Israel News

A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

November 16, 2001
Issue number 353


December 25 - January 1

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Interview: Israeli Arab Journalist Youssef Samir

The following interview appeared in the October edition of Israel Today ( (Israel Heute - Nachrichten aus Israel) a monthly journal appearing in German. The interviewer is Aviel Schneider. Last spring,  Palestinian police arrested Israeli Arab journalist Youssef Samir,  in the town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem. Held captive in a secret location  for 64 days, the Egyptian-born writer was tortured and interrogated by Yasser Arafat's secret police, who accused him of  spying for Israel. Appeals by Samir's family to the Palestinian Authority were ignored, with officials claiming they did not know his whereabouts. Finally, Samir escaped. Bruised and exhausted, he made it to the Israeli checkpoint on Bethlehem's border with Jerusalem. Free at last, he bowed low and kissed the ground.

Israel Today: Mr. Samir, why did the Palestinian police kidnap you?

Samir: I have no idea. During my detention, I was told repeatedly that I had to sign something. When I asked what it was, they told me I knew what they meant. Finally, they said I was to sign a confession that I spied for Israel.

IT: Where were you held?

Samir: I was in the former headquarters of the Israeli army in Bethlehem, which today is the seat of the Palestinian security forces. I was questioned and tortured by the Tanzim [gunmen from Arafat's Fatah group] and other security men.

IT: Did you believe you'd be released?

Samir: I cried from the pain. I didn't think I'd survive their brutality. For the first time in my life, I actually feared death.

IT: Do you believe Israel did enough to secure your freedom?

Samir: I would like to say unequivocally that Israel represents the chosen people. I place all my confidence in this small country, which I love from the bottom of my heart.

IT: Did your kidnappers show any compassion because of your age?

Samir: I only saw in their eyes how much they hate Israel. But I love the simple Palestinians, the families who want to live in peace. The Palestinian population is suffering from Arafat's regime. Many Palestinians wish they were back under Israeli rule.

IT: As a writer closely connected to the Palestinians, tell us, what do the Palestinian people feel?

Samir: I would be happy to introduce you to Palestinian families any time so  you can hear directly what they think of Arafat. They hate him, but they are defenseless.

IT: But the world is pushing Israel to negotiate with Arafat.

Samir: Israel played a role in making Arafat what he is today. Who is Arafat, anyway? He's a nobody, and he can be easily defeated. Israel should take back the Palestinian areas. Believe me, I'm not the only one who thinks this way. After what I went through, it's my obligation to tell the truth about Arafat and his gang.

IT: In other words, you would adopt a hard line against Arafat's regime?

Samir: Absolutely. Arafat always has been and still is a terrorist. But Israel is constantly mindful of protecting the innocent civilian population, the churches and mosques. And that's what will finally endanger Israel. Here speaks the Jewish heart! Israel wants to be the good guy in the fight but doesn't see how senseless this is because Arafat is going to continue the killing regardless.

IT: But Arafat promised to prevent terrorist attacks when he signed the Oslo Agreements. He even got weapons for that very purpose from Yitzhak Rabin.

Samir: That was one of Israel's biggest errors. How could Israel have believed that he would fight terror with those weapons instead of fighting Israel?

IT: In the areas under the Palestinian Authority, criticism of Arafat is increasing. Why does no one oust him?

Samir: Their fear of Arafat makes them think they have to throw stones at Jews, but they dare not overthrow him.

IT: At the Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, Zionism was equated with racism. As a Moslem, how do you see this?

Samir: That's absolute nonsense. Arafat is a murderer and a dictator, yet he preaches to the whole world about human rights-and the world buys it. It's simply unbelievable.

IT: Nevertheless, the international community seems to show more understanding for Arafat than for Israel.

Samir: They are simply blind. But it's partly Israel's fault. Shimon Peres thinks he can change the Arabs, and so he pulls Israel into a political trap. If I could trust anyone, it would only be Ariel Sharon. (IMRA Nov 12)

Palestine Report Interviews Graham Usher: Doubts Possible to Get Consensus in European Union to Impose Pressure on Israel

Palestine Report Online interviewed longtime British journalist in Jerusalem Graham Usher on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent visit to the region.

PR: What do you think Blair brought with him on his visit to Gaza and Israel?

Usher: I think it depends on what the expectations were. I think the Palestinians generally had expectations that he was bringing some kind of plan or initiative to restart the process. It is true that Britain has played quite an active role in the last couple of months in trying to get a ceasefire in place and then get the negotiating process back on track. What was said beforehand was that his role was to consolidate the ceasefire that had just begun with Bethlehem and Beit Jala and try to get the two sides on to the Mitchell process. And also of course to shore up the international coalition against Afghanistan. One area where Blair, or the Europeans, thought they might do this is Palestine. They can't really do much in Iraq because they are America's junior partner in the sanctions and bombings against Iraq. In other areas [in the region], they don't have the influence. So from America's and Britain's point of view, to end the violence here and get some kind of process would be demonstrating to the Arabs that their concerns are being taken into account.  It seems that Britain has been given the political role in this conflict.

PR: What exactly does that mean?

Usher: I think it means probably two things: at one level to try and get the process back, which basically means Mitchell or Tenet [Ed.'s note: The Mitchell committee recommendations and Tenet proposals are both American-led political proposals for returning to substantive negotiations].

But it's quite clear that [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat needs more than that. He can't really cool off the Intifada for a ceasefire or even for a settlement freeze. He needs some kind of diplomatic achievement. What the Palestinians are banking on is the idea of a Palestinian state - some kind of a  declaration. Their expectations were that Blair would say that because in London in October he announced that part of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a "viable Palestinian state." He then backed this up with the notion that it must be based on international legitimacy and he quoted [United Nations Security Council Resolutions] 242 and 338 - exactly what Arafat wants.

Publicly, Blair backtracked in this trip. He talked about a Palestinian state but he didn't mention the word "viable" and he didn't mention international resolutions. In his press conferences, he always says that the solution is a Palestinian state, alongside an Israel that is confident in its security and accepted in the region - i.e., a solution that predicates the notion of a Palestinian state on the notion of Israeli security.

So what seems to be emerging is that Arafat is looking for some kind of package that could get him into Mitchell, into Tenet and to cool off the Intifada. He is saying to the Americans and to the Europeans - what you are offering me at the moment is not enough. I need a return to international legitimacy, some notion of a Palestinian state based on United Nations resolutions. In the last few days, Arafat has suddenly come up with the demand that Palestinians want final status negotiations and to continue from the point left off in Taba. What he is trying to do is give content to the idea of a Palestinian state, which is different from [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's content. Sharon doesn't have a problem with a Palestinian state, as long as it composes some 45 percent of the West Bank. Knowing British diplomacy, they will try to come up with a formulation that is all things to all people. The easiest way of doing that is declaring a Palestinian state; the struggle between Sharon and Arafat is how you express that. Blair, in a classic kind of British way, hovered between the two: "yes" to a Palestinian state, as long as it accommodates Israel's security concerns.

PR: Traditionally, the United States plays this mediating role. Do you think the new reality created by September 11 has shifted the role to Britain?

Usher: My instinct is that America's basic attitude to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has not changed. The policy of this administration is that it is unsolvable as long as Sharon and Arafat are leaders. The American position is that Arafat was offered a good deal under a sympathetic Israeli government and an extremely sympathetic American president and Arafat rejected it. So the question is just one of damage limitation. If that is still the position, which I think it is, it has been complicated by the September 11 attacks to the extent that they have to take a more active interest in keeping things quiet because it could spoil all sorts of things for them. They have always known that Arafat wanted to internationalize the conflict and so they are giving him a carrot. They are saying, yes, the European Union can get involved, the British can get involved and we will work with them. I think what the Americans are basically saying is that as long as quiet results, if the Europeans or the British can do it better than us, let them do it. Plus, I think this administration doesn't have a lot of trust or liking for Sharon. They know that the Israelis are unhappy about anybody getting involved other than the Americans and in Sharon's case he doesn't even like the Americans getting involved. So it's like a small stick to beat the Israelis with - if you don't move, then we bring in the Europeans and the United Nations and give them more leverage.

PR: Do you think the British would be more capable in dealing with the conflict or are they more or less like the Americans?

Usher: I think generally they are more or less like the Americans. They may be more sympathetic and they certainly have more familiarity with the region, but if you look at British policy, it has seen its role from the outset of the peace process as a junior partnership with the Americans. The absolute consensus in Britain and in Europe is that only the US can deliver Israel. One point where the Palestinians and a lot of the Arabs make a fundamental mistake is that they view the European Union as a counterbalance to America, which is complete nonsense. EU olicy is made up of sovereign states, which means it's the politics of the lowest common denominator. They can all agree on a Palestinian state, on 242 and 338, etc. But when you ask them to give content to that, to impose pressure, it is very rare that you can get a consensus. (Palestine Report / JMCC Nov 7)


GA Misses Chance to Defy Terror Jerusalem Post   Editorial

Two months have passed since the horrific events of September 11, when 19 men armed with little more than box-cutters and fanatical views carried out the most appalling acts of terror in history. Pundits and commentators have labeled it "the day the world changed," citing the realignment of nations into two new categories - those who combat terror and those who espouse it - as but one example of the way in which the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks have forever altered the international arena.

As US President George W. Bush said in his address yesterday to the United Nations General Assembly, "We have a chance to write the story of our times, a story of courage defeating cruelty and light overcoming darkness. This calling is worthy of any life and worthy of every nation. So let us go forward, confident, determined, and unafraid." How the story of our times will in fact be written, though, remains an open question, with its outcome resting largely on the determination and resolve of the free world to defend itself. With uncertainties mounting about the future direction of the war on terror, and its impact on Israel and the Middle East, world Jewry has ample reason to be concerned about the challenges it will face in the months and years ahead. It is therefore all the more meaningful that the United Jewish Communities decided to proceed with its annual General Assembly (GA) of Jewish leaders, which opens today in Washington, DC.

Billed as the largest gathering of Jewish leaders from around the world, some 3,000 representatives from 189 Jewish federations across North America, as well as prominent Jews from Israel and elsewhere, will be in attendance. Sessions will be held, ideas will be exchanged and discussed, and information shared, with the intention being to provide Jewish decision-makers with the tools they need to tackle problems in their home communities. Since the GA's agenda is meant to be timely and relevant, it was perhaps inevitable that the events of September 11 would cast a shadow over the gathering. And that, indeed, is the case.

Attendance at this year's GA is down sharply from last year, when some 4,500 people participated. As Bruce Arbit, an officer of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said, "People don't want to fly, and people are worried about being in a large room with Jews... I don't think it's a sound fear. But I am hearing it." The steep decline in the number of participants at the GA is highly regrettable, because that is precisely what the terrorists aim to accomplish - to disrupt life in the West as much as possible and instill fear. Every effort should have been made to ensure that this year's GA would have a record turn-out, if only to send a message to the terrorists that world Jewry would not be intimidated. In that sense, the GA has already proved to be a missed opportunity, one that might have resounded far beyond the walls of the conference rooms where it is taking place.

More importantly, however, is that the war on terrorism will no doubt push aside many of the other pressing issues confronting Jewry, such as intermarriage and assimilation. A new study conducted by the Center for Jewish Studies at the City University of New York has found that intermarriage among American Jews is on the rise, and that some 1.4 million American Jews now identify themselves as members of a non-Jewish religion. These shocking statistics raise serious questions regarding the future of American Jewry, and underline the fact that assimilation poses a far graver threat to its survival than even Osama bin Laden.

The ongoing Palestinian violence against Israel, as well as the Bush administration's dubious response, also demand the attention of American Jewry, which needs to raise its voice loudly and firmly against Yasser Arafat and his campaign of terror. Indeed, most American Jewish federations continue to refuse to give money to Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, despite their having borne the brunt of the Palestinian violence of the past 13 months.

This year's gathering of the GA presents its participants with an auspicious opportunity to do away with this boycott once and for all. For if world Jewry is to succeed in confronting the challenges posed by the events of the past year, and particularly September 11, the policy of differentiating between Jew and Jew must finally come to an end.  (Jerusalem Post Nov 11)

Let's Have a 'Sensitive' War  By John Leo

By late 1942, after Adolf Hitler had invaded most of the nations of Europe, relentlessly bombed England, and declared war on the United States, the vexing question naturally arose: What's better, to fight back or to sit down and study the root causes of Germany's behavior?

Some impetuous students simply rushed off campus to defend their homelands. But their professors knew that many semester hours of causal analysis lay ahead, especially since several very promising root-cause seminars in Poland and Belgium had been interrupted by Panzer divisions rolling through on their way to Paris.

The root-causists agreed that Germany had been badly misunderstood and that Britain and America had brought the terror of war upon themselves. Some pointed to misguided policies--not handing over the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia to Hitler quickly enough, for example. Others thought the deepest roots of the root causes were in the 12th century. That was when the Teutonic knights were treated discourteously by newly Christianized Slavs, thus setting the stage for a perfectly understandable "religious war" between the pagan Nazis and majority Christian nations eight centuries later.

One problem with the growing sympathy for Hitler was the unsettling news that the Nazis were rounding up and killing Jews, some 6 million of them. But the Episcopal bishops of the United States were able to put this in perspective. In a soothing formal statement titled "Wage Reconciliation, Not War," they said that while killing so many people is surely not a good thing, it is also true that 6 million children die of natural causes every few years without attracting nearly as much attention.

When President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill put together their "broad coalition" to fight Hitler, they ran into unexpected problems. One ally said it would fight only if the war could end within two months. A few wanted a cash payoff before joining up. One was willing to fight without a bribe but would cease fighting if it didn't like the looks of the probable postwar government in Norway. And one said, we are with you all the way, but we can't send troops and you can't use our airfields or our airspace. And please don't mention that we're on your side.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Allies had to confront the ticklish question of whether to suspend the bombing of Germany during Oktoberfest. The Nazis, in fact, had already killed several million people during previous October beer-drinking festivals, but they were known to be very much opposed to being shot at themselves during this culturally important period. "What's next? Bombing during Lent?" asked a New York Times editorial. It appeared under the headline "Let's Bomb, but Sensitively."

Several papers ran daily photographs of dead German children, helpfully provided by Berlin. As a result, some columnists pronounced themselves shocked into second thoughts. Nobody had told them that children sometimes die in war. They had been led to believe that Allied bombs, though dropped from 30,000 feet, would fall only upon the heads of German troops and Nazi-armband wearers.

Another problem was that German saboteurs were known to be crawling all over America, but the FBI was reluctant to arrest any lest it be accused of "racial profiling" or outright ethnic insensitivity. Besides, if you started arresting German-Americans, German speakers all around the world and all students who had ever studied German or visited Germany would hate Americans forever. National Public Radio weighed in with a 19-part series reporting widespread bias against German-Americans. The series said Americans of German descent had been targets of 100,000 hate crimes--two had been shot at, three had suffered punches in the nose, one had been slapped with a bratwurst, and 99,994 had received hurtful sidelong glances or insincere hellos from neighbors.

NPR also announced it had decided to cover the war by attending every meeting of the Berkeley, Calif., city council. NPR reported that the council, by a 7-to-2 vote, decided not to declare war on either Germany or Japan. Instead, the nine members--and all 10,000 students at Berkeley--lighted candles and declared themselves individual hate-free zones.

Somehow, however, America and Britain won the war and established the peace, probably because they ignored all the amazing nonsense around them and just fought the good fight. But then some people always prefer standing around with scented candles instead of attacking the darkness.   ( Nov 12)

Allowing Israel to Destroy the PLO Helps Defend the U.S.

By Andrew Bernstein

Israel is America's military and cultural front line against terrorism.

It is time that the United States recognize the true nature of Yasser Arafat and his regime. The PLO has been engaged in a terror campaign against Israel for decades, and today supports fanatical suicide bombers, who deliberately target and murder innocent civilians. The recent murder of the Israeli minister of tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, was made possible by Arafat's refusal to end the terror campaign. Now, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—Zeevi's murderers—vows to destroy "the entire Zionist political echelon." Arafat, while protesting that he wants an end to violence, refuses to take any meaningful action against them.

Nor have Arafat's terrorist activities been directed exclusively against Israel. He has for many years showed his hatred of America, as when he had George Curtis Moore and Cleo Allen Noel—two U.S. diplomats in Sudan—murdered on March 3, 1973. Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid, the PLO supplied weapons to the Shiite terrorists who murdered 241 American Marines in Beirut in 1983. Additionally, they harbored terrorists who collaborated with bin Laden's 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. And have we forgotten the PLO's 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair-bound American passenger aboard the Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro?

And Arafat uses brutal force against his own subjects as well. Under the PLO, no one—Muslim or otherwise—possesses any rights. Not only is the PLO a relentless oppressor of the Palestinian Christian minority, but also of their fellow Muslims. A recent case in point is that of Zuhir Hamdan, a Palestinian mayor of a village in Jerusalem's suburbs, who openly stated that the people of his village preferred to live under the Israelis not Arafat. The PLO shot and gravely injured Hamdan for his views.

The United States has learned a horribly painful lesson about terrorism: appeasement only invites more and worse attacks. The atrocities of September 11 were merely the latest and most egregious attacks against us by Islamic terrorists. They have murdered U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen—and we have done nothing to defend ourselves. For the same reason that we are now reversing our policy of appeasement and defending ourselves with force, we should allow and encourage Israel to defend itself with force.

For years, the U.S. government has pressured Israel into suicidal negotiations with the PLO. Israel had Arafat and his organization surrounded south of Beirut in 1982, and was ready to eradicate the terrorists, but was restrained by President Reagan, who pressured the Israelis to allow Arafat and his organization safe passage to Tunisia. Despite the price paid in blood by innocent Israelis and Americans, the Bush administration continues to urge Israel to withdraw its troops from the West Bank and to exercise "restraint." But Arafat's organization supports bin Laden's quest to destroy America, and it is consequently as much in our interest for the Israelis to eliminate the PLO as it is for us to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaida.

For several compelling reasons the United States must desist from restraining Israel. The destruction of the PLO will weaken terrorists who hate the United States. It will strengthen Israel, our sole ally in the area, who will no longer have to live under the daily threat of terrorism. And the PLO's demise will prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, which given Arafat's hostility to the West, would only add another sovereign nation to those already supporting terrorism.

An Israel free to defend itself is both an ally the United States can trust and a military outpost from which we can strike back at those who attack us. Given that the Saudis and other Arab nations have shown themselves to be at best unreliable allies in the war against terrorism and at worst part of the problem, this is an important consideration.

There are also deeper moral reasons for setting Israel free to defend itself. The United States government needs to understand that more than Israel and America are under attack by terrorist organizations and regimes: Western Civilization is. Our murderous and tyrannical enemies are strongly committed to their anti-Western ideology. At its deepest level, this is a struggle between two philosophies and two civilizations. Western Civilization is vastly superior to Islamic culture in its ability to promote man's life on earth. But the terrorists are morally committed to their philosophy. Are we committed to ours? The U.S. government must fight this war in the name of the right and supremacy of Western Civilization.

Israel is the lone country in the Middle East that stands for freedom, individual rights, secularism, reason, science and prosperity. Every Arab government is a dictatorship—be it a monarchy, theocracy or military state. Only in Israel is there freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of religion and the right to private property. The honest, non-violent Arab living in Israel enjoys far greater freedom than he would under any Arab regime, including the PLO. Israel, as the sole Western nation in that region, must be encouraged to apply its military superiority to achieve victory over the terrorists.

Permitting the Israelis to defeat the PLO and to fight terrorists is good for the United States, both militarily and morally. We will then have an effective, trustworthy ally fighting by our side. More important, it will show the world that we are committed to the values of Western Civilization, that we will defend them to our last breath, and that we will not yield. Such uncompromising commitment to freedom and to Western values is a weapon far more powerful than any in our nuclear arsenal.

The writer, a Ph.D. in philosophy, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute.   (Ayn Rand Institute Nov 8)

The 'Good' Terrorist By Seth And Sherri Mandell

Six months ago, on May 8, Palestinian terrorists slaughtered our son Koby, 13, and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran, 14. The two boys, who played hooky from 8th grade to go hiking in a dry riverbed a half a kilometer from our home in Israel, were found with their heads crushed and bodies mutilated beyond recognition. The killers dipped their hands into the boys' blood and smeared it on the walls of the cave where the boys were found. 

Koby was both an American and an Israeli citizen. He loved Cal Ripken, Michael Jordan, making chocolate milk shakes for the whole family and studying the logic of the Talmud. He was almost finished with 8th grade, and had just started to care about the way he looked. He was kind and athletic and funny, and he was smart, smart enough to understand the way that language affects perception. What we call or name an action often determines how we perceive it. 

In a stunning and painful development, many American newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have bought the Palestinian propaganda line that murderers who kill innocent Israelis like Koby are not terrorists trying to instill fear and demoralize a civilian population, but rather "militants" who are engaged in a campaign of warfare against a repressive government.  

According to this line of reasoning, our son and other children like him are killed not by terrorists - but by Palestinian "militants." Militants are engaged in combat, in military action, ready to give up their lives to attack the enemy.

According to this line of reasoning, our son and other children like him were killed not by cowardly and immoral terrorists - but by brave and honorable Palestinian militants. 

Militants are soldiers engaged in war, even if the people they are fighting aren't old enough to shave.

Calling Palestinian terrorists militants justifies the actions of people like Sheikh Yassin of Hamas and Marwan Barghouti of the Tanzim who eagerly send Palestinians to die "nobly" for their cause, targeting Israeli children, like the 14- and 16-year-olds killed last week in Jerusalem. The two were on the way home from school. They were riding a public bus filled with other high school students when a terrorist opened fire with an M16. The shooter killed the two teenagers and wounded 50 others.

On the day of the shooting, the headlines in The New York Times and elsewhere reported that the attack had been perpetrated by Palestinian militants. In the morning, those militants had been transformed into gunmen - an even more offensive term, with its old-fashioned atmosphere and vapid neutrality. The word is blameless, a description rather than a definition. A man with a gun, engaged in illegal activity. Illegal, but not necessarily immoral. 

WHAT HAS happened to the word terrorist - inflicting terror, horror, pain to create overwhelming fear? Why are these men called by innocuous labels when their goal is to kill and maim as many innocent people as they can? And what about terrorism - a system of inflicting terror on a particular population? Why has that word suddenly been excised from the political rhetoric about Palestinians? 

Let us not excuse leaders who extol death by suicide bombing or who encourage their people to spray bullets into a crowd of innocent children on their way home from school. And let us not mistake terrorism as a random event rather than as a institutionalized system of intimidation. 

Palestinian leaders consciously inculcate the culture of terrorism in their society. That's one reason why polls indicate that more than 75% of the population favor suicide bombings. That's why on the evening of September 11, Palestinians were dancing in the street, celebrating because nearly 6,000 people had been struck down by a "militant" plot on American soil. That's why Palestinians accord rock star status to suicide bombers who die a "martyr's" death. It's a message that legitimizes terrorists like the one who blew up the Sbarro pizza parlor, killing our friend Frimet Roth's 15-year-old daughter, Malky, a flute player and poet. 

The Palestinians celebrated the Sbarro bombing by opening an exhibition at an Islamic university, where there was a cardboard cutout of the Sbarro storefront, and fake blood spilled onto the ground. This is how the Palestinian students learn to glorify the systematized "martyrdom" of good "militants."  

Make no mistake about it. Our son Koby was killed by terrorists. We beg you, do not whitewash that fact. Do not justify our son's murder. 

And do not jeopardize America's moral fight against terrorism by calling the Palestinians who killed Koby, Yosef,  and the others resistance fighters, instead of calling them what they are: cruel, callous, child-killing terrorists with blood on their hands and hate seared into their hearts.(Jerusalem Post Nov 13)

An Arab Marshall Plan By Shlomo Avineri

In a recent article in Al-Ahram, Edward Said raised, for once, a question which most Arab governments and intellectuals seldom address:

"We must start thinking about ourselves as responsible for the poverty, illiteracy, and repression that have come to dominate our societies, evils that we have allowed to grow despite our complaints about Zionism and imperialism."

With most of the terrorists who struck New York and Washington on September 11 being Saudis and Egyptians, this is the right question to ask. What is it - not in Islam, but in the realities of the Arab world - that drives so many young, relatively well-educated people, to such acts of criminality?

Said points in the right direction: It must be something within Arab societies - the internal gap between rich and poor Arab countries that is the cause of this anger.

The Arab world would undoubtedly be a different place today if over the last few decades the Saudis - rather than investing their oil income in the West, squandering it on superfluous and useless hi-tech armaments, or flaunting it in Cairo nightclubs - would have invested at least a part of it in helping poor Arab countries, especially Egypt, develop economically and socially. Jointly, Egypt and Saudi Arabia could have become the Japan or the South Korea of the Middle East, instead of the dysfunctional societies each of them now is.

What makes many young, socially motivated people in the Arab world so angry at the Saudis is also the fact that the House of Saud views itself as the Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines of Mecca and Medina. Many young Arab

intellectuals must feel about this like the young Luther felt about the rich and hypocritical Renaissance Papacy - the Whore of Babylon.

The same, of course, goes for the Kuwaitis, and explains why many educated Arabs, who might have otherwise felt disgust for Saddam's regime, still rejoiced when his legions invaded Kuwait: the rich Kuwaitis, unwilling to share their wealth, finally got their comeuppance.

SINCE SEPTEMBER 11, pundits and scholars have pointed to poverty as one of the causes of terrorism. Yes, poverty is among the causes for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism: but it is not the gap between the West and the Third World which is crucial here, but the internal Arab gap. After all, the Arab region is home to some of the richest countries of the world, living next door to some of the poorest Arab societies. In the 1950s and 1960s, such gaps would turn young people to communism or Nasserism. These options are not relevant anymore - so they turn to extremist Islam.

Arab regimes are loath to address this issue. It is much easier to blame the Americans, the Zionists, the West, globalization. It is also easier to mouth platitudes about the plight of the Palestinians; and to distract attention from their own failings, so-called moderate Arab governments (e.g. Egypt and Saudi Arabia) call for a speedy resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Granted, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is advisable on its own merits, but would it alleviate poverty, injustice and anger in the Arab world?

What should happen now, if one wants to address the root causes of terrorism, is to establish an Arab Marshall Plan, funded by the oil-rich Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, which would invest in countries such as Egypt, and begin the process of the redistribution of wealth among and within the Arab countries themselves.

For once, one should listen to Said. In their ongoing dialogue with the Saudis, the US administration should tell their interlocutors clearly and unequivocally: "Reform, and quickly. You have exported your internal social injustices onto the world scene. It is in your own best interests not to have too many hungry and poor Arab societies next door to you. Share your wealth - or eventually, you will go under." Harsh words, but true.

So long as the oil flowed, and the regimes were stable, the West could close its eyes to the glaring injustices in the Arab world. No more. Now the time has come for a change, based on Arab solidarity.

If this does not happen, Saudi Arabia will continue to be a destabilizing element in the region, and any victory over Osama bin Laden would be a hollow one.  (Jerusalem Post Nov 14)

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