Thursday, June 21, 2007

Letting The Truth Out Into The Arab Media

What do you do when you are the General Manager of a popular Arabic satellite television channel if you understand the real reasons so many Palestinians live in misery? The station you manage, the popular weekly news magazine you once edited, indeed your entire career as a highly successful and respected journalist in the Arab world has been for organizations who featured blaming Israel for the plight of the Palestinians. Now it's time to tell the world, honestly and truthfully, that what the Arabs have done to their Palestinian brethren is far worse and that Israel's Palestinian-Arab minority actually fares pretty well. How do you do it?

I suppose this was the challenge facing Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the Dubai-based General Manager of al-Arabiya. On June 9 he wrote an amazing piece in Asharq Al-Awsat, the news magazine where he was once Editor-in-Chief. The first paragraph is doctrinaire: praising the fairness of the Palestinian cause and condemning occupation. The rest of it, though, is a revelation considering the source and is very much part of the sea change in Arab thinking I have been blogging about. Here are some excerpts:What is happening in Lebanon's Nahr al Bared camp today is just one such example where battles have raised an overwhelming number of questions: who are these people? How long have they lived in the camp and how? What are their rights?


Some Arab countries “hosting” refugees ban them from leaving [camps], from occupying a large number of positions and deny them any other legal rights. Some of them have to jump over walls and sneak out to complete their chores or to breathe and experience the outside world. One can imagine these randomly and poorly built houses during the winter chill and sweltering heat of the summer among the sewage and insufficient services. It is a shame.


Our insistence to lock the Palestinians in camps and treat them like animals in the name of preserving the issue is far worse a crime than Israel stealing land and causing the displacement of people. The 60 year-old camps only signify our inhumanity and double standards. Israel can claim that it treats the Palestinians better than their Arab brothers do. It gives citizenship to the Palestinians of 1948 as well as the right to work and the right to lead a somewhat normal life
OK, the bit about Israel "stealing land" is traditional Arab rhetoric without historical basis, but the rest, a stinging indictment of the Arab treatment of Palestinian refugees and the 60 year perpetuation of their refugee status for political reasons is right on the mark. It's something I would expect from an Israeli writer. It is tremendously powerful coming from Mr. Al-Rashed.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Lebanese-American Professor On The Plight of the Palestinians

Here are excerpts from an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times written by Dr. Fouad Ajami, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:The Palestinian ruin was a long time in coming. No other national movement has had the indulgence granted the Palestinians over the last half-century, and the results can be seen in the bravado and the senseless violence, in the inability of a people to come to terms with their condition and their needs.

The life of a Palestinian is one of squalor and misery, yet his leaders play the international game as though they were powers. An accommodation with Israel is imperative — if only out of economic self-interest and political necessity... was too much to ask of Mr. Arafat to return to his people with a decent and generous compromise, to bid farewell to the legend that the Palestinians could have it all “from the river to the sea.” It was safer for him to stay with the political myths of his people than to settle down for the more difficult work of statehood and political rescue.

For their part, the Arab states have only compounded the Palestinian misery. The Arab cavalry was always on the way, the Arab treasure was always a day away, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to pay tribute to necessity. In recent years, the choice was starkly posed: it was either statehood or a starring role on Al Jazeera, and the young “boys of the stones” and their leaders opted for the latter.


For decades, Arab society granted the Palestinians everything and nothing at the same time. The Arab states built worlds of their own, had their own priorities, dreaded and loathed the Palestinians as outsiders and agitators, but left them to the illusion that Palestine was an all-consuming Arab concern.

Now the Palestinians should know better. The center of Arab politics has shifted from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, a great political windfall has come to the lands of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, vast new wealth due to the recent rises in oil prices, while misery overwhelms the Palestinians. No Arabs wait for Palestine anymore; they have left the Palestinians to the ruin of their own history.

The rise of Hamas in Gaza should concentrate the minds of the custodians of power in the Arab world. Palestine, their old alibi, the cause with which they diverted the attention of their populations from troubles at home, has become a nightmare in its own right. An Arab debt is owed the Palestinians — the gift of truth and candor as well as material help.

Arab poets used to write reverential verse in praise of the boys of the stones and the suicide bombers. Now the poetry has subsided, replaced by a silent recognition of the malady that afflicts the Palestinians. Except among the most bigoted and willful of Arabs, there is growing acknowledgment of the depth of the Palestinian crisis. And aside from a handful of the most romantic of Israelis, there is a recognition in that society, as well, of the malignancy of the national movement a stone’s throw away.

The mainstream in Israel had made its way to a broad acceptance of Palestinian statehood...
Dr. Ajami is nothing if not pessimistic. The U.S. and Prime Minister Olmert pin their hopes on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Dr. Ajami calls "a decent man". Still, he sees far too little difference between Hamas and Fatah and sees Abbas as having far too little power to see any salvation for the Palestinian people.

I fear Dr. Ajami is right. However, as I said in my previous post quoting Saeb Erekat, I am seeing more and more Arab voices who are seeing the situation for what it really is. The only hope is for a change not only in Palestinian thinking but across the wider Arab world.

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Palestinian Suffering: Putting the Blame Where It Belongs

Has anyone else noticed this? There is a real sea change in the discussion of Palestinian suffering in the wake of recent events in Lebanon and Gaza. Yes, I know the expression 'sea change' is grossly overused, but I do mean it in the way Shakespeare first used it: a truly profound change.

For years various Israeli and pro-Israel writers, myself included, have pointed out that the Palestinians could have had a prosperous, independent state years ago. We have pointed out that entirely for political reasons the Palestinian people have endured suffering and oppression not so much at Israel's hands but rather at the hands of their fellow Arabs and their own leadership. When Israeli actions have harmed the Palestinian populace they were almost always as a result of the need to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian terrorist attacks.

What is truly new is the significant number of Arab and even Palestinian writers and commentators who are suddenly seeing Palestinian suffering in the same way or perhaps are finally publicly willing to admit that it really isn't all Israel's fault. I will be making quite a number of postings featuring Arab and Palestinian voices on the subject of the exploitation of the Palestinian people in coming days.

Let me begin with someone who is well known to most people who have followed the conflict in the region in recent years. Saeb Erekat was the Palestinian negotiator during past peace talks and is a prominent Fatah member. Here is part of an interview he gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Late Edition on June 17:I will tell you something, Wolf. I think -- there is a saying in my mind that this region has never missed an opportunity to exploit Palestinians without exploiting them. I really believe that we are being exploited. I really believe that is what happening in Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon, it is part of what is happening in Gaza, what is happening in the bigger picture in this region.

Now, Wolf, do I have evidence to refer to this country or to this group or that? No, I don't. But I know when I see the streets of Gaza, when I see these gunmen, when I see these hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when President Abbas could not pay salaries for our police forces, when our police forces did not have bullets or guns to maintain the rule of law and public order, where did these hundreds of millions of dollars, where did these guns and arms and state-of-art machine guns and heavy equipment come from?

I don't have any evidence, and without evidence, I will not name anybody. But all I can tell you, Gaza is very -- the poorest area on Earth. Gaza doesn't have the means for these hundreds of millions of dollars and these weapons and equipment.

And I believe what is happening in this region is being now played in the streets of Gaza and the streets of Nahr el-Bared in my name, in the name of the Palestinians. We are being exploited again.
I'll say what Mr. Erekat was unwilling to say: Iran and Syria, plus radical jihadists and Islamists, both home grown and foreign. That's who is exploiting and oppressing the Palestinians this time. Others in the Arab world have done the same when it was convenient for them with the Palestinians as the perpetual victims for nearly 60 years.

It is easy for Israel's detractors to dismiss me as a Zionist, as the daughter of an Israeli, as a biased voice. How do you dismiss Saeb Erekat, an ardent Palestinian nationalist who has argued the Palestinian cause for years, and others like him? I don't think you can.

The question that remains is whether or not this sort of change of Arab perspective will last. If not then we're back at square one. If so then this is a true sea change in Arab thinking . It offers the real possibility of Arabs and Israelis, specifically Palestinians and Israelis, finding common ground to stand together against a common enemy that threatens us both.

Am I dreaming? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Only time will tell.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

A Permanent Indictment

The U.N. is issuing a permanent indictment for human rights violations. Is this about genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan? Nope, genocide in Sudan is no big deal Child slavery in China? Nope, that's fine too. All the bloodshed in Somalia? Surely you jest. Nope, the one country being singled out is Israel according to U.N. Watch.

Reform at the U.N.? Absolutely! The U.N. will no longer say bad things about third world dictators. Cuba and Belarus will no longer be considered to be violating human rights at all. Soon such fine upstanding nations as Sudan, Congo, and Haiti will be exempt from criticism. The UN Watch article continues:At the same time, the proposal eliminates the experts charged with reporting on violations by Cuba and Belarus, despite the latest reports of massive violations by both regimes. As for the experts on other countries -- on Burundi, Cambodia, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Burma, Somalia and Sudan -- all of these may soon be eliminated, as threatened by the Council majority comprised of dictatorships and other Third World countries, under a gradual "review" process. Pending their fate, all experts will be subjected to a new "Code of Conduct," submitted by Algeria in the name of the African group, designed to intimidate and restrict the independence of the human rights experts.Now that the U.N. is getting rid of those pesky human rights experts they can concentrate on villification of Israel full time. What reform! What progress!

Yael K., writing in her Step-by-Step blog describes the latest U.N. outrage as:...the latest biased and crazy and, to be quite honest, criminal behavior of the U.N. They are not condemning Darfur for genocide, they are removing Cuba and Belarus from censure despite their continued violations, and they are placing Israel under permanent indictment under a Special Agenda item. They have a special agenda, let me tell you.Why does anyone take the U.N. seriously? It is time to disband the organization and replace it with one limited to democratic nations that respect human rights. Israel would qualify easily. Most of the current members of the U.N. Human Rights Council would not.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Katyusha Rockets Land In Kiryat Shmona... Again

In an eerie reminder of last summer's Second Lebanon War katyusha rockets landed on a factory and on a car in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel today. Most recent reports indicate three rockets were fired and a fourth, later found by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), failed to fire. A factory was lightly damaged and a car was more seriously damaged but thankfully nobody was hurt.

Unlike last summer when Hizbullah seemed to be proud of starting a war and firing over 4,000 rockets into Israel, today they were quick to deny any involvement. It could be that they are telling the truth. Both Israelis and Lebanese seem to be ready to blame some Palestinian terrorist group or another, either with ties to Hamas or al-Qaeda. On the other hand it could just be that Hizbullah isn't quite ready for another war just yet. One thing is clear: southern Lebanon, from which Israel withdrew unilaterally, is once again being used as a base for attacks on Israel and both UNIFIL (the U.N. peacekeeping force) and the LAF are either unwilling or unable to stop it.

Speaking of UNIFIL, they they called the attack a 'serious breach' of the cease-fire which ended last summer's war. I'm certain the usual prompt, decisive U.N. action will follow. You know, a little hand wringing and a few mealy mouthed words designed not to offend. Heck, there may even be an emergency Security Council meeting to find some way to blame Israel for being attacked.

UNIFIL also asked for all parties to show restraint. They were perfectly safe in doing this because an unnamed spokesman for Prime Minister Olmert had already promised Israeli restraint. The terrorists from some unnamed Palestinian group can't be expected to be restrained, can they? Since we don't know who they are they also can't be held to account either for today's attacks or any future lack of restraint, at least for now. As usual the only party that can be held accountable by the U.N. is Israel and I am sure that was calculated into their choice of words for the statement.

Despite my obvious cynicism I actually do think restraint is the right move, at least for the moment. Israel is correctly giving the LAF and UNIFIL a chance to act. The Winograd Commission interim report blamed Prime Minister Olmert and outgoing Defense Minister Peretz for rushing into Lebanon last summer without a plan. We all know how well that went. At least the Prime Minister isn't repeating his mistakes. The best thing to do for now is to watch, wait, see if the Lebanese government finds the will and ability to act, and allow Defense Minister Barak a chance to develop a plan of action in case there are further attacks. At least this time Prime Minister Olmert has a seasoned military man running the Defense Ministry.

I fear Israel is soon going to be forced fight another war against Iran, Syria, and/or their proxies in Lebanon and the territories. Israel needs to be ready for this eventuality but it doesn't need to precipitate full scale hostilities... at least not yet.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Help Keep IBA News On The Air

IBA News in English on both radio and TV is about to disappear. IBA is in financial trouble after years of budget cuts. According to The Jerusalem Post the Israeli state broadcaster may all but disappear. Only one Hebrew radio service, the profitable Reshet Bet, will remain, plus possibly an Arabic language newscast. The Jerusalem Post is asking that supporters of IBA News comment in the talkback section of their article as a form of online petition.

IBA News in English does far more than serve Israeli's small English but non-Hebrew speaking community. Kol Israel Radio's REKA network is also available on the web and their shortwave broadcasts are heard worldwide. NPR and community FM radio stations around the United States rebroadcast Kol Israel news in English. IBA News television broadcasts are offered by satellite and cable channels in the United States as well as on the web.

Link TV is a particularly interesting case in point. Their program Mosaic: World News From The Middle East was originally a collection of excerpts from Arab and Iranian news programs. Arabic and Farsi broadcasts are dubbed in English. Some time back the Jerusalem-born producer of the program, Jamal Dajani, to his great credit, added several minutes of IBA News in English to most programs. Here is a Palestinian journalist who decided to include an Israeli viewpoint into what previously was a broadcast exclusively of Arab/Muslim news with all the anti-Israel material that implies. I may not agree with what Mr. Dajani has to say on many of his Mosaic Intelligence Report commentaries, but I appreciate his efforts to be fair minded and to promote peace and stability in the Middle East. By adding IBA News to Mosaic Mr. Dajani insured that program viewers, many of whom are undoubtedly not sympathetic to Israel, get an opposing viewpoint.

If IBA News in English goes off the air what will replace it? The sad fact is that there isn't anything else that presents a genuine Israeli viewpoint in English. NPR will still broadcast the BBC with it's often strident anti-Israel bias but Israeli news will simply disappear from their stations. Will Jamal Dajani be able to find the resources to bring in a translator for Israeli Hebrew language broadcasts? Will he even have access to Israeli news for his program? I honestly don't know but I fear the answer may be "no". If I'm right about that Mosaic viewers will get all the Arab anti-Israel rhetoric and propaganda with the balancing Israeli viewpoint removed. That won't be Mr. Dajani's fault, will it?

IBA News is vital in that it is the only broadcaster bringing a genuine Israeli perspective to people all over the world. I urge everyone who reads this to click this link and sign the petition. As I write this we have probably no more than 30 hours to make a difference and less than 500 people have signed the petition so far. Please also share this with anyone who you think might be interested.

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The BBC (British Bias Corp.) Strikes Again

The BBC has apologized for referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has promised it won't do it again. Never mind that Jerusalem has been Israel's official capital since 1951. The Beeb can't let little things like facts get in the way of their usual anti-Israel bias, particularly if some Arabs are offended by those facts. Heck, news reporting doesn't really have to be factual, does it? How old fashioned of me to think that it does.

This apology was a response to complaints about a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital on, of all things, a BBC sports program back in March. Who complained? According to the BBC it was a joint complaint from Arab Media Watch, Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Friends of Al-Aksa and the Institute of Islamic Political Thought. According to the Jerusalem Post article:The Institute of Islamic Political Thought is run by Azzam Tamimi, a Hamas supporter and a member of the Muslim Association of Britain, part of the Muslim Brotherhood.So, Hamas and other violent, rejectionist, terrorist Palestinian groups get to decide BBC policy. Very nice. For those of you who have slept through the last few days Hamas just took over Gaza in a violent coup killing dozens of Palestinians in the process with nary a word of protest from the Arab or Muslim world.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev's comments hit the nail on the head:Jerusalem is Israel's capital. It is the right of every sovereign state to determine which city will be its capital. If this is not accepted by everyone today, I am confident it will be in the future.This is hardly the first time I've written about anti-Israeli bias at the BBC and sadly I'm sure it won't be the last. I guess this is par for the course in a nation that won't even teach the Holocaust in schools for fear of offending Holocaust deniers in general and anti-Semitic Arabs and Muslims in particular.

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