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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 31 - 40 of 132

Page 4 of 14

The Lawn Mower Man

I'd like all the people who complain of "excessive force" to ask themselves: if France was being hit by rockets, fired by the government of Spain, purposely into civilian areas, do you think the world would complain if they retaliated? I'm not saying all of Israel's policies toward Palestine are fair, but in regards to them launching this retaliation, it seems justified. Further, it's true that the casualties are far worse for the Palestinians than they are for Israel, but that doesn't make Israel's response wrong. They are FIRING ROCKETS into civilian areas - any country would go full force against another country that did this to them. Israel pulled its settlements out of Gaza several years ago ostensibly to end the rocket fire. Yet, Hamas continued to fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel anyway.

Also, why do Arabs have claim to that land any more than the Jews/Israelis? So what if Israel got the land after WWII? How do you think the borders of every country on earth were drawn? By force. Why doesn't the US give all its land back to the Native Americans? Why does the partition between France and Spain sit where it is? - Because through hundreds of years of war that is where the line was drawn. The land that is presently Israel was occupied and governed by Jews, then the Romans took it from them, then the Ottomans took it from them, then the British took it from them. It is a farce to think this is "Arab" land. Just like all the countries on earth, it's whoever had the power to rule it. If anything, since Israel was created by an intl. body its formation is less problematic than the creation of the US or the borders of any other country which were made by war. If Israel doesn't have a "right" to the land, then no country anywhere has a right to their land.

The Lawn Mower Man

I'd like all the people who complain of "excessive force" to ask themselves: if France was being hit by rockets, fired by the government of Spain, purposely into civilian areas, do you think the world would complain if they retaliated? I'm not saying all of Israel's policies toward Palestine are fair, but in regards to them launching this retaliation, it seems justified. Further, it's true that the casualties are far worse for the Palestinians than they are for Israel, but that doesn't make Israel's response wrong. They are FIRING ROCKETS into civilian areas - any country would go full force against another country that did this to them. Israel pulled its settlements out of Gaza several years ago ostensibly to end the rocket fire. Yet, Hamas continued to fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel anyway.

Also, why do Arabs have claim to that land any more than the Jews/Israelis? So what if Israel got the land after WWII? How do you think the borders of every country on earth were drawn? By force. Why doesn't the US give all its land back to the Native Americans? Why does the partition between France and Spain sit where it is? - Because through hundreds of years of war that is where the line was drawn. The land that is presently Israel was occupied and governed by Jews, then the Romans took it from them, then the Ottomans took it from them, then the British took it from them. It is a farce to think this is "Arab" land. Just like all the countries on earth, it's whoever had the power to rule it. If anything, since Israel was created by an intl. body its formation is less problematic than the creation of the US or the borders of any other country which were made by war. If Israel doesn't have a "right" to the land, then no country anywhere has a right to their land.

Anonymous

It is true that most all borders were created by force power to rule, but you fail to address the role of religion in all of this. Both "states," Palestine and Israel, are theocracies. Both Muslims and Jews' claim to their land in the region of Palestine is intertwined with their passionate faith, so central to their lives. Furthermore, Palestine's ethnic and cultural history is not as clear-cut in terms of "rightful possession" as you make it out to be. The geographic region of Palestine has a rich, complex ethnic history complemented by Islamic influence, Judaism and Christianity, a history that is being destroyed by blind hatred and violence. To attempt to assign the region, so central to so many cultures' fundamental beliefs, to one or the other is absolutely meaningless and futile.

Anonymous

It is true that most all borders were created by force power to rule, but you fail to address the role of religion in all of this. Both "states," Palestine and Israel, are theocracies. Both Muslims and Jews' claim to their land in the region of Palestine is intertwined with their passionate faith, so central to their lives. Furthermore, Palestine's ethnic and cultural history is not as clear-cut in terms of "rightful possession" as you make it out to be. The geographic region of Palestine has a rich, complex ethnic history complemented by Islamic influence, Judaism and Christianity, a history that is being destroyed by blind hatred and violence. To attempt to assign the region, so central to so many cultures' fundamental beliefs, to one or the other is absolutely meaningless and futile.

Anonymous

Yes, you are right, religion is deeply rooted in this parts of the world. But religion was not meant to make a bloodbath of anyone in the first place. On that note one could say this conflict is all about land- that is a reality - bombs are exploding here and there to try to get the other party OUT. That there is religion involved, which is a mental excercise just like Yoga, Martial arts or the likes, means the spirits of a person are excited to reach a common peace (of mind!)- no bloodbath involved. Bloodbath is physical like a land border, Religion is mental like praying. To create a bloodbath in the name of religion seems like a disrupture in the mental processes of many. Consider what a sociopath is.

Anonymous

Yes, you are right, religion is deeply rooted in this parts of the world. But religion was not meant to make a bloodbath of anyone in the first place. On that note one could say this conflict is all about land- that is a reality - bombs are exploding here and there to try to get the other party OUT. That there is religion involved, which is a mental excercise just like Yoga, Martial arts or the likes, means the spirits of a person are excited to reach a common peace (of mind!)- no bloodbath involved. Bloodbath is physical like a land border, Religion is mental like praying. To create a bloodbath in the name of religion seems like a disrupture in the mental processes of many. Consider what a sociopath is.

dr love

stop talking about the past it is NOW.how can we support anyone who believes that violence is ok,or might is right!unconditional love is the only way!

dr love

stop talking about the past it is NOW.how can we support anyone who believes that violence is ok,or might is right!unconditional love is the only way!

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