Libya rebels celebrate 311.
(photo credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Dictators are going down like dominos in the Middle East, but I wonder if
Israelis see the real significance. Described as “pro-democracy”
movements, the changes have swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. No
Arab country is immune. Syria could be next. Maybe Saudi Arabia, the
Emirates or even Jordan.
And maybe even Israel.
Will the old Arab
dictatorships be replaced by democracies, or will they just give way to new
Israelis have a habit of accepting the status quo, sometimes
burying their heads in the sand when it comes to making tough choices with the
Arabs. It seems they can live with the occupation forever.
democracy, the Arabs are in for a tough fight. But the Israelis are not off the
hook, either. Israel can’t remain disengaged from the powerful dynamics sweeping
around it. It can’t continue to avoid the need to act. Israel says it wants to
be part of the Middle East. So it should act like it and take some
Israelis can say the Arab Spring is the result of Arabs
wanting freedom. But the truth is that Israel has made it easy for Arab
dictatorships to exist. Yes, by rejecting peace with the Palestinians, Israel
gave the dictators an excuse to survive for many years.
I’m not blaming
Israel for the brutality of the Arab regimes, but Israel can’t pretend it hasn’t
been part of the cause.
Why did the Arab people tolerate their
dictatorships for so long? Tunisia under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for 24 years.
Egypt under Husni Mubarak for 30 years. Libya under Moamar Gadhafi for 42 years.
Syria under Bashar al-Assad for 11 years and counting. Why do they tolerate
oppression in “western-allied” Arab countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the
The Arab Spring wasn’t a strategy developed by some genius to change
the Arab World. The Arab Spring was ignited in Tunisia by an unemployed Arab who
couldn’t find a job and set himself on fire in protest.
He didn’t do it
because of the Tunisian dictatorship, although that is how it’s being portrayed.
Tunisia was the least oppressive of Arab nations. The toleration of oppression
by dictators was widespread, the result of a combination of factors, from the
power of the public’s emotions to their anger at Israel.
It was easy for
Arabs to tolerate dictatorships with their brutality, lack of free speech,
absence of free elections and oppression; they were given Israel to
Israelis must ask themselves the hard question: Why is it that the
Arabs were always so militant against them, to the point of sacrificing their
own lives in suicide violence, while tolerating the brutality of their own
Even the Palestinians who live in Israel as citizens or as the
“occupied” have gone along with the status quo, engaging in symbolic protests
such as refusing to buy products from Israeli settlements, yet serving as the
workers who build the hated “wall.”
Arabs are a very emotional people.
What unified the Arab Spring? Was it a desire for democracy, as many claim, or
was it really frustration with their own circumstances?
When we speak of the
Arab Spring, we must ask the unsettling question: When all the dictators are
gone, what will take their place?
The protesters were united not so much by
their love of democracy as by their hatred of their dictators. In Egypt, the
unity that brought people together to oust Mubarak is now crumbling. In Libya,
the unity of the various factions will be put to its first real test when
Gadhafi is really gone. Will the rebels stay together, or will they turn
on each other?
Is the fight for freedom the unifying factor, or the emotion? Are
Arabs coming together on the basis of a principle that their nations deserve
democracy? Or is it just another situation where collective hatred of
“something” gives the appearance of unity?
Arab emotion is a powerful force. It
led them to stand against Israeli domination of Palestine for 63 years, and
there is little to show it will dissipate. It has allowed the Arabs to close
their minds to their own oppressive governments.
If the Arab Spring has
demonstrated anything, it is that Arab emotion can topple governments – Arab and
Israeli. Israel is in the midst of its own public outcry, with protesters
focused on improving economic circumstances. Now might be a good time to
recognize the truth of the Arab pro-democracy transitions and reach out to them
Israelis should engage the Arab Spring, not as an
antagonist that occupies another people, but as a nation that seeks fraternity
in the Middle East, ushering in a Palestinian nation and removing the emotional
tinder that can easily ignite in Israel, too.The writer is an
award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist.