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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.

new york

“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 91 - 100 of 132

Page 10 of 14

Anonymous

WOW!
hey wouldn't it be great if whitey turned out to be a black kid writing from HER mom's basement or something?
could we then get on with accepting the impossibility of knowing everything?
... brownie you doin' a heck uva job!

Anonymous

WOW!
hey wouldn't it be great if whitey turned out to be a black kid writing from HER mom's basement or something?
could we then get on with accepting the impossibility of knowing everything?
... brownie you doin' a heck uva job!

Rabayl

@ Dwindle:

The reason why this sort of reading of the situation is flawed goes back to the peace negotiation itself. Had Hamas and the Israeli government sat down to a table on equal terms and with roughly proportional negotiating clout, and worked out a compromise that addresses the basic needs of both groups, then perhaps the above interpretation would be valid. What actually happened, however, is rather different. This truce was written with terms that no Palestinian could be expected to regard as fair (it did not address their basic needs to food, for one), and was foisted upon Hamas by those in power: Israel, the US, Europe, etc. By calling it an "agreement," these powers get to maintain the facade of diplomacy and gentlemanly, statesmanlike negotiation--even though this type of negotiation never took place.

It's a win-win situation for the US/Israel: if Hamas keeps to the terms of the peace agreement, the US/Israel can take credit for bringing peace to the region (never mind the persistence of human rights violations) and they never even had to compromise on anything! If Hamas breaks with the peace agreement, however, then they are no longer merely radical insurgents with an irritating agenda: their actions take on new life as ones that are "breaking the peace" and "perpetuating violence in the region." In this way, Hamas--and by extension all Palestinians--are discursively transformed into uncivilized, undiplomatic, unreasonable, undemocratic, apolitical, and "un-American" in their values and means of negotiation.

Rabayl

@ Dwindle:

The reason why this sort of reading of the situation is flawed goes back to the peace negotiation itself. Had Hamas and the Israeli government sat down to a table on equal terms and with roughly proportional negotiating clout, and worked out a compromise that addresses the basic needs of both groups, then perhaps the above interpretation would be valid. What actually happened, however, is rather different. This truce was written with terms that no Palestinian could be expected to regard as fair (it did not address their basic needs to food, for one), and was foisted upon Hamas by those in power: Israel, the US, Europe, etc. By calling it an "agreement," these powers get to maintain the facade of diplomacy and gentlemanly, statesmanlike negotiation--even though this type of negotiation never took place.

It's a win-win situation for the US/Israel: if Hamas keeps to the terms of the peace agreement, the US/Israel can take credit for bringing peace to the region (never mind the persistence of human rights violations) and they never even had to compromise on anything! If Hamas breaks with the peace agreement, however, then they are no longer merely radical insurgents with an irritating agenda: their actions take on new life as ones that are "breaking the peace" and "perpetuating violence in the region." In this way, Hamas--and by extension all Palestinians--are discursively transformed into uncivilized, undiplomatic, unreasonable, undemocratic, apolitical, and "un-American" in their values and means of negotiation.

Anonymous

People should not just protest Israel they should also protest US support of Israel.

"Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. If divided by today's population, that is more than $5,700 per person."

"Israel is the LARGEST recipient of US foreign aid. It got $2.04 billion in military assistance and $720 million in economic aid in fiscal 2003. It has been getting $3 billion a year for years."

So Israel has been bombing Gaza with American made or at least American paid for bombs.

Also American Support for Israel makes American less safe not more. US support for Israel was a huge factor for 911.

There could be no Israeli aggression without American support. End that support and peace has never been closer.

Anonymous

People should not just protest Israel they should also protest US support of Israel.

"Since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. If divided by today's population, that is more than $5,700 per person."

"Israel is the LARGEST recipient of US foreign aid. It got $2.04 billion in military assistance and $720 million in economic aid in fiscal 2003. It has been getting $3 billion a year for years."

So Israel has been bombing Gaza with American made or at least American paid for bombs.

Also American Support for Israel makes American less safe not more. US support for Israel was a huge factor for 911.

There could be no Israeli aggression without American support. End that support and peace has never been closer.

Anonymous

So much to say. First off - to the writer: you use a confused analogy with the statement "Hamas is good, Israel is bad. Say it, say it!" If you fairly compared Hamas to Mossad/IDF it would be a better comparison, and everyone would agree that "neither is good". Hamas is a minority militant group which is a pawn for foreign interests, just as Mossad/IDF is a pawn for foreign interests.
****

Don't you realize that Arabs around the world are angry enough to take up arms about this issue? Don't you realize that the US and Russia will rebuild their broken economies with the new wars they are fomenting right now? Don't you see that the occupations and subsequent oil extraction from large regions in the middle east will be predicated on quashing regional "Islamic terror groups"? Don't you understand that there are other levels to this "conflict"?

***
To the quote: A “proportional response” by Israel would be to fire thousands of rockets into civilian areas of Palestine.

Newflash for you, dumbs**t: They dropped 100 tons of bombs on a densely populated urban area in one day. Ironically, the only places the Hamas rockets hit were Palestinian homeland a short 30 years before.... now they are sparsely populated Jewish settler villages.

***
I'm getting tired of all this "Fair and Balanced" blogging by people who really have very little information. Try this: google "bulldozed alive" "West Bank". Terrorism could not be exemplified any more clearly.

***
from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/roy_01_.html
Gazans(not HAMAS!) have little food, no cooking gas, broken sewers, limited electricity, no banks, no medicine, and no water treatment. If you'd like to go live there for a month we would see if your opinion about "playing the victim card" remains.

Anonymous

So much to say. First off - to the writer: you use a confused analogy with the statement "Hamas is good, Israel is bad. Say it, say it!" If you fairly compared Hamas to Mossad/IDF it would be a better comparison, and everyone would agree that "neither is good". Hamas is a minority militant group which is a pawn for foreign interests, just as Mossad/IDF is a pawn for foreign interests.
****

Don't you realize that Arabs around the world are angry enough to take up arms about this issue? Don't you realize that the US and Russia will rebuild their broken economies with the new wars they are fomenting right now? Don't you see that the occupations and subsequent oil extraction from large regions in the middle east will be predicated on quashing regional "Islamic terror groups"? Don't you understand that there are other levels to this "conflict"?

***
To the quote: A “proportional response” by Israel would be to fire thousands of rockets into civilian areas of Palestine.

Newflash for you, dumbs**t: They dropped 100 tons of bombs on a densely populated urban area in one day. Ironically, the only places the Hamas rockets hit were Palestinian homeland a short 30 years before.... now they are sparsely populated Jewish settler villages.

***
I'm getting tired of all this "Fair and Balanced" blogging by people who really have very little information. Try this: google "bulldozed alive" "West Bank". Terrorism could not be exemplified any more clearly.

***
from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/roy_01_.html
Gazans(not HAMAS!) have little food, no cooking gas, broken sewers, limited electricity, no banks, no medicine, and no water treatment. If you'd like to go live there for a month we would see if your opinion about "playing the victim card" remains.

A Human being

So much for organised religion. Buddhism might have helped but then again I hear there were buddhism inspired righteuos wars in Burma if only hundreds of years ago... You have not betrayed your gods but they have betrayed you... Stop fighting , flee the concentration camps on both sides and start reading books for humanities' sake!

A Human being

So much for organised religion. Buddhism might have helped but then again I hear there were buddhism inspired righteuos wars in Burma if only hundreds of years ago... You have not betrayed your gods but they have betrayed you... Stop fighting , flee the concentration camps on both sides and start reading books for humanities' sake!

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