November 25, 2012

Maine Voices: Mideast dialogue lacks Arab dissenters

Israel encourages critics of its government to speak up, but the Palestinian regime will not let opposing voices be heard.


CAPE ELIZABETH - As an Israeli-American living in Maine, slowly aging and mellowing out, with a philosophy of trying to find the middle ground, I am obviously engulfed with strong feelings regarding the events in the Middle East.

click image to enlarge

Palestinian gunmen drag the body of a man who was killed for allegedly collaborating with Israel through Gaza City on Tuesday. The military wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the deaths of the man and five other suspected collaborators. The killings are “a recent demonstration of the Hamas approach to Gazans suspected of supporting Israel,” says an Israeli-American reader.

2012 File Photo/The Associated Press

I find myself scanning the media outlets obsessively. As many do, I check the information coming in from both sides. As a general rule of thumb, I would advise everyone to first identify the two sides of a conflict and then their media sources.

In the case of the Middle East turmoil, it is a good idea to glance at Israeli and Arab television channels (they usually have websites, such as Israeli Channel 2 and Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which can also be accessed via smartphone apps) and Israeli and Arab newspapers (they, too, usually have their respective websites, with English versions as well). Other resources are the official websites of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, as well as official sites from Egypt and Jordan.

Even though I cannot be truly objective, there seems to be a clear asymmetry in the data coming in. In Israel, hundreds of Israelis gather to demonstrate against their government's actions. Arab Israelis, including Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, are frequently interviewed on Israeli TV.

Critique, opposition and condemnation are frequently expressed in a free society in Israel. Israelis can hear all points of view, including free access to what is said on the other side of the border. The Israelis are seeing the celebrations in Gaza after a bus explodes in Tel Aviv, as well as the terrible suffering of children and babies on the other side.

On the other hand, could anyone tell me the name of an individual or organization from the Arab side condemning Hamas? Any critique of the Gazan government's actions? Could anyone cite someone suggesting that launching missiles toward Israel is the wrong and immoral thing to do?

Are there any demonstrations in downtown Gaza against the Hamas government, offering a nonviolent opposition? Do Gazans have access to the pictures of Israelis suffering from the the wrath of war (and if they do, do they cerebrate or self-reflect?).

That is the true problem of the Middle East, strongly connected to the wider picture. The true problem of the Middle East is that most of its inhabitants live under tyranny and fear, with people in Gaza, Egypt, Syria and Jordan unable to freely express themselves. The lack of opinions leads to radical thought.

While one side is free, where Israeli Arabs can serve in the Israeli Knesset and even in its government, while they enjoy liberty, the other side does not, and we cannot hear other opinions of the Gazans. Perhaps they don't fancy their government's acts? Do they have a venue to express it without danger to themselves or their families?

Israeli left-wing demonstrations can condemn the Israeli government, even during the crisis. The other side lives in fear and terrorism, hostage to a regime that will not let opposing voices be heard.

A recent demonstration of the Hamas approach to Gazans suspected of supporting Israel included the prompt execution (without trial) of alleged collaborators and the public dragging of their bodies in the streets, tied to a motorcycle.

I am waiting for self-reflection and critique from the other side, from Gaza, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I want to hear all points of view. And -- to the surprise of many -- so do Israelis in Israel.

But there is hope. We are actually hearing other voices and opinions. The official Palestinian Authority sitting in the West Bank is now (after decades of supporting terrorism as the Palestine Liberation Organization) taking a nonviolent approach to its opposition. Unfortunately, after the recent crisis, the Palestinian Authority leaders are marginalized, with Hamas becoming the "legitimate" entity to negotiate with.

Finally, louder self-reflection from the Palestinian and Arab society in the United States is desired. When that happens, for me it would represent the light in the end of the tunnel. We are awaiting the winds of enlightenment and compromise.

Eric Dinnerstein is an Israeli-American who lives in Cape Elizabeth.


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