Yalla Peace: Arabs failed to get their story out first

Arab leaders, activists continue speaking Arabic instead of communicating in English, the only language the West wants to hear.

US Congresspeople shake hands with Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Stelios Varias)
US Congresspeople shake hands with Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stelios Varias)
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 concept.
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 Jerusalem quarry.
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.
While Israelis quickly learned that important lesson, Arabs did not.
Instead, they 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.
The Israelis 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.
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 and cruel.
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 powerful.
And it was in English, the international language.
There 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 dialogue.
But Arabic has been worthless in fighting for Palestine.
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.
We 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 community.
Journalism never evolved properly in the Middle East, and neither did the true story of the rights of the Palestinians.
The only people to blame for that failure is the arrogance of the Arabs themselves.
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 hear.
Things have changed, but the Western understanding of the conflict is pretty much set in stone. Of course, the Arabs still haven’t really tried.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist.