Last week’s coordinated terror attacks in the South were a tragedy, and my
condolences go out to the bereaved families of the victims. Continued violence
is not the answer to this conflict, and targeting civilians is a war crime – for
good reason – regardless of who commits it or why.
While Israel’s grief
and anger are understandable, its predictable decision to respond to terror with
military attacks is not, especially since, in this decades-old conflict, every
ugly action is seen as a justified reaction to a perceived uglier
Bombing Gaza, like the cruel blockade against the Strip, is a
form of collective punishment made all the more unjust by the fact that Israel
decided Gazans were guilty until proven innocent, even though evidence is
emerging that the unknown attackers were probably not Palestinians. Equally
predictably, Islamic militants in Gaza responded with a barrage of primitive and
inaccurate rockets against civilian targets – another form of unjustifiable
In addition, Israel’s decision to trample Egypt’s
sovereignty by shooting a number of border guards was not only illegal but
What if Egypt had decided to respond in kind by
crossing the border to apprehend the killers? Fortunately we don’t have to
speculate about that, because Egypt responded sensibly and called for an apology
and a joint investigation – something Israel should have done after the attacks
What this futile and bloody exchange of fire illustrates is
that an eye for an eye achieves nothing except the kind of blind rage that keeps
the bloody cycle turning, and that is why I believe Palestinians and Israelis
should reject all forms of violence.
The past few days have also set in
motion an ugly war of words among Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians. With so
much animosity and hate in the air, as an antidote, I would like to invite
Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and other Arabs to engage in a thought
experiment in which they write a short passage on what they admire about the
Here are my suggestions.
ISRAELIS In a little over six
decades of existence, Israel has built itself into a prosperous, democratic and
technologically advanced society, not to mention a cultural melting pot. The
successful revival of the Hebrew language also has to count as an impressive
All this is made the more remarkable by the fact that it
has achieved this while being in a constant state of conflict, and following the
near-extinction of European Jewry.
While a number of Arab regimes
traditionally used the conflict with Israel to limit freedoms, Israel has
managed to build a fairly vibrant democracy, especially for its Jewish citizens,
despite the passage of some repressive legislation in recent years, such as the
Nakba and the anti-boycott laws.
Moreover, despite the disenfranchisement
of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian Israelis enjoy –
unofficial discrimination notwithstanding – more or less equivalent rights with
their Israeli compatriots, and greater rights than enjoyed by Arabs elsewhere in
By Middle Eastern standards, Israel has an admirable record
on freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent, though its media freedom
ranking has taken a battering in recent years (93rd out of 178 countries) due to
military censorship and restrictions on the movement of journalists. The gap
between it and some of its Arab neighbors is also narrowing in light of the Arab
This respect for freedom of thought, along with a culture that
prizes creativity, has transformed this small country into the Middle East’s
science and innovation powerhouse. One recent index ranked Israel 14th in the
global innovation stakes, while another placed it in the top group of “global
On the individual level, though Israelis can behave
with an overconfident swagger and be direct to the point of rudeness, there is a
refreshing honesty in their manner, and beyond this lack of surface gloss lies a
keen sense of Mediterranean warmth and hospitality. Mixed in with this
individualism is a traditional Jewish sense of solidarity that kicks in during
times of need.
PALESTINIANS Steadfastness is perhaps the word that best
captures the spirit of the Palestinian experience over the past 60-odd years,
whether in exile or under Israeli control, and a sense of irretrievably lost
worlds, similar to that felt by the remnants of European Jewry, permeates
Palestinian art, culture and conscience.
Palestinians have been betrayed
and let down by just about everyone, yet remain resolute survivors and
resourceful adaptors, as reflected in the daily struggle of West Bankers and
Gazans to live in dignity, and for the most part peacefully strive for freedom,
amid the degradation of occupation.
Despite having to endure the double
oppression of occupation and domestic repression, Palestinians demonstrate an
admirable determination to advance themselves as individuals and as a
A number of prominent Palestinian tycoons, including the
“Palestinian Rothschild” Munib al- Masri, have even taken a leaf out of the
Zionist manual and are engaged in quiet background “nation-building” in
preparation for their eventual independence.
This determination in the
face of adversity is reflected in the fact that Palestinians, despite
restrictions on their access to education, are said to be the most educated
people in the Arab world.
This is particularly so in the Palestinian
diaspora, which is gradually growing to resemble its Jewish counterpart in terms
of education and economic well-being.
For instance, without the massive
exodus of Palestinian professionals, intellectuals and entrepreneurs to
neighboring Jordan, the country may have remained a backwater rather than the
relatively prosperous and modern society it has become. Prior to their expulsion
from Kuwait, Palestinians played a pivotal role in that emirate’s
Further afield, Palestinians in the US, along with
Arab-Americans in general, are the most educated and best-paid minority,
according to a recent survey.
Similarly to Israel’s political landscape,
Palestinian politics, though less free, have traditionally been dominated by
secularists, despite a parallel rise of religious extremism on both
One of the reasons behind this long secularist tradition is the
pluralistic nature of the Palestinian population, which is not only divided
between a Muslim majority and a significant Christian minority, but made up of
numerous ethnic groups.
In fact, both Palestinians and Israelis have a
proud tradition of integration and tolerance that, if utilized successfully, can
bode well for a future of coexistence.
The writer is an Egyptian-Belgian
journalist and blogger currently living in Jerusalem.
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