Average American views of the Arab-Israeli conflict
An Interactive Opinion Editorial
By Hassan El-Najjar and M Kay Scott**
M. Kay Scott:
It seems that between the Arab and American world view, there are huge differences on the Arab/Israeli conflict. Just to give you a glimpse of the view of the average American, here are some of basic ideas that we take as facts:
1) The borders of entire Middle East were restructured by the WWI. Many countries came into existence at this time, if only in theory, not just the state of Israel. (Trans) Jordan was to be the Arab portion of Palestine and Israel was to be a Jewish state. The Jews were given a homeland because they were unwelcome anywhere else in the world, and their historical homeland was in this geographical site. If Palestine was left out of this map, the map needs to be redrawn. The area is too small to fit two countries - the entire map should be redrawn. Jordan has 90% Palestinian population in it and why no demands are made of Jordan, we do not know.
2) The violence of the Intifada was started by the PA after President Clinton did everything he possibly could do to force a solution on these people. Bush is reluctant to put so much time in a task that will be fruitless. Americans are too.
3) Americans will never 'come on board' the Palestinian cause until the suicide bombing stops. Period.
4) The American government responds to the wishes of the American people. Many people do not understand or believe this but it is true. For example, there is right now a huge grassroots anti-Saudi attitude coming into view. 'Grassroots' means that it comes from the American people directly. This cannot be fought and eventually the government will respond, no matter how much the government is reluctant to do so. Therefore if the Arab world wants the U.S. government to pressure Israel, it must address the American people. Suicide bombing is anathema to the grassroot American people. Arabs come on television talking about 'occupation' constantly, but many countries have been occupied in history and have waited for liberation. It need not last so long if you win the hearts of the American people. In our short 200 year history, we have liberated many occupied people. There is no doubt that we can do so. Our government is full of lazy bureaucrats who don't do what they should until the people start demanding change.
5) There is so much hostility against Americans at this point in time, that we will just become apathetic to the issues of the Arab world. There are many problems that demand our attention, we have our own poverty, corruption, crime and social issues and will turn our resources to other problems if all we get is hostility from the Arab world. i.e. " damned if you do, damned if you don't - let Israel worry about it." I am not trying to justify our views, just trying to make them known.
I agree with you regarding the huge differences in views about the Arab-Israeli conflict. You presented the average American viewpoints pertaining to these five area. I'll present to you how Arabs and Muslims view the same issues. Hopefully, our dialogue will be educational and thus may contribute to some degree of understanding. I realize that people form views in a long-term process that spans all their lives. But when we face difficult times like the ones we are living through, it helps to think about our views, without insulting the people we disagree with.
First, Yes, Jews were persecuted. But this happened in Europe, not in the Middle East. Palestinians should not suffer for crimes committed by other people. It is unfair. But there is an important issue that needs to be clarified. Palestine has never been the historical homeland of the Jews. It was the Promised Land of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Some of these descendants now are Jews but others are Christians and Muslims. There is a big difference between Jews and descendents of these great messengers of God. However, Arabs and Muslims, including Palestinians, have recognized the right of Israel to exist since 1993. But Israel has resisted withdrawal from the Palestinian territories until now, which is the source of all violence and problems of today. With regard to Jordan, there are Jordanians of Palestinian origin. They represent about 60 percent of the population, not 90 percent as you mentioned. Saying that Jordan is Palestine conforms with calls by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians to Jordan so that they can displace them. It is not an innocent story. Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. Palestinians in Jordan are like immigrants who come to the US from other countries, do you want them to be separate from other Americans or be integrated in the American society? The right solution is the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and enabling Palestinians to have their state there as soon as possible. Any other excuses will just lengthen the suffering of people in the region and around the world.
Second, the intifadha started when the Camp David talks failed to lead to the Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state as agreed upon in 1993. The intifada is resistance to the Israeli occupation. Palestinians want to live freely like the rest of people all over the world. They have demonstrated their determination to be free. Peace will come when the Israelis realize that they have no choice but to withdraw. American presidents, including Bush and Clinton, cannot force Israel to withdraw due to the hegemonic pro-Israel influence on the American society and its institutions. So far, there has never been a US foreign policy in the Middle East independent from the Israeli policy. The only American president who stood against Israel and ordered it to end its first occupation of Gaza and Sinai was Eisenhower. All other American presidents have supported Israeli policies. They have no choice.
Third, the vast majority of Americans (about two-thirds) do not vote in Congressional elections. They have no say on domestic or foreign policies of the United States. A small minority (the power elite) controls the system and uses it for their own special interests. People's minds are controlled by the pro-Israel media, particularly the main TV networks (CNN, Fox, CNBC, MSNBC). They tell the Israeli story day and night to keep people quiet regarding the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and the war on Iraq. With regard to suicide bombing, there was nothing like that in the 1980s or the 1970s, yet we never heard the American people pressuring their government to force Israel to leave the Palestinians alone. It's just a convenient way to justify the status-quo, which is giving Israel all the financial and military support it needs without demanding the Israeli withdrawal. But the more practical answer is in the form of a question: Is it better to kill people using missiles launched by Apache helicopters and F-16s than by killing them using a suicide bomb? Killing civilians is wrong by any means, the Israeli military occupation of Palestine is wrong. Any condemnation of suicide bombing should be coupled with condemnation of killing Palestinians by Israelis, no matter what the method is.
Fourth, with regard to the anti-Saudi campaign, it is basically coming from the pro-Israel media and neo-conservative think tank researchers and spokesmen, whose ultimate goal is defending Israel and its interests. The campaign resulted from the Saudi refusal to give support for the US plans to invade Iraq, no more and no less. If Saudi Arabia agrees tomorrow to support the war, the campaign will stop instantly. I honestly dismiss any claim about any power for the people over their government anywhere in the world, including the United States. The world is controlled by governments that represent small groups of wealthy and powerful people, known in social sciences as the power elite.
Finally, while I agree with you that there is hostility against Americans, I disagree about your reaction to that. Americans should not be apathetic any more. I wish I am wrong about the grassroots that you mentioned. But I wish that they are grassroots for peace, not for war. There is nothing good about war.
* In interactive editorials, the editor of Al-Jazeerah answers questions and or responds to comments of readers, which are more general than readers' responses to specific articles or issues. It is an effective method of interaction in electronic journalism.
** Dr. Hassan A. El-Najjar is the editor of Al-Jazeerah.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah's.