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Israel is the Opium of the People and Other Taboos

Collective amnesia in the Middle East is leading to moral bankruptcy.

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“Why aren’t you as an Arab lady writing about Gaza?”
“Where are your columns about Gaza?”
“Say the Israelis are wrong!”

The messages started to arrive soon after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed close to 300 Palestinians. Implicit was the pressure to toe the party line, Hamas is good, Israel is bad. Say it, say it! Or else you’re not Arab enough, you’re not Muslim enough, you’re not enough.

But what to say about a conflict that for more than 60 years now has fed Arab and Israeli senses of victimhood and their respective demands to stop everything else we’re doing and pay attention to their fights because what’s the slaughter of anyone else – be they in Darfur, Congo or anywhere else – compared to their often avoidable bloodletting?

Hasn’t it all been said before? Has nothing been learned?

And then the suicide cyclist in Iraq made me snap and I had to write, not to take sides but to lament the moral bankruptcy that is born from the amnesia rife in the Middle East.

On Sunday, a man on a bicycle blew himself up in the middle of an anti-Israel demonstration in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The technique legitimized and blessed by clerics throughout the Arab world as a weapon against Israel had gone haywire and was used against Arabs protesting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

That twisted and morbid full circle completed on the streets of Mosul can be captured only by paraphrasing Karl Marx - Israel is the opium of the people.

What else explains the collective amnesia on display this weekend in the Middle East?

Has Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni forgotten already that just last year she was close to ousting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his handling of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon launched under very similar circumstances to those that preceded the bombardment of Gaza? And yet there she was making the rounds of U.S. Sunday news shows to explain why Israel had to act against the Muslim militant Hamas movement in power in Gaza.

Does Israel want to make heroes of Hamas in the way it did Hizbollah? What has been achieved from the blockade of Gaza except for suffering of civilians whose leaders care for them as little as Israel does?

Talking about Hizbollah and unwise leaders, has Hassan Nasrallah forgotten that while he rails against Egypt for aiding the blockade of Gaza that he lives in a country, Lebanon, keeps generations of Palestinian refugees in camps that serve as virtual jails?

And the demonstrators in Jordan and Lebanon? Who reminds them that in 1970, Jordan killed tens of thousands as it tried to control Palestinian groups based there, forcing the Palestine Liberation Army into Lebanon where in 1982, the Phalangists, Christian Lebanese militiamen, slaughtered 3,000 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camp?

Not a single Phalangist has been held accountable for that massacre. An Israeli state inquiry in 1983 found Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, indirectly responsible for the killings at the refugee camps during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But don’t hold your breath for an Arab inquiry. It is Israel that gives sense to our victimhood. The horrors we visit upon each other are irrelevant.

It is difficult to criticize Palestinians when so many have died this weekend but the Hamas rulers of Gaza are just the latest of their leaders to fail them. For those of us who long to separate religion from politics, Hamas has given the truth to the fear that Islamists care more about facing down Israel than taking care of their people. The Palestinians of Gaza are victims equally of Hamas and Israel.

Where was the anger when two Palestinian schoolgirls were killed in Gaza when Hamas rockets meant for Israel misfired, just a day before Israel’s bombardment?

As for my country of birth, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, in power for more than 27 years, has presided over a disastrous policy that on the one hand maintains a 1979 peace treaty his predecessor Anwar Sadat signed with Israel and on the other unleashes state-owned media fury at Israel that has fanned a near-hysterical hatred for the country among ordinary Egyptians.

Yes, Israel’s occupation of Arab land angers Egyptians but there is absolutely no space in Egyptian media, culture or intellectual circles for discussing Israel as anything but an enemy. And neither is there an attempt to forge it.

And now Mubarak, old, tired and out of new ideas, is reaping a policy that plays all sides against each other in an attempt to make his regime indispensable.

But my question to Egyptians and others across the region incensed at Israel is where is their anger at the human rights violations, torture, and oppression in their respective countries? If such large crowds turned out onto Arab capitals every week, they could’ve toppled their dictators years ago!

It is the ultimate dishonor to the memory of Palestinians killed this weekend to call for more violence. It has failed to deliver for 60 years.

We honor the dead by smashing through the region’s amnesia until we break through to the taboos and continue to smash. Talking to Hamas? Israel should do it if it will end the violence. Focusing on internal issues in each Arab country and ignoring the opium that is Israel? Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians et al should do it before their respective states fail for the sake of Palestine.

Palestinians still have no state. What a shame it would be for one Arab state after the other to fail in the name of Palestine.

_Mona Eltahawy is a columnist for Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar's Al Arab. She is based in New York City.
www.monaeltahawy.com | www.monaeltahawy.com/blog

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132 comments on the article “Israel is the Opium of the People and Other Taboos”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 132

Page 1 of 14

Turka

No electric, no heat, can you feel their cold?
what is a supermarket? what is a baby food?
couple of doctors without medicines
UN attempts to help but US says no let it go
is it your sixty something dad who got killed by a shrapnel today
whose house was it that has lost a wall but curtains still hanging
sir, your car has been crushed by a tank, did you have insurance?
beasts have no reason even if they have uniforms, fuck them all
Can You? feel your humanity or your bestiality is in charge as usual
as usual looking around to curse someone
this is a chance to cut through your shell
and cry as if its your blood seeping from your heart

Turka

No electric, no heat, can you feel their cold?
what is a supermarket? what is a baby food?
couple of doctors without medicines
UN attempts to help but US says no let it go
is it your sixty something dad who got killed by a shrapnel today
whose house was it that has lost a wall but curtains still hanging
sir, your car has been crushed by a tank, did you have insurance?
beasts have no reason even if they have uniforms, fuck them all
Can You? feel your humanity or your bestiality is in charge as usual
as usual looking around to curse someone
this is a chance to cut through your shell
and cry as if its your blood seeping from your heart

I am so wise

Finally, there is something worth reading on this site. I say this despite disagreeing with a great deal of what she has written like the presumed relevance of Jordan’s suppression of the Palestinians in the 1970s or the premise that Israel is the “opiate of the people. Personally, I think the history is largely irrelevant and is a mere resource used in modern political struggles that can be easily escaped by simply choosing to disregard it. But still, it’s an all right article.

I am so wise

Finally, there is something worth reading on this site. I say this despite disagreeing with a great deal of what she has written like the presumed relevance of Jordan’s suppression of the Palestinians in the 1970s or the premise that Israel is the “opiate of the people. Personally, I think the history is largely irrelevant and is a mere resource used in modern political struggles that can be easily escaped by simply choosing to disregard it. But still, it’s an all right article.

Yitzak Shamir

Uh..yeah. and Martin Luther King wasn't guilty of adultery.
Look Mona darling no one suggests that anyone is perfect and it'd be extremely naive to do so as you rosily opine. The Allied forces were not perfect in their toppling of Hitler and likely committed heinous crimes against humanity. See anyone talk about them though? Or how the Nazis should never have been defeated if it couldn't be done on the highest of moral grounds and without any blood spilled?
Would that we lived in a perfect Gandhian world but in the meantime millions, yes it's now over a million, Palestinians have been murdered by Zionist Jews since the invention of Israel. The deepest shrapnel must be removed before the surface scratches are rinsed.
This kind of capitulation to the express designed of Zionsts is particularly dangerous for two reasons. It serves to foment divide among Arabs at a time when the Zionist Media Establishment is already engaged in campaign to do precisely this and acts as smokescreen for the inexcusable genocide of Palestinians. Secondly the simply theory of triage calls for attention on the most pernicious of ills: Israel and it's minions.
I don't see a campaign of high-minded ideals doing much for anyone in the middle east either for the past 60 years and you've certainly had lots of chances.
I suppose we should have asked from our comfortable armchairs abroad that the rebels in South Africa not throw off the yoke of oppression there until everyone of their members was a portrait of unsullied rectitude?
Waxing philosophical is great but see that you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater in doing so. Else we'd never enjoy the presence of people like King and Gandhi and so many more who have transformed our world despite having their own well documented imperfections.

Yitzak Shamir

Uh..yeah. and Martin Luther King wasn't guilty of adultery.
Look Mona darling no one suggests that anyone is perfect and it'd be extremely naive to do so as you rosily opine. The Allied forces were not perfect in their toppling of Hitler and likely committed heinous crimes against humanity. See anyone talk about them though? Or how the Nazis should never have been defeated if it couldn't be done on the highest of moral grounds and without any blood spilled?
Would that we lived in a perfect Gandhian world but in the meantime millions, yes it's now over a million, Palestinians have been murdered by Zionist Jews since the invention of Israel. The deepest shrapnel must be removed before the surface scratches are rinsed.
This kind of capitulation to the express designed of Zionsts is particularly dangerous for two reasons. It serves to foment divide among Arabs at a time when the Zionist Media Establishment is already engaged in campaign to do precisely this and acts as smokescreen for the inexcusable genocide of Palestinians. Secondly the simply theory of triage calls for attention on the most pernicious of ills: Israel and it's minions.
I don't see a campaign of high-minded ideals doing much for anyone in the middle east either for the past 60 years and you've certainly had lots of chances.
I suppose we should have asked from our comfortable armchairs abroad that the rebels in South Africa not throw off the yoke of oppression there until everyone of their members was a portrait of unsullied rectitude?
Waxing philosophical is great but see that you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater in doing so. Else we'd never enjoy the presence of people like King and Gandhi and so many more who have transformed our world despite having their own well documented imperfections.

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