by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Usually, I present my readers with a most depressing picture of the Arab and Muslim worlds. I find it unavoidable because the troubles tearing apart those two worlds are beyond description – the last seven years alone have witnessed hundreds of thousands of people killed, and millions of women, children and the elderly turned into homeless, destitute and suffering refugees. Despite the Middle East's enormous potential, its vast natural resources, panoramic vistas and unlimited opportunities, the entire region is in a state of pitiful collapse.
Some are willing to talk in public, most are afraid to be identified, but a growing number of Arabs and Muslims see Israel as a country to be admired.
In the prevailing Middle Eastern discourse, the blame for all this chaos is placed squarely on the shoulders of one party – Israel, along with the colonialist regimes – mainly Britain and France – who brought the Jewish State into being.
Placing the blame only on Israel is easy to do, for several reasons:
a. It is easier for our neighbors to blame someone else for their terrible plight instead of taking a hard look at themselves in order to find the reasons for their suffering;
b. Israel, neither Arab or Islamic, is considered an outsider in the region to begin with;
c. Israel is the work of Satan, because Jews have no right to sovereignty and must be kept subjugated (with dhimmi status);
d. Israel gains the most from the surrounding chaos so it must have caused it to begin with, and
e. Israel is successful while its neighbors are abject failures and therefore consumed by jealousy.
This anti-Israel stance is the rule in many of the populations making up the Middle East, and includes heads of state, subjects, the intelligentsia and the ignorant, the religious and secular, elites and marginal persons, Muslims and members of other religions, Bedouin, villagers, rural folk and city dwellers.
It has become "bon ton" to talk negatively about Israel all over the Middle East, to the point where the Arabic word for normalization of relations with Israel has become a vulgar and negative word in Middle East discourse.
Over the last few years, however, a parallel conversation has emerged, one that is free of the conventional way of talking about Israel and that Is often dramatically different. It is hard to nail down those who participate in it, some are educated and secular, some are ordinary citizens, others members of the ruling class or the opposition, they include the religious and non-religious, Muslims and members of other faiths. The main thing they have in common is the ability to free themselves from accepted conventions and swim against the tide, willing to face criticism and to deal with it.
It is important to note that the social media available at just about everyone's fingertips are the main force allowing pro-Israel conversation to reach the wider public's eyes and ears. Means of mass communication cannot be controlled completely by a government or any other entity, so they provide a public platform for people who wish to think independently and are not bound by the conventions surrounding them.
Just what are they saying? (Note: My comments are in parentheses, M.K.)
"Verse 21 in the Table Chapter of the Quran proves the Jewish right to the Holy Land: 'So says the exalted God: Moses said to his people: My nation go into the Holy Land that Allah granted you.' Accordingly, it is Allah who gave them the land and they did not steal it from anyone. In fact, the land was stolen by those who lived there before the Jews entered it. That is why I do not accept the outdated expressions like 'thieving entity' or 'Zionist entity.'
"There is no Occupation, there is only a nation that returned to its promised land. The history of the Jews precedes Islam. As Muslims, it is our duty to recognize the right of the Jewish people to this land. In 1948, when Israel was established, there was no state called Palestine. There were people dispersed in different Arab countries, called Canaanites, Amalekites and by many other names."
Another example is a very interesting woman named Nonie Darwish. She stems from Egypt where her father was an Egyptian Intelligence officer stationed in Gaza. During the 1950s he would send fedayeen – today's terrorists – to attack Israel and murder, rob and destroy whatever they could get their hands on. One day Israel sent him the gift of a book which, when he opened it, exploded in his face and sent him to the place reserved in Hell for terrorists.
Noni understood that her father deserved the punishment he received for his cruelty to Israel and decided to leave Egypt, abandon Islam and convert to Christianity. Today she lives somewhere in the West and manages the ArabsForIsrael website. This is where she fights Islamic activities, the acceptance of Sharia law in Western countries, the culture of Jihad and where she speaks positively of Israel, its right to exist, defend itself and live in peace in its historic land.
And despite what many Israeli Jews think, there are, among Israeli Arabs, those who see things differently and dare to utter their thoughts out loud. One of them is a young Muslim woman named Daima Taya, who appeared on a local Arab channel and told a hostile interviewer: "Israel is not an apartheid state, and anyone who says so should be ashamed of himself. You live in this country and have a blue identity card (like every other Israeli). You work, talk (as you wish), study (whatever you wish), become researchers, teachers, lawyers, leaders, and live in a country that shows you respect."
"Syria, Iraq, Egypt and all the other Arab countries – what have they done for their people? Israel is a democracy, and its Declaration of Independence states that it has Druze, Muslim Arab and other minority groups. What is a democratic state? One that respects its people, the people living in it, their right to lead their own religious lives, study, work, be elected, become judges, lawyers and MKs, to speak freely in the Knesset on whatever subject they wish. (Israel) gives them the right to liberty and freedom. Just where do you find that (in the Arab world)? …I wish all the Arab states, Arab societies and citizens of Arab states the privilege to live in a democratic state like the State of Israel. I define myself as an Arab, a Muslim, I have Israeli citizenship, am proud of myself and of my religion, proud that I live in a state that respects me and grants me my rights…."
Later, she added: "There is nothing perfect, nothing is 100%, go look at what is going on in the Arab world. Compared to that, Israel is just fine! And show me one Arab state where one can criticize the government!"
These are just examples of the pro-Israel opinions in the Arab world. Names such as Wafa Sultan, Bridget Gabriel, Sacar Alnablasi, Camal Govriel, Walid Shoebat and the Saudi Arabian Louis Alsherif are others, who have said things like: "If Israel did not exist, the Arabs would have had to invent it" or "Israel does not fit in the Middle East because it is not a dictatorship, not a tribal state, not a clan-based state and not run by a military junta" and "The Arab world is not willing to accept Israel because Israel's head of state gets his bribes in envelopes and our rulers need boxes to transport their bribes" and "Arab and Israeli journalists have something in common: Their governments allow them to malign Israel" and "Israel mirrors the Arabs – when they look at it they see the opposite of themselves."
There is much more to say about the few people who appear on Arab media and defend Israel. There is much more to say about those who do so secretly for fear of the reaction that would come from their surroundings. I myself am in contact with quite a few of these people, those who are out in the open and those who are afraid to reveal their identities.
I am going to tell just one story. Every few weeks a group of 3-4 people phone me from somewhere in the Gaza Strip and beg me to tell Israel to re-conquer the region, because their lives are Hell since the day in 2007 when Hamas pushed out the PA to take control of Gaza. In the past they had worked in Israel, earned decent wages and provided for their families. Israel as a state and the Israeli people treated them well, showed them respect and usually paid them fair wages for their work.
When Hamas took over, they lost their jobs in Israel. Now only those who flatter Hamas manage to obtain some sort of employment and anyone not willing to sing Hamas' praise finds himself unemployed. Work, however, is only a minor issue, because there is something much worse – the difference between Hamas' treatment of women and local girls and Israel's. The friends who phone me remember well that if it was necessary to do a security search on a woman at a checkpoint or other place while Israel controlled Gaza, the IDF would ensure that a policewoman or female soldier was called in to perform the search. Not once did a male IDF soldier touch a local woman. Today the situation in that regard is simply horrible – if there is someone who has lost favor in Hamas eyes, the Hamas men arrive at his house late at night in cars without license plates, break in with their faces masked, remove the men from the house and abuse the women and young girls left unprotected inside.
That is what makes all the difference. The Arabs themselves know the truth about Israel, how it treats its citizens. They know that those who malign and slander Israel, whether or not they have reason to do so, do not have truth on their side. Even those who support Israel realize that it is not perfect, that there is no perfect nation in the entire world. What Israel has, however, and none of its neighbors possesses, is the Israeli desire and intent to be decent, law abiding and moral, to respect human rights and respect men and women. Israel does not wish to see dead and wounded Arabs. If its neighbors would only allow Israel to live in peace and tranquility, they would never find themselve attacked.
What is really important, though, is for us, the Israelis, to remember that not every Arabic speaker is an Israel-hater by definition. There are many people to be found in the Arab and Islamic world who accept Israel's existence from the start and not just after the fact, and believe in the right of Jews to live securely and tranquilly in the land of their forefathers. They also believe in Israel's right to defend itself and its citizens' lives, welfare and health.
That is the Arab tragedy: The modern Arab state appears in several places as its nation's own worst enemy, hated by its citizens, murdering its residents, denying their rights and stealing their property – while the head of state, its ruler, can best be described as "the liaison officer between his citizens and the World to Come."
When such is the difference between Israel and its neighbors, is it any wonder that there is a not insignificant number of Arabs willing to accept Israel's right to exist and defend its citizens like any other nation in the world? Is there any way Israel can help them? Probably not, and they know this well.
We can only wish them long, healthy and successful lives, as we wish all the people of Israel.
Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Senior Consulting and Op-ed Editor Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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