Saturday, September 27, 2008

Looking Forward

The Jerusalem Post reported on the recent open debate at the UN Security Council in this piece.

I agree with Israel's UN ambassador "The important thing is not more discussions in the UN and the Security Council of the kind that we were dragged into, but what happens on the ground." She also said that direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are even more important now since the region is going through "period of transition ... as Israel awaits its new government and with the Palestinians seriously divided."

I am happy that the "
Quartet - the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia - issued a statement calling on Israel to dismantle all outposts constructed after March 2001 and to freeze any further construction in the settlements, even to accommodate "natural growth," due to its 'damaging impact on the negotiating environment.'" But I think that this has to be part of a larger statement to encourage both sides to continue to talk rather than wait for Israel to change its stance on the settlements. I don't like the right wing settlers but I hope people realize that people in the center and left within Israeli politics have to not only negotiate with the Palestinians, but also with the right wing of Israeli politics.

At least the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in the right mindset saying,
"I will never cease to negotiate." I hope that Abbas or someone like him will be President of the PA next year even when Fatah, which controls the West Bank, forms a unity government with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Now to the title of the blog post - Looking Forward.
"The Quartet additionally suggested holding an international summit with the Israelis and Palestinians in Moscow in the spring of 2009 - several months past the hoped-for December deadline for a deal, and after a new US administration is in place." I agree with Israeli President Shimon Peres that it is very unlikely that a peace deal will be struck this year. But hopefully, if Obama is elected President of the US, he will encourage direct talks more than Bush had. In the recent presidential debate, Obama said that part of his foreign policy is to regain America's standing in the world. If he achieves that, I hope that he will use that to pressure the world to show to the Palestinians and the Israelis that they have high hopes for them. I know, it's a lot of wishful thinking but hope and vision is what changes the world.

TIME honors Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian group for environmental work

Congratulations to Friends of the Earth - Middle East (FoEME), for being awarded the "Time Magazine's Heroes of the Environment 2008." Haaretz reports on this Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian enviromental organziation in "raising awareness of environmental issues such as preserving the Dead Sea and groundwater sources."

Here's a little bit more from the article:
Recently FoEME has been campaigning for examining alternatives to the option of funneling water from the Red Sea via a channel to save the Dead Sea. The Israeli and Jordanian governments support this alternative, but FoEME says it is ecologically hazardous to the Arava and the Dead Sea itself, and fails to solve the acute water shortage that the Jordan River also suffers from.

Every FoEME branch makes decisions appropriate to its country on the basis of a joint vision, but the three branches maintain close cooperation to protect their shared ecological heritage, and Bromberg spends much of his time in Jordan. The Jordanian and Palestinian activists compromise their safety by cooperating with their Israeli counterparts: They have been subjected to threats, and a few years ago an attempt was made to murder Mehyar in Amman.

"We believe we have to cooperate to prevent the environment's destruction," says Bromberg. "People can start looking for solutions now, rather than wait for the end of the conflict."

After working to influence decision-makers in the first years, FoEME has focused a large part of its activities in community centers on both sides of the border in recent years. The organization's flagship, "Good Water Neighbors," encourages local leaders of some 20 communities on either side of the border to cooperate to conserve water and act against pollution, overpumping and other water waste.
I admire the people involved in this organization. Reaching to the other is very hard and these people do it under great danger. Israelis have to promote more involvement in inter-faith, inter-cultural, and cross border organization.

Peace can be made in two places. One place is at the negotiating table which most of us can't take part of. The other place is at meetings such as those of
"A Slim Peace", a woman's lost weight program that brings a diverse group of Israelis and Palestinian to Jerusalem and documented by Yael Luttwak, a 36-year-old American-Israeli filmmaker, over a 6 week period, as reported by this article and video on

Al Jazeera interviews Shimon Peres

Wow, talking about awkward. Ghida Fakhry of Al Jazeera English interviewed Israeli President Shimon President and they talked about several issues. Fakhry asked Peres several questions, mainly about Iran's nuclear ambitions and the status of peace talks with the Palestinians, Syrians, and the Lebanese. She also asked about Israel's alleged nukes.

This interview seemed poorly managed by the interviewer. She asked the same question several times and it seemed to annoy Peres. It looked like the interviewer was using the same Arab rhetoric. Riz Khan would have done a better interview.

I've been talking a lot lately about the Arab media. I usually like Al Jazeera English, a Qatar owned news agency, because I like Riz Khan and how they have regular debates with Israeli and Arab pundits, but that maybe because I have such low standards for them.

I do have several issues with Al Jazeera other than the obvious bias in their reporting. First, when ever they have a news report on Israel and they show a clip of Israelis, they usually show datiim or haredim which are minorities in Israel and don't truly represent the Israeli populace.

Second, they held a birthday party for Samir Kuntar. I think Riz Khan and some others protested this.

Third, in May they ran this special about Yaffo/Jaffa, Palestine Street - The Lost Bride, they characterize the 1948 totally out of context. Reporting through omission. I have one thing to say about journalists in the interview and the one in the Jaffa piece. Eze chaticot.

Durban II - Anti-Racism or Jew bashing?

Al Jazeera English recently had a debate on Durban II, a controversial anti-racism conference, between Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, and Massoud Shadjareh, the Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

I'm all for an anti-racism conference but the problem is who is leading it. This conference is just a platform organized by some of the most intolerant and oppressive regimes to criticize some of the most democratic and free countries in the world in the name of Human Rights while ignoring the suffering of their own people.

I wrote earlier about the control and censorship Arab governments have over the Arab media. What is worse that even organizations such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission fail to criticize Arab governments on human rights. I went to their website and the only country they criticize on the front page is Israel, multiple times. This is alarming. The only way Arab societies will adopt a tradition of self criticism is if Arab media become independent.

The key to promote Arab liberalism, freedom, and equality

Robert F. Worth of the NY Times wrote this great this piece on how Arab television has shocked many in Arab and Muslim world.

Here are a few interesting parts from the article:

Two shows about Bedouin history were dropped because they apparently offended the sensitivities of tribal leaders in Saudi Arabia, and two Syrian shows were canceled after they treaded too close to criticizing members of the Syrian government.


Perhaps the best example is “Noor,” the popular Turkish series that ran over the summer. The show violated Arab cultural taboos in a number of ways: besides having Muslim characters who drank wine with dinner and had premarital sex, one of the male protagonist’s cousins had an abortion.

Perhaps more important, the male protagonist, called Muhannad in the Arabic version, treats his wife as an equal and supports her career as a fashion designer.


But the show appears to have been the single most popular television drama ever shown in the Arab world. The finale, broadcast on Aug. 30, drew 85 million viewers, according to surveys by the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, the network that showed it. Of those, more than 51 million were women over 15, more than half the total number of adult women in the entire Arab world.

You can read the entire article in the link I provided above.

I was shocked about how many Arab women watched "Noor". Even in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, they watch "Noor" as is reported in another NY Times article, Watching 'Friends' in Gaza.

Could TV be the medium for the West to sway the minds and hearts of Arab world? Unfortunately, this 60 Minutes report about the US funded Arab language TV network "Al Hurra" shows the difficulty for America to appeal to the Arab world. The US governement spent $100 million a year since 2004 on this project and reached very little success with perhaps less than 1% of the viewers tuning in to Al Hurra.

So how can the West use TV as a medium to promote freedom and equality in the Middle East? By pressuring Arab governments to give independence to Arab TV networks to cover social and politcial issues. On June 8th of this year, Al Jazeera English reported on the Egyptian governmental crackdown on independent satelite TV networks and TV shows that are critical of the Egyptian governemnt. I have been watching the Al Jazeera English channel on Youtube for months and they rarely criticize Arab governments. If they are going to criticize any country, it is mostly about Israel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Would an Israel ever have been welcomed?

Eli Kavon has contributed this piece in JPost, Beyond the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He brings up several interesting points about the cause to all the problems that plagues the Middle East.

Let us imagine that we were all to wake up tomorrow morning to the incredible news that the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority had concluded a peace treaty, including agreement by both parties on the issues of water rights, borders and the status of Jerusalem. A Jewish state and a Palestinian state would live forever, side by side, in blissful peace. The violence plaguing the Middle East would end for good; Iran would cease both beating its war drums and calling for the end of "the Zionist entity"; and calm would prevail over a united Iraq and an independent Afghanistan. One of the world's most unstable regions would be converted into an oasis of stability, with Jew, Christian and Muslim living together in felicity.

Wrong - so much for imagination.

The reality of today's Middle East is the same centuries-old one of ethnic and religious strife that extends far beyond the borders of the State of Israel. The civil war plaguing Iraq is, in part, a 1,300-year old conflict among Muslims, having nothing to do directly with the century of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians are far more afraid of an expansionist and nuclear Iran than they are of Israel. The last words of Saddam Hussein before the Iraqi government hanged him was not "Death to the Americans!" or "Death to the Zionists!" His last words were "Death to the Persians!"

THE IRAQI dictator chose to curse fellow Muslims as he prepared to die. It is apparent that even if Israel did not exist, the Middle East would be a region divided by many sorts of conflict that have nothing to do with Zionism or Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many bloody conflicts rooted in an area with a long history of religious, political and ethnic strife.

I am not claiming that the Palestinian-Israeli issue is not central to a broader peace in the Middle East. Yet, we ignore a more decisive reason than that of Palestinian refugees in attempting to understand Arab and Muslim opposition to the existence of the State of Israel. That reason is religion, specifically Islam. The obsessive hatred of Zionism and Israel, especially in the realm of fundamentalist Islam, can be traced back to the earliest years of the great Muslim conquests of much of the known world in the early to mid-seventh century.

The Muslim conquerors, while granting Jews and Christians religious freedom and autonomy, relegated these tolerated "Peoples of the Book" to the status of dhimmi, "dependent peoples." Muslim rulers forbade Jews and Christians the honor of riding a horse or camel, conducting religious ceremonies in public, carrying weapons, converting Muslims to Judaism or Christianity and building places of worship. Jews and Christians had to pay a special tax to signify their status of inferiority for rejecting Muhammad as the final prophet of Allah's revelation.

While there were certainly periods in which Muslim rulers ignored the dhimmi status and provided Jews and Christians with a modicum of power and influence - the best examples are medieval Spain and the later Ottoman Empire - the inferiority of Jews and Christians was and still is an important component of Muslim theology and identity. In Yemen and in the Iranian Safavid Empire, Jews were more harshly treated than in Muslim Spain and the empire of the Turks. Wherever Jews and Christians lived in the Muslim world, they were at a legal disadvantage that was almost always degrading and even sometimes lethal.

IT SHOULD, therefore, come as no surprise that there are some Muslims, especially those in the fundamentalist world, who cannot live in peace with Israel. The existence of Jews in a democratic state of proud independence - not the dhimmi state of humiliating dependence - poses a threat to a centuries-old Islamic theology that proclaimed the legal, social and religious superiority of Muslims over non-Muslim infidels. The fact that the State of Israel with its capital in Jerusalem resides in the heart of what was once Islam's greatest empire - that of the Ottoman Turks - is a constant reminder to Muslims that the glory days of their religion's military and political power is over.

The reality of 10,000 American companies doing business with or in the Jewish state, helping Israel forge an economy the size of a small European nation, infuriates some Muslims who are envious of a small country with its share of Nobel Prize winners and global entrepreneurs. Israel, despite its size, its crises and the plagues of war and terrorism, is no Third World nation. It is a modern success story.

Fundamentalists in Islam yearn for a return to a time when Jews knew their place. Too bad for them that the dhimmi finally tired of inferiority and humiliation, choosing independence and sovereignty. This fact will remain a factor in Muslim attitudes toward Israel whether Jews and Palestinians make peace or remain in a perpetual state of war.

The writer, based in Florida, is an adjunct lecturer on Jewish history at Broward Community College.

The Middle East is a lot more diverse than most people realize. The Middle East is not homogeneous. There are the Kurds, the Copts, the Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Ba'hais, the Sunnis and Shiites, the Jews, the Persians, secular Arabs and Wahabists. All of these ethnics/religious groups have been "drawn" together by the map makers of colonist Europe. Israel stands out by the fact that even though the UN partitioned what was left of the British Mandate of Palestine to be divided up between the Jews and Arabs, the Jews had to fight for it. When some of the Middle East countries were created, they put one person to rule the country over people that they had nothing in common with except maybe that they were Muslim.

Would the Left of today and Palestinian symapthizers seek democracy for the Palestinians in the Middle East if Israel didn't exist? What about the policitcal and civil rights of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people in the Middle East?