Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ending the Cycle of Violence in Middle East

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Tragedies in history are repeated, because we don’t learn from our mistakes. The world has witnessed so many holocausts since the dawn of time. Empires grow, weaken and die for the same reasons. They decline when they reach a certain level of arrogance and ignorance. That is when they look down on smaller and weaker nations, and stop listening to their opinions, complaints and criticism. This has been the case from the ancient civilizations of China, Iraq and Egypt, to colonial era of European powers, to the new age of Soviet Union and USA.
We have already repeated our mistakes in the Greater Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq, Palestine to Lebanon, and now Iran. So, before going further on the repetition course, let’s take a timeout for reflection on the latest crisis — the Lebanon war.
It is tough to be evenhanded and balanced when your own family is being slaughtered to pieces. Still, I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some Israeli writers and journalists, who, in the midst of a maddening war, were sane, fair and courageous enough to expose the fallacies and wrongs of their government. Against popular emotional stands, they strived to get their criticism across. Time proved them right, and more Israelis are now having doubts and questions about long-held beliefs and strategies, as we all should.
Israel has a natural right to live in peace. Arabs must show their unsure neighbor that there is light at the end of the tunnel. No nation in a strong position will ever part with war-gained spoils unless they get something solid in return. For even the most pacifist Israelis, it is not reasonable to give concessions without rewards. We must guarantee them peaceful and friendlier neighborhood.
I agreed with many of my Israeli counterparts that King Abdullah’s peace initiative, sponsored by the Arab League in 2002, should be the blueprint for comprehensive peace project. It is based on UN Resolution 242 and accommodates Israeli demands for border adjustments and some concerns regarding return of refugees.
Unfortunately, the last Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to this historical grand Arab gesture by bombing late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, destroying Jenin and pressuring the US administration to change its initial support of the initiative. He and his like won the day. We all, Arabs, Israelis and peace seekers all over the world, lost.
They say Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, but so are Israelis, especially the rightists. There were times, with the last Labor government, when we were on the verge of real victory for all — peace. The Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations brought all players — Palestinians, Israelis and neighbors to the negotiation table. It worked, till Arafat made a historical mistake of refusing an admittedly inadequate deal instead of negotiating changes. The Israeli opposition refused it, too, and vowed to defeat it. To kill the project in its infancy, Sharon provoked the second intifada by booting the grounds of Islam’s third holiest shrine — Al-Aqsa. After winning the elections, he made sure the project was buried forever.
For long, Lebanon has been the playground of many recurring mistakes. The Lebanese, Syrians, Arabs, Americans and French committed terrible mistakes. Israel was the worst. The invasion of 1982 and the occupation of parts of Lebanon for eighteen years destroyed the capability of the Lebanese Army, justified the interference of other players, like Syria, Iraq and Iran, and gave birth to the resistance movement of Hezbollah.
The latest Israeli invasion and bombardment of its northern neighbor doesn’t look like the last mistake. Instead of eradicating the Hezbollah, Israel weakened the very government which was supposed to disarm the group, and the very people it tried to turn against it, not to mention the radicalization of the whole region. Iran and its protégé only dreamt of the status they now enjoy in the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia. By violating the terms of the cease-fire, Israel is on course to repeat history once more.
The Arabs and Israelis should, instead, use the lesson of this tragic event to restart the project of peace, cooperation and prosperity for this long-troubled part of the world. The terrible loss of lives and economic potentials should make us aware of the downhill journey we are taking.
Only via the road to peace can we turn around the Lebanon corner. If leaders are not yet ready to make the move, then it is our responsibility, the peoples of the region, to make them be. After all, it is our children’s future we are talking about.

Israel and US: Why Should Arab Opinion Be Any Different?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

Sunday, 20, August, 2006

In conflicts, interested people usually take extremely different stands. Writing about such issues usually invites angry responses. To my last article, “The Death of Moderates in Muslim World,” I received lots of steamy messages that I typically put on my e-mail list. Good examples are the comments from two American readers presenting different views about Israel, Zionism and the US stand.

The first, from a dear fellow journalist, said: “I reject your bitter abuse and overuse of the term ‘Zionists’ and the rather distorted twist of facts to support your presumptive and fragile view of the events of the past and of the present.

“As for Jews being in collusion with many fundamentalist Evangelists, guess you are reading something that is secret; as a Jew I know nothing about it. I consider those radicals to be in the same category as other radicals; now you share their company in terms of my list of suspects promoting intolerance and hatred. Let’s get something straight: Zionism was about a homeland for peaceful existence and protection and not about colonialism.

“Israel had no choice but to defend its population; Hezbollah had a choice of returning the two abducted soldiers, fighting in the open and not hiding behind women and children. The many deaths and the destruction will never sit right with me and though I understand the fangs of war, one wonders why we are intense about killing each other. You have given us the answer; lies breed anger and anger breeds hatred.

“My regret is that you are ignoring the whole story and your broad brush is food for those who thrive on bigotry and division.

“This reminds me of the KKK but as they have twisted Christianity, so perhaps are you twisting moderate Islam. -Ed”

Scott read Ed comments and responded: “An old movie, ‘The Hornet’s Nest’, opens with Italian civilians facing Nazis in an impromptu firing squad, repeatedly asking, ‘Where are the partisans? No answer? Murder them all —women, elderly and kids included.

“Here again, Israelis seemed to ask: Where are Hezbollah fighters? No answer? Bomb Lebanon’s airport, harbors, schools, homes, and nurseries!

“This unacceptable use of terror on civilians in Lebanon, the unbelievably excessive use of force and the brutal destruction of a struggling, and fledgling democracy have changed me forever. While I still respect Jews, I no longer respect Israel. I will forever look forward to the end of this failed social experiment.

“Israel has been in violation of UN Resolution 242 for over 35 years now. They refuse to sign the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and appear to have a fleet of nuclear weapons —the WMDs we cannot allow any nation to have in the Middle East. They habitually use US jets and helicopters (which ties regular Americans to these attacks) to assassinate alleged resistance or terror leaders.

“I saw Pat Robertson last week telling his millions of viewers to pray for Israel. I’m not sure if Zionists or Jews are in collusion with fundamentalist Evangelists, but these nuts sure are pulling for the nation of Israel. Regardless of the motive, we do not represent ‘honest-brokers’ any longer.

“In World War II, arguably, the Jewish people suffered the greatest in that dark chapter of human existence. Yet, what they learned appears only to be the methods of brutality. The assault of Lebanon confirms this.

“I now stand with the billions in the world who do not accept this cancer in the midst of Muslims. It was a difficult task to create a Jewish nation, and expect so many to relocate. Rather than exhibit the glorious patience that has characterized Jewish history, we have seen only excessive brutality and a complete lack of compassion for others.

“Israel was created by a UN vote in 1947. It is time to rescind that vote. It is time to end the failed experiment of the nation of Israel. The Palestinians have not been ‘right,’ but the Israelis sure have been wrong.”

Salam and shalom...Scott”

I am frequently asked: Do Arabs endorse the existence of Israel? We had to “accept” but I, for one, would never “endorse” its existence. This is a “certified” terrorist organization by even UN mandate authority. Britain still regards as wanted terrorists the prime ministers of Israel, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Their terrorist organization was made into state, displacing native Palestinians, stealing their homes, farms and lands and denying them the right to return. However, thanks to the superpowers of the world, Israel became a reality. We accepted all UN resolutions, such as 242, and collectively sponsored King Abdullah’s initiative of 2002, assuring Israel normal relations if it returns to pre-1967 borders. Israel refused even the road map sponsored by the US, its protector and benefactor.

Overwhelmingly, the world public opinion, from Britain and Germany to Korea and Japan, regards the US and Israel as the greatest threat to world peace and stability. Why would the Arabs be any different?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Death of Moderates

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
In the war of hotheads, the cool heads lose out. Radicalism invokes the worst in us. It makes us angry, hateful, aggressive and crazy. Those with cooler temper and wiser brains cannot make themselves understood, acceptable or even heard. In the noise pollution that goes with fanaticism it is really hard for any differing voice to float over the herds' cheers and shouts.
Thanks to Israel and company, all volcanoes of suppressed, clamed and negotiated hard feelings are now erupting in the Muslim World. All old and new wounds are now open and sour: from the creation of Israel on Arab land, to 1967 War that grabbed more lands including Islam's third holiest shrine, Al-Agsa Mosque, to 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the over twenty years of occupation of its South, to Qana I that killed scores of civilians to Gaza and Jenin massacres up to the recent history from Afghanistan to Iraq. The list of wounds is long and hurtful, and whenever it seems to cool a bit, an adventure like this hit again. No lull is long enough for moderates to preach peace, forgiveness and logic.
Mel Gibson is right when he said in a recent Los Angeles Times interview that Zionists are behind all ugly wars in the world. They are everywhere; the neoconservatives in the US administration are only the tip of the iceberg. Millions more are spreading like cancer in the civilized world, from places of worship to academia, to think tanks, to governments. Their ideologies surpass their sense and sensibility. Reason takes a back seat to a sick obsession, like getting all Jews into Palestine, so Jesus would come and start the Armageddon and end the world as we know it.
This unholy alliance between two influential, ideologically driven groups, the Zionists and Evangelicals, took the world into a hellish journey. To end History, they decided to burn the temple—our world—down. The Irony is: the Evangelicals believe that at the end of this journey Jews and others (including Muslims) would either convert to Christianity or be eradicated. The Jews, on the other hand, believe the opposite. So both are allied for now against Muslims, but know in advance that they will have to eliminate the other once they finish us.
On our side, there are those who understand what is at stake, and read the writing on the walls. Their response is one of a kind. Jihadis meant to get the snakes heads out, and shoot them. They always contented that under the civilized and liberal skin of the superpowers of the world hide crazed devout crusaders who would do anything to reoccupy the Holy Lands. By terrorizing them with hits like 9/11, they would throw their masks and show their faces. Knowingly or unknowingly, the overkill reactions proved their point. Now Israel and allies are stressing the same point.
In such an environment, the nice and pacifist, the logical and reasonable cannot compete with the trigger happy, hell makers, hate spreaders and fire breathers of the world—on all sides.
Try defending Israel's allies these days or blaming Iran, Syria or Hezbollah for starting this fire, in any Arab street. Try warning from the defying the UN and world public opinion in any Israeli street. Try calling for restraining Israel and pushing for immediate ceasefire in America. If you do, you are likely to be labeled defeatist, liberal, unpatriotic, unbeliever if not outright traitor.
Like Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah and Nasrallah were relatively small players. Overnight, they were made huge and powerful by their enemies. With the only choice given to Arabs and Muslims "Either you are with me or against me", most chose the Muslim brethren over Israel and allies. You can't call Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the certified war criminal of Sabra and Shatila, Man of Peace after his Jenin massacre and still maintain credibility with Muslims. In fact you only give credibility to the man who in October 3, 2001, as Israeli Prime Minister, told Shimon Peres, on Kol Yisrael Radio: "Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it."
This is the same "Man of Peace" who as Foreign Minister told a meeting of militants in 1998, "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them." When this and similar actions provoked Palestinians into the second Intifadeh, it was blamed on Arafat.
With such fanatics, who would blame the average man for silencing the moderates and listening, if not following, to hate and revenge preachers?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

They Defy Logic and Deny History

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

“It is hard to convince someone who knows he is right.” True, especially when the other is not so conversant with the complexities of history, geography and politics. Add bias, anger and Zionist media and you get a typical pro-Israel audience.
What many American readers lack is the big picture. That’s why they are genuinely surprised when told of the bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most really believed that they were going in as celebrated liberators, just like World War II documentaries showed they did in Europe. For them, the world is simple, people are good or evil, places are the same, and experiences are replicable. During the Cold War, the world was simpler to comprehend. Movies helped and news sound bites made it an easy task — who needs the headache? Education by entertainment is an established industry. Well! Welcome to the real world. Welcome to the Middle East.
Now, how could an Arab writer change a lifetime perception of who is “The Beautiful, The Bad and The Ugly” in this part of the world?
Here is the picture that was fed to generations of Americans. Israel is the historical homeland for Jews. They went back to an “empty” land (some how it stayed empty for 4,000 years!) to live in “peace” with Arabs who were supposed to gladly give away their homes and farms to the nice European Jews.
Instead they fought and denied them a legitimate right to establish a “Jewish government” on a “Jewish land”. Later, the Arabs tried to destroy Israel so the civilized world led by America had to support the small, democratic and peaceful Israel against the barbaric, primitive, anti-West Arabs.
The mostly Third World members of the UN, influenced by communists, tried to cast Israel as an aggressor and rogue nation. America had to use over 80 vetoes to rescue poor Israel from harsh Security Council resolutions. Later it had to support Israel’s position not to implement other ones like Resolution 242 requiring the Jewish state to give back the land it occupied in the 1967 War to its Arab neighbors.
Not even peace agreements signed in the White House and Camp David should be binding. Unlike “standard” members, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Israel should not be put under any pressure to comply with UN resolutions. After all, Israel is the Land of the Chosen People. Even in equality, there are people who are more equal than others.
True, King Abdullah’s Peace Initiative sponsored by the Arab League in 2002 clearly promised the establishment of normal relations with Israel if it returns to pre-1967 borders. Arabs cannot be trusted. They simply hate us because we are freer, richer and infidels. Didn’t we see them dancing in the streets on 9/11? Let Israel wipe them off the map. The world would be a happier and safer place without terrorists. Now, please don’t confuse the issues by citing their long list of complaints against US policies and steadfast support of Israel. And of course no need to mention that Arabs are also Christians and Jews, “with us and against us.”
In the last episode of such “simple” history, the chain of events was too tall and complicated for many. Instead an even simpler version, that fits the established perception, was fed to the “simple” audience. It all started with “terrorist” organizations (never mind they were only labeled so by Israel and its allies) capturing three Israeli soldiers — one in Gaza, two in Lebanon.
All preceding Israeli actions, like their incursions into Palestinian and Lebanese territories to kill, destroy and abduct from farmers to government ministers were omitted as too much unnecessary details. So was the fact that over ten thousand Arab abductees are rotting in Israeli prisons for 27 years, including women and children, most without trial. Who cares, they are Arabs, for God sake!
Historical facts are omitted too. Who cares if Hamas was cultivated by Israel to stand up to Fatah, or that Hezbollah was established to fight the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon and its occupation for over 20 years? Who cares if both organizations are legitimate political parties with representations in their respective governments and Parliaments and never were involved in any terrorist activities against any but the occupiers of their lands? Who cares if Hamas is democratically elected to govern the Palestinian territories and if the disarmament of Hezbollah is an internal Lebanese matter?
Who is interested in the tiny historical fact that Qana was shelled exactly ten years ago by Israelis resulting in similar massacre? All these details can be distracting from the main focus, would certainly confuse the audience and — God forbid — may cast a slur on the moral standing of Israel.
You know what? Maybe the Arabs should stop trying to make their point by arguments alone. Maybe, the US Founding Fathers’ armed way is the only way. Maybe Hamas and Hezbollah’s way is the way.