Since 1948, the Arabs have lost more than five wars with Israel. But while these
failures have fed anger against and hatred for the Jewish state, the Arabs lost
the real battle long ago. I refer to the battle for audience – something the
Jews recognized from the start.
Audience is the key to communications. It
is not what you say, but how you say it. The goal of a successful debater is not
simply to win the argument, but to win over the audience first. Perception is
reality, and the Arabs have never bothered to understand this simple
My father left his parents and siblings in 1926 out of
frustration with the conflict that was already growing. It wasn’t like a
surprise. With a British-issued Palestinian passport, he went to Chicago to join
an older brother, Mousa. That year, another brother, Yusef, drowned in a
British Mandatory police reports told of how no one
would help Yusef as he struggled in the water. Muslims thought he was a Jew. Jews
thought he was a Muslim. Christians had turned the other cheek so many times
they didn’t care if he was one of their own.
My dad later married my
mother, who was from Bethlehem, and did something that changed my life forever.
Rather than making me learn Arabic, he made me speak English; he recognized that
America was the future.
His instincts proved correct. The Middle East
conflict has been driven by the wars won not in the Sinai or in the streets of
Jerusalem, but in the hearts and minds of the West.
quickly learned that important lesson, Arabs did not.
preached their anger in Arabic.
So while the Arabs were screaming about
injustice in a language few could understand, the Israelis were speaking of
injustice in a language the world understood all too well.
didn’t just understand communications, they understood strategic communications
and the power of subtlety.
For example, in the late 1950s, Israel’s
government hired a PR man who was commissioned with finding a writer to tell
Israel’s story to the English-speaking world. They hired Leon Uris, and he wrote
the powerful novel, Exodus
was not an academic dissertation, nor
was it a documentary. It was a compelling story that took some truths and did
what fiction writing does very well, telling the story so powerfully that the
reader was left with an emotional attachment.
That book defined how the
West, and the Americans, would always view the Arab- Israeli conflict. The story
was one of a tiny nation, composed mainly of young children and farmers seeking
to escape the world’s wrath, who were harassed and threatened by powerful and
sinister countries, mainly led by disdainful Arab sheiks and dictators. The
little David overpowered the mighty Goliath.
In fact, it was more
complicated than that. Yes, the Arab countries geographically towered over the
tiny area of Palestine that was to become Israel, but their leaders were corrupt
The Israelis told their story not in Hebrew, but in English.
They didn’t need to convince Jews and Israelis about what needed to be done.
They had to convince the English- speaking world. The Arabs, on the other hand,
put all their efforts into speaking to their own people – a process that only
fed anger, hatred and raw violence.
The Israeli narrative process was
And it was in English, the international language.
is something about Arabic that makes it a poor vehicle to convey understanding
in a calm, effective manner.
Arabic is a beautiful language. It’s perfect
for telling love stories, or handling the cleverness of 1001 Nights. It’s
perfect for poetry, too, and has often been used that way by Arab activists to
avoid punishment from governments that ban free speech and political
But Arabic has been worthless in fighting for
Even today, the Arab world continues to act out of arrogance
in insisting that its story be told in Arabic. The Arab world’s media are
pathetic when it comes to championing the Palestinian cause. Even in America,
where the Arab and Muslim population has grown by leaps and bounds, the leaders
still do a failed language two-step, stirring their people to a frenzy in Arabic
while stumbling through awkward English translations.
The Arab world is
changing, slowly shifting to a global understanding of communications.
see that in the protests of the pro-democracy movements of Egypt, Libya, Syria
and even Jordan, where the targets of hatred have landed on the journalism
Journalism never evolved properly in the Middle East, and
neither did the true story of the rights of the Palestinians.
people to blame for that failure is the arrogance of the Arabs
Their leaders failed them. And the activists who have taken
up the cause continue that failure, speaking Arabic instead of sacrificing for
the cause by communicating in English, the only language the West wants to
Things have changed, but the Western understanding of the conflict
is pretty much set in stone. Of course, the Arabs still haven’t really
The writer is an award-winning columnist and
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