During the many years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arab public opinion has adopted a single, focused and uncompromising point of view. In very few cases we hear a different opinion or unusual criticism of the common perception. If the impossible happens and one person or another dares challenge the dominant view, the Arab soil starts to shake and quickly we see charges against the "sinner" In various ways and forms, in a bid to smear him and repress his thoughts.
Many Arab leaders utilize the Palestinian issue as a means to sowing fear among their own peoples. The greater the oppression and deprivation of human rights, the greater the scaremongering dosages and the injection of Israel-hate into the Arab nation’s veins. This is done while the media under these dark regimes strictly refers to the Jewish State as the “Zionist enemy,” lest the simple folk get confused and perceive Israel as a friendly, peace-seeking state.
Naturally, over the years we have seen non-Arabs joining the cycle of manipulation of Arab public opinion: Out of nowhere comes the voice of one Iranian official or another, who slams Israel and expresses his genuine love and concern for the Palestinian people, even though in reality he views the Palestinians as a cheap means for serving his own means.
The years go by yet the conflict persists. At times there are periods of terror and war, and other times we see optimistic winds of reconciliation and understanding. At other junctions, it appears that everyone is simply fed up. Yet recently, something happened in the Arab world: The Tunisian Spring was the first to arrive, while changing many of the old perceptions. The Egyptians waited for the heat of summer to rise up, and now we are witnessing the beginning of the Syrian winter, with growing calls to topple the Alawite regime.
Some Syrian citizens may have realized that the demonic Israeli monster is the product of the government press’ and outlandish TV stations’ imagination. The historical truth shows that Israel fought wars that were forced upon it by those who convinced themselves that Israel is simply fiction, a fleeting phenomenon that shall quickly disappear from the Middle East’s map. In practice, this tiny state scored one victory after another, proving that that it is a living and breathing fact, entrenched deep in this soil.
Gaza versus RamallahIsrael is being accused of drawing out the negotiations and lacking a genuine, honest will to secure peace among its leaders and citizens. I shall not attempt to discount these claims or lament the hesitation and difficulties produced by the Palestinians. Instead, I shall make do with reviewing two points: The first is historical and pertains to Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Don’t these agreements attest to Israel’s serious intentions?
Notably, Israel gave up, for peace, the Sinai Peninsula (an area three times Israel’s size and rich with natural resources.) On the northern front, Israel showed on several occasions genuine willingness to secure a fair agreement with the Syrians, yet every time encountered a peace obstacle in the form of the Syrian president (both father and son,) who may have been preoccupied with utilizing his secret police at every corner.
The second point pertains to the Shalit swap. In an Egyptian TV interview, after five and a half years in captivity and in his first encounter with the sun, Shalit chose to express his hope that the conflict shall end and all prisoners shall return to their families. On the other hand, released Palestinian prisoners chose to commit to continuing terrorism and bloodshed. I hoped that these detainees, who tried the path of terror and failed, would choose this time to embark on a new path that does not rely on killing and violence. I had hoped hopes, yet was disappointed.
Gaza residents are suffering, yet the question remains: Who’s responsible for this suffering? Israel can be blamed, as usual, yet if we compare the situation in the Gaza Strip to the situation in the West Bank, and compare Gaza City to Ramallah, it won’t be difficult to spot the huge difference. The reason for this is rather clear and stems from the difference between the Fatah government and Hamas government, which espouses a policy of terror, carnage and violence, also implemented against its own citizens.
This terror policy constitutes the main obstacle to Palestinian reconciliation efforts and the achievement of peace. It’s also important to pay attention to the following point: At this time we are talking about two states for two peoples, yet it seems that three states for two people shall be required. One for Israel, one for Fatah, and a third one for Hamas. We may need more mini-states in case of further splits down the road. Is this reasonable? How can one make peace given such reality? And who should we make peace with? I’m afraid that ultimately we shall have to secure peace with every Palestinian individual separately.
In love with zeal
Many in the Arab street examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via the logic of fatalities and quickly produce virtual scales. On one hand they look at the Palestinian fatalities, and usually forget Israel’s fatalities.
The death of innocents is regrettable, regardless of the way and reason it happened. Yet the difference between Hamas and Israel has to do with intention: Hamas activists fire missiles and rockets into the heart of civilian population centers, hoping to kill innocent civilians. On the other hand, Israel attempts to hit Hamas men, and if civilians are hurt as result the reason is usually Hamas’ cynical use of mosques, schools and hospitals as missile-launching platforms, as well as the utilization of their own countrymen as human shields. Of course, at times we see operational mishaps on the Israeli side.
A person of conscience cannot ignore the Palestinian pain, but also should not ignore the killing of Israeli children and civilians with inhumane brutality. The solution to the Palestinian pain will not be achieved via the killing of Israeli innocents or the adoption of terrorism as a policy, but rather, by abandoning the path of violence and returning to negotiations. Let’s hope they understand this soon.
Israel is a democratic state, a world-leader in science, medicine and culture, and boasts free media and a flourishing economy. It is a state that grants its minorities the possibility of self-fulfillment and the ability to play an active role in the life of the nation. However, just like any other state, Israel is facing many challenges, and quite a few problems persist in the process of integrating Arabs into the life of the country as citizens equal to the Jewish majority.
The Arab world is still in love with zealous words and mindless attacks: Impassioned calls, baseless threats, and the flexing of muscles. Needless to say, this way of thinking is useless. Hasn’t the time come for an Arab process of self-reflection? For understanding reality as it is and changing the Arab perception of the conflict? Hasn’t the time come to rely on historical fact and objective arguments, instead of relying on blind hatred and the distortion of the truth?
The time has come to abandon the path of hatred and exploit the opportunities for peace via negotiations, because there is no other way.
Nizer Amer is a member of Israel’s Foreign Service and is stationed in Ankara, Turkey