August 11, 2001
by Alexander Rose
Israel this week witnessed one of the deadliest bomb attacks in 10 months of violence. Alexander Rose looks at what drives the hate
Getting to Yes is the title of a well-known book instructing its readers in the ways and means of negotiating a satisfactory compromise between two sides. The book assumes that each side sincerely wants to strike a deal, accepts the legitimacy of the opponent, recognizes the validity of the other's arguments, and regards any resulting compromise as final. This is an eminently rational and liberal method to reconcile conflicting interests.
Attempts to introduce the Getting to Yes way as a means of resolving the Arab-Israeli dilemma have been made for nigh on half a century, yet the likelihood of a satisfactory compromise seems dimmer than ever.
The real reason for this failure lies deeper than merely differences over Getting to Yes. Whereas one side desperately wants peace, acknowledges the other's legitimacy, respects its validity, and has offered immense concessions, the other side refuses to recognize its opponent's existence, its legitimacy (let alone validity) and blatantly declares its desire to annihilate it.
Even if a compromise were achieved, hints the latter, it would simply be a tactical respite before the strategy of destruction is resumed at a more propitious moment. To have a chance of achieving a general Middle Eastern peace, the Arab/Muslim states are first going to have convince themselves that they want to start considering even thinking about getting to yes.
Here in Washington, an independent, non-profit organization called the Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) performs the sterling task of translating Arabic-language newspaper articles. These MEMRI transcripts are not excerpts from weird fringe publications and do not quote random lunatics muttering on street corners. Rather, they are directly translated from articles appearing prominently in the mainstream Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian press -- the National Posts of the Middle East, if you like -- or from public pronouncements by prominent politicians and clerics. Many of the op-eds are written by the cream of the Muslim intelligentsia and by high-ranking government figures. In other words, we can glimpse what passes for normal, civilized, balanced, rational discourse.
The sheer accumulation of MEMRI material, and the picture which consequently emerges of what the Arab countries are really thinking, should finally explode the naive and uninformed news coverage of the Middle East peace process which appears in most media outlets.
To take just one example, another organization, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has noticed a remarkable instance of the difference between what is said there and what is reported here. On Oct. 24 last year, The New York Times reported a speech as follows: "Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews" proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque.
It is a nasty little slur, granted, but, according to the broadcast on official Palestinian television, here is what the sheik actually said: "They are the ones who must be butchered and killed, as Allah the Almighty said: 'Fight them; Allah will torture them at your hands, and will humiliate them ...' Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them."
Analytically speaking, the greater part of the MEMRI translations tend to fall into three categories:
(c) Final Solution.
A primordial anti-Semitism is taken as read in the Arab Middle East, often masquerading as being scientifically derived or based on scholarship. Last December, Hassan Sweilem, a reserve general in the Egyptian army, contributed a two-part series to the government-sponsored weekly, October titled The Jewish Personality and the Israeli Action. According to Gen. Sweilem, "historians, race-studies professors and sociologists agree that humanity ... has never known a race such as the Jewish race in which so many bad qualities -- base and loathsome -- have been gathered." One particular quality distinguishes the Jews from other races: "Whenever they gathered in a particular place and felt comfortable there, they turned the place into a den of evil, corruption, incitement to internal strife, and the spreading of wars." There follows an idiosyncratic history of "the Jews' plots and traps" since the time of the Assyrians, the basic thrust of which is to justify their annihilation, expulsion, captivity and exile: these took place, says the general, "when the [host] peoples felt endangered." Among the typical "Jewish characteristics" are violation of agreements, constant paranoia and reliance on lies as a means of achieving goals".
An editorial in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad weekly, Al-Istiqlal (Feb. 26, 1999), shows that Gen. Sweilem is not entirely alone in these sentiments. Hence, "[Jews] were made of treachery and deceit and were marked by perfidy and treason ... Their love of life and of money pushed them to collect illegal usury." Further, "the evil rooted in the depths of their souls and their pressing desire to accumulate money in order to satisfy their unrestrained passions toward evil [and] their inclination to destruction" drive the Jews into "continuous aggression."
Even more medieval is the resurrection of the "blood-libel" myth which pops up frequently in Syrian and Egyptian papers. A few months ago, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Said Al-Kurdi alleged in the Egyptian government daily, Al-Akhbar, that "the Talmud, the second holiest book for the Jews, determines that the 'matzahs' of Atonement Day [i.e., Yom Kippur] must be kneaded with blood from a non-Jew. The preference is for the blood of youths after raping them!!." The writer, it might be noticed, has confused "Atonement Day" with Passover, the holiday when matzahs, made of flour and water, are eaten. In this instance, the good doctor was repeating the allegations made in a 1983 book, The Matzah of Zion, written by the Syrian Minister of Defence, Field Marshal Mustafa Tlass, one of the highest-ranking members of the Syrian Ba'athist regime. Currently, there are reports that an Egyptian producer wants to turn the story into a movie. Mr. Tlass has pledged to donate his profits to the Palestinian uprising.
In official Palestinian schoolbooks, it is de rigeur to teach ninth-graders that "treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews and therefore one should beware of them." They are also "thieving conquerors" who must be erased from Palestine (in maps in Palestinian Authority textbooks, "Israel" does not exist), and any ancient connection between the Jews and the Holy Land is omitted. Thus, an eighth-grade literary text denies any link between the Wailing (or Western) Wall and Judaism: it's just a wall.
These sentiments, while illuminating, are not particularly original. A more interesting note is struck when the writers use their own anti-Semitism to springboard into the realm of conspiracy theory. Thus, with utter seriousness, last year an investigative report in the Egyptian government weekly, Al-Ahram, "revealed" that the Jews dished the chances of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Ahmad Zuweil to be proclaimed Scientist of the Century.
"No one could have imagined that Zionism would [again] perform its usual trick in marginalizing and minimizing the achievement of this extraordinary Egyptian scientist. As they could not find any competitor with him from his own generation, nor any weak point, they rummaged around in graves and resurrected the dead to bring up the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein as the scientific personality of the 20th century."
The government weekly, Akher Sa'ah, charges that the "huge Zionist propaganda machine" is "forging" Egyptian history by claiming that the pyramids were built by "aliens from other planets and extraterrestrial cultures." The opposition daily, Al-Wafd, reported that a "Jewish Company" is starving Egyptian babies of milk by causing prices to rise.
In Iran, the government has published the notorious Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with its own helpful commentary: As revealed in the Protocols' nefarious blueprint for Jewish world-domination, "a boundless passion for usurpation and hegemony is typical of these professional criminals of history; a passion which they try to satisfy through their fickle logic of 'From the Nile to the Euphrates.' " Indeed, "for the last 35 years, in conspiration with the equally murderous superpowers, they have been getting closer and closer to their devilish objective."
Naser Ahmad, an official at the PA's Orwellian "Political Guidance Directorate," observed in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida newspaper, has observed "a survey conducted by [Jewish] scholars, on the legacy and customs of non-Jewish nations, taught them that the latter were afraid of money and sex. These are exactly the two instruments Zionists use. First, they have propagated Freemasonry and Rotary Clubs all over the world, in order to hunt for influential people ... Zionists trap [them] due to their circumstances, shortsightedness and greed." Indeed, it appears that President Clinton, apparently being blackmailed over his sexual relationships, fell victim to the Jew hounds: "He started complying with the dicta of World Zionism" and his Middle Eastern policy accordingly discriminated against Muslims.
In recent years, there has been a shift away from these dated allegations toward Holocaust denial in the Arab press, which habitually run respectful pieces on so-called historians who believe there was no such thing as the Holocaust, or if there was, it is exaggerated. Holocaust denial in the Middle East is not merely anti-Semitic, however, but serves to sever the link between attempted annihilation and the post-War desire of the Jews for a safe homeland promised to them in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Thus, if the "Holocaust Myth" is a conspiracy, then so too must be the establishment of Israel; and if a state is built and sustained on a Big Lie, then it is illegitimate. And if a state is illegitimate yet thrives, as does Israel, then its continued success must be due to the plotting of outsiders and devilish cabals to undermine the virtuous Arab states.
Holocaust denial articles typically begin with an error-filled rundown of "Jewish Control of the World Media" (see Seif Ali Al-Jarwan's article in the largest PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July, 15, 1998, which erroneously claims that Rupert Murdoch is an Australian-based Jew). Thanks to their octopus-like tentacles of control over what we see, hear and read, the Jews have been able "to change their obscene image" from being "ugly and vile" to "wise, courageous, ingenious, dextrous, and ambitiously innovative." It was left to Hitler to "expose the Jewish plot" by persecuting them.
Nevertheless, "world public opinion, manipulated by the Jews, took advantage of these [persecutions], disseminating stories about a collective massacre. They concocted horrible stories of gas chambers which Hitler, they claimed, used to burn them alive. The press overflowed with pictures of Jews being gunned down by Hitler's machine guns or being pushed into gas chambers ... The truth is that such persecution was a malicious fabrication by the Jews. It is a myth which they named 'The Holocaust' in order to rouse empathy."
According to Syrian texts, such as an article in the official English-language Syria Times by Mohammad Daoud titled "Holocaust!!!?? Again" (Sept. 6, 2000), gas chambers "only existed for purification ... clothes and personal tools were put in [them] to sterilize them" as "the Germans were afraid of diseases and infestation of lice." Indeed, Adolf Eichmann was one of "the most important Nazi friends of the Zionists." Despite the lies and deceits propagated by the Zionist Imperialists, "since the invention of this word [Holocaust], they have been living on it and blackmailing the whole world" to justify their presence in Palestine.
It seems much of the Arab press is pessimistic about being able to expose the Jewish conspiracy. Instead, more extreme measures are needed to oust the liars from Palestine. As the Iranian government puts it, "it should be strongly emphasized that as long as the root of this deadly, cancerous tumour, Zionism, is not burned and wholly destroyed, peace and tranquility will never prevail in the region."
A 1998 interview in Al-Istiqlal with Dr. Salim Al-Awa, a Palestinian intellectual living in Egypt, quoted him as saying (this was before the outbreak of the recent uprising): "I believe that it is the duty of Muslims to act in every possible way to acquire weapons of mass destruction, starting with nuclear weapons and ending with biological and chemical weapons. The fragile peace between Israel and us [will continue] unless we achieve this weapon. However, we do not want this peace. We want it to end and be annihilated; we want the State of Israel to cease to exist and the State of Palestine to be established in its place."
Alternatively, according to Dr. Wahid Abd Al-Magid, editor of Al-Ahram's "Arab Strategic Report" (quoted in London-based Al-Hayat, July, 29, 2001), "we are capable of increasing the demographic threat against Israel, if we demonstrate the necessary determination." Basically, the Arab states must focus on acquiring a Right of Return for millions of Palestinians to the territories. This influx, combined with the high Palestinian birth rate, will be enough by 2035 to outnumber Jews drastically. "Therefore, there is a possibility that Israel would have to expose its racism and try, in vain, to hide [the scale of this phenomenon] through policies of denying some of the social rights of the 1948 Palestinians, or through various oppressive measures." This would provide an excellent excuse for a "serious Arab action" (i.e., a general Middle East war) to save the Palestinians.
First things first, however. The current goal should be "an organized action to ... renew the UN resolution that equates Zionism with racism, in order to exercise external pressure on Tel Aviv that will decrease its ability to carry out domestic measures [to counter] that demographic threat." In fact, "today, there are Arab efforts to launch a campaign against Israel in the UN International Conference Against Racism ... in South Africa. This should be the beginning of a continuous action and not a seasonal action that will end with the conference."
The repulsive sentiments so freely expressed in the Arab press present a fascinating flashback to the European past, when caricatures of Jews as money-grubbing, hook-nosed, diabolically-clever aliens were common. But while the West has left these crudities behind, the Arab world has embraced them. The reason for this newfound prevalence lies in the backwardness of Arab politics, which remain frozen in a pan-nationalist, aggressive, authoritarian, Leftist time warp.
In this respect, the publication of the Arabic translation of Mein Kampf in the PA (it reached number 6 on the best-seller lists) is illuminating. In the introduction, its translator, Luis Al-Haj, admiringly noted that "we made a point to deliver Hitler's opinions and theories on nationalism, regimes and ethnicity without any changes because they are not yet outmoded and because we, in the Arab world, still proceed haphazardly in all three fields."
Yet, despite all the golden promises of their leaders -- the Assads, the Arafats and Nasser/Mubaraks -- Arab countries are poor, oppressed, nervous, pitiful places that can only stare enviously at Israel, a country which enjoys a standard of living approaching that of Canada. Unlike its neighbours, Israel is a thriving, noisy democracy with a high-tech sector greater in absolute terms than any other country apart from the United States. Fifty years ago, that land was a desert. It has never lost a war.
In order to prevent their populations from raising difficult questions about their own governments' incompetence, the authoritarian regimes have relied on finding a permanent enemy to ensure a constant state of war. Crucially, moreover, they must provide a credible reason explaining their failures. Hence the emphasis on conspiracy theories, which deflect blame to a phantasmagorical cabal plotting against all Arabs. It is interesting that in a successful, vibrant Middle East state such as Turkey, the newspapers do not give play to talk of Zionist domination.
It is interesting, too, that in the Middle Ages, when many European anti-Semitic attitudes were formed, Muslims had no time for conspiracy theories. At the time, Islam was extraordinarily dynamic, immensely civilized and all-conquering from Spain to India. So confident were Muslims at their divinely blessed worldly success they ignored European technological and military developments. It was only after 1798, when Napoleon conquered Egypt, that conspiracy-theorizing set in to explain the slow erosion of Ottoman power and the rise of the "Northern Savages." After the establishment of Israel, and the subsequent stream of failures, these paranoid imaginings were transferred onto the Jews.
Occasionally, thankfully, one can hear the voice of sanity sounding clearly amid the clamour for destruction. In Al-Hayat (Feb. 28, 2001), the columnist Hazem Saghia observed, "the modern world is engaged in an unprecedented technological and communications revolution. [But] we are busy with questions and concerns that belong to the Cold War or to the time of creation of independent [Arab] states in the 1940s, or the first encounter between the Arab world and the West in the late 19th century."
"We gave priority to a policy of confrontation [with Israel] while postponing progress in the hope of completely achieving our rights. In order to justify this approach we said that progress is against us and is intended to plunder our treasures. Since then the treasures have diminished and so did progress, as well as our rights. Only dictatorship is spreading ... "
Until the disease of conspiracy, and the suicidal idea that a gigantic war will provide the Final Solution it engenders, is eliminated, Arab-Israeli peace negotiations are not going to get anywhere --let alone to Yes.