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the two-state solution with Palestine; they were more inclined towards internal affairs. We saw this previously with the recent US elections when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to portray the US as a small family home where the owner only wished to support its inhabitants and ensure that they were warm and well fed. It seems Hamas was right when it said that the results of the Israeli elections were a reflection of the recent battle in Gaza. This is true because the existing truce there has achieved a degree of safety that has enabled Israeli political parties to focus on their country’s internal situation.

It is sad to say that Israel—the invasive, oppressive, occupying state—lives amongst us but we still do not know it.

It seems that the Arab street’s awareness of Israel came to a virtual standstill in October 1973. The Arabs may only remember the Camp David agreement because it surfaced recently in Egypt after the ruling regime changed there. What I mean by the Arab street is the youth category-which makes up the backbone of any country-rather than the intellectual or political elite that is engrossed in reading books, issuing condemning statements, and making notes of Israeli aggression over the past sixty years. Young Arab generations lack awareness about Israel; a country that is now totally different to how it was in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973. This is not because it has transformed into a friendly state, for it is still considered our bitter enemy that continues to occupy Palestinian soil. What has changed in Israel, like any other state, is that now there is an emerging generation that harbors dreams and expectations different to those cherished by a leader like Netanyahu. Young Israelis have their own vision that is detached from military life and is inclined towards civil interests, a love for life, and decent living standards.

What Arab youths do not know is that in Israel there is a strong sector that opposes the state’s supremacist policies towards the Palestinian people in particular, and the Arabs in general. These youths are not only leftists; there are also centrist civil servants and university graduates who strongly believe that Israel’s stability is conditional upon its coexistence with the Arabs.

However, it is ridiculous to read political analysis comparing these Israeli youths with the Arab youths that revolted in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, in the sense that those Israelis took to streets against Netanyahu last year to demand social justice in the same manner that the Arab Spring revolutionaries also took to streets to demonstrate. This is untrue because the youths in the Arab Spring states were rising up against ruling regimes that were light years away from their citizens. The rulers of these states stayed in their palaces and were unable to hear their people or sense their needs. Here, people became outraged because of their needs and their leader’s negligence or arrogance, and whenever they sought to make their voice heard in the elections, these same leaders would return the next day and declare their victory with an overwhelming majority. In Israel, this situation does not exist; the regime in Tel Aviv is truly democratic and the rungs on the power ladder are fixed. What the demonstrators in Israel are demanding is an improvement in living standards; they are not starting from scratch as in the Arab Spring states. In these states there was no democratic political climate prior to the revolutions, and in fact we are still waiting for such a climate to emerge amidst the security, economic, and political failures that we see every day.

In Israel, politicians are distinguished by their sincerity and devotion to the higher interests of the state, rather than their affiliation to a certain group, and this is something we have yet to see in the Arab Spring.

The Arab youths turned to poets with their cheap words, and to politicians who heap insults upon Israel from their luxurious hotel rooms. However, they are still unaware as to where, why and how these feelings of hatred towards Israel came about.

A simple means of demonstrating our ignorance of Israel can be found in the fact that its neighboring states are ignorant of the Hebrew language. In Lebanon and Syria, people prefer to study French rather than the language of a country that continues to jeopardize their own security every day. In Egypt and Jordan, people do not prioritize of publicize the study of the Hebrew language, while in Israeli educational institutions there is ample opportunity to study the Arabic language. It is for this reason that we find a considerable number of Israeli politicians and media representatives who speak Arabic fluently. I do not know many Arab foreign ministers in Israel’s neighboring states that can speak Hebrew. As for those who say that the Israelis speak Arabic because the language is more common than Hebrew, or because the Israelis have intruded on our region, this justification is irrelevant. The reason why Israel enjoys superiority over the Arabs is because it has sought to understand them through their language; it can gauge the thinking of the young and old. Israel is well aware of the Arabs’ strengths as well as their weaknesses, and it can understand them simply because it has immersed itself in their culture.

Therefore, it is no wonder that we hear youths in Tel Aviv listening to Umm Kulthum songs, eating hummus and considering the television series ‘Rafat El-Haggan’ to be a comedy. The Israelis are not only occupying our soil, but they also highly active in our culture, which is the real cause for their power.