Thursday, January 25, 2007

25-Jan-07: An observation about religion and differences among people

As people who just want to be left in peace to raise our family, to make an honest living, to protect our health and to contribute something useful to society, we sometimes feel like an endangered species. Israel is filled with people like us, of course. But looking around at our neighbours here in the Middle East and wondering about their values, actions and aspirations can sometimes be an extremely dis-spiriting thing.

Just two examples to make a point.

First, the absolutely indispensable but relatively little-known Palestinian Arab journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, writes in one of today's dailies about some Arab voices you almost never hear.
"The situation is very dangerous... I believe that 15 years from now there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem. Then you will need a torch to find a Christian here. This is a very sad situation."
Abu Toameh writes of how a monk was recently roughed up for trying to prevent a group of Muslim men from seizing lands owned by Christians in Beit Sahur:
Thieves have targeted the homes of many Christian families and a "land mafia" has succeeded in laying its hands on vast areas of land belonging to Christians... "President Mahmoud Abbas is taking our case very seriously," said Georgette Lama. "But until now he hasn't done anything to help us get our land back. We are very concerned because we're not the only ones suffering from this phenomenon. Most Christians are afraid to speak, but I don't care because we have nothing more to lose..."
A Christian businessman who asked not to be identified said the conditions of Christians in Bethlehem and its surroundings had deteriorated ever since the area was handed over to the PA in 1995. "Every day we hear of another Christian family that has immigrated to the US, Canada or Latin America... The Christians today make up less than 15 percent of the population. People are running away because the Palestinian government isn't doing anything to protect them and their property against Muslim thugs. "
As Jews, we have never understood how little concern there seems to be among Christians outside the region about the suffering of their Christian brothers. And if you'd like to know why this bothers us so much, click on Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society.

Meanwhile here's a second illustration of how depressing it is to see what the people in the states that border on ours do and think.

This one is a Moslem viewpoint. Published a few weeks ago by a freelance writer from Islamabad, Pakistan, it expresses opinions that are rarely heard anywhere, and probably least of all in Islamic society. The voice belongs to Farrukh Saleem, a man brave enough - or maybe crazy enough - to publish his email address.

Saleem says the League of Arab States has 22 members. 7 of them are monarchies and 6 are classed by the UN Commission on Human Rights as "authoritarian" and among the "world's most repressive regimes" (Libya, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Somalia).

Against this promising background, our Pakistani observer shares with us these insights:
  • Of the 330 million Moslems living in Arab countries, fewer than half a million live in a democracy. That's 0.15 per cent of all the Moslem Arabs in the world.
  • You need to travel no more than 250 miles from the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo to encounter the sole parliamentary democracy in the entire Middle East. It's a place that has universal suffrage. It's a country with multi-party, multi-candidate, competitive elections. It's called Israel.
  • "Israel [says Saleem] spends $110 on scientific research per year per person while the same figure for the Arab world is $2."
  • Knowledge [he writes] makes Israel grow by 5.2 per cent a year. Meanwhile the average production per worker in the Arab League countries was negative throughout the 1980's and 90's according to the World Bank's Arab Development Report.
  • The average per capita income in Israel is $25,000. In the oil-rich Arab League countries, it's $5,000.
  • "The state of Israel [he writes] now has six universities ranked as among the best on the face of the planet. "
  • He gets more specific, quoting an authoritative source on tertiary education: "The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is in the top 100. Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science are in the top 200. Bar Ilan University and Ben Gurion University are in the top 300. The Arab League does not have a single university in the top 400.
  • Every second Arab women is unable to read and to write. Noting this, he quotes Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb: "If God were to humiliate a human being, He would deny him knowledge".
  • Between 1998 and 2000, more than 15,000 Arab physicians migrated out of the Arab world. According to World Bank figures, "roughly 25 per cent of 300,000 first degree graduates from Arab universities emigrated. Roughly 23 per cent of Arab engineers, 50 per cent of Arab doctors and 15 per cent of Arab BSc holders had emigrated."
  • Israel, on the other hand, has more engineers and scientists per capita than any other country in the world. For every 10,000 Israelis, there are 145 engineers or scientists.
  • Israel ranks among the top 7 countries worldwide for patents per capita.
  • He mentions Teva Pharmaceutical Industries - whose plant we can see from our living room window here in Jerusalem - because it's the world's largest producer of antibiotics. Teva also developed Copaxone, a unique immunomodulator therapy for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, the only non-interferon agent available.
  • Most members of the Arab League grant Moslem women few rights in relation to marriage, divorce, dress code, civil rights, legal status and education. Israel is entirely different - its women enjoy the broadest possible rights by any standards.
  • Spain (alone) translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years.
  • The world's six million Israelis buy 12 million books every year. This makes them one of the highest consumers of books in the world.
  • Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita in the world. The Arab world has the lowest.
  • Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other country (109 per 10,000 Israelis). The Arab world? Next to none.
Does any of this matter? No, not if you're a Christian living in a Moslem country. Or a women, or a liberal.

But yes, it does matter to people like us. We have a lot to protect: a society that's growing, achieving, making an impact. If the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian Arabs in particular, had the same kind of stake in their own future, the chances that we might find ways to live in peace with each other would be immeasurably greater.

Even from Pakistan, it's clear how far we are from that happening.


Anonymous said...

Yup, Israel is a wonderful place (if you are a Jew).

How does that justify the acts of land theft, murder and oppression that Israel metes out to the local Arabs?

Guess what, it does not.

Steve said...

Boy, it must be bleak for muslim youth, whether male or female, to grow up in a society with so much oppression and so little opportunity. It seems surprising the people don't rise up and take control, but it's simply not part of the culture, is it?

If we were to truly create change in these countries, would the best way be some tactic other than warmaking? Probably. But are other kinds of efforts successful? It seems not.

What kind of carrot could we hang out that the muslim masses would accept? I cannot think of a single thing.

Gharqad Tree said...

Anonymous, whether Israel is a wonderful place "if you are a Jew" I don't pretend to know, but for you to insinuate that it must be something else for a non-Jew is both snide and inaccurate. This past year, for example, a survey found that among Arab citizens of Israel, an astounding 73 percent agreed with the statement that they would rather be citizens of Israel than of any other country in the world, whilst the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Public Opinion Poll found that a majority of Israeli Arabs agreed that, "many of the Arab citizens of Israel identify with Israel in private but refrain from expressing it in public due to social pressures."
That's what non-Jewish Israelis say, anonymous, but still - you must know better than them, huh?

Guess what; you don't!

"Land theft, murder, and oppression" - the 'local Arabs' have been offered their own state on numerous occasions, most recently in 2000/2001. On each occasion they have rejected the proposals put forward by Israel and backed by the international community, and chosen violence. They had the chance to build a peaceful state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Guess what; they rejected it.

By 'land theft' I take it you mean the territory that Israel occupies following its victories in wars of unprovoked aggression launched by Arab states, including the 'local Arabs'? Some of that land was traded back to the aggressors in return for peace treaties - Israel would do the same with the Palestinians (just as it tried to a mere handful of years ago with Yassir Arafat). Land for Peace has not worked with the Palestinians - and neither has it worked FOR the Palestinians: many neutral voices from Gaza now say things were better before the Israeli withdrawal. Gaza is not peaceful now that Israel has withdrawn, it is a launching pad for daily attempts to murder Jewish civilians. That may not make it through the news filters, but it happens nevertheless. As does the growing persecution and cleansing of the Christian community of towns like PA-controlled Bethlehem, a phenomenon which can also be categorized under the 'murder, land theft and oppression' heading, but about which you evidently have nothing to say.

Before Israel effectively fought back, you may remember, the Palestinians were no slouches when it came to murder. So Israel fought back and the world condemned it for contributing to the 'cycle of violence'. It decided then to build a barrier to keep out the weekly suicide bombs, a tactic which worked, (as French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy recently admitted: “I have significantly evolved on the matter of the separation fence. Although the wall was a moral and ethical problem for me, when I realised terror attacks were reduced by 80 percent in the areas where the wall was erected, I understood I didn’t have the right to think that way,”) He phrases it perfectly - he didn't have the right to condemn it because HE was not facing the threat of death on a bus, in a restaurant, in his local shops. He "didn't have the right".

Guess what; neither do you!

The bottom line: if the Palestinian leadership ever deomnstrate that they want a peaceful prosperous state living side by side with Israel, they will get it. Until that time, and especially while an openly anti-semitic religious murder squad are the elected government of the PA, Israel's only duty is to protect its own citizens from murder, whether they live within the pre-67 borders or in territory that Israel occupied while defending itself against unprovoked attack. Does Israel have a duty to ensure that people like you approve of that arrangement?

Guess what; it doesn't.

The-View-From-Ramot said...

Gharqad Tree, those may be home truths but (a) you express them beautifully and (b) most of the know-nothing knee-jerk Israel-haters, like our nameless friend, we have met or dialogued with have very likely never heard them before. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...


I am perfectly willing to rebut all your rhetoric and disinformation regarding Israel and the conflict with the local Arabs but I know you won't publish it here as it goes against your entire raison d'etre; to spread Zionist propaganda.

Gurantee you will post my rebuttal and I will destroy your flimsy arguments.

I am not prepared to have a one sided argument where you get to spew lies and I am not permitted to rebut them.

The-View-From-Ramot said...

Anonymous contributors don't get guarantees of any sort from us. There's no limit to how many places on the web you can go and publish your opinions; we're under no obligation to provide you with a soapbox. Our general policy is to throw anonymous contributions directly into the garbage. It's not the power of your brilliant insights, or their unpalatable nature, that cause us to feel that way. And it's also not the fact that your brilliant refutation of a pro-Israel case causes us deep emotional problems. Your comments may or may not be brilliant, and they may or may not refute ours. The issue is that you choose to express them anonymously. Most people of discernment understand how to relate to a polemical viewpoint that's expressed anonymously. If you don't understand that, there's no reason for us to waste time explaining it. Your comment is now published. If your next comment fails to pass our taste test, it won't appear here. We're deluged with anonymous hate mail here, as most pro-Israel websites are, and we suffer from no moral confusion as to the right way to treat it.

anita said...

I just heard of the suicide bombing at a bakery in Eilat this morning.The first one in almost a year. My condolenes to the victims and their families. I am sorry Mr. and Mrs.Roth, I am sure everytime there is a terror atack it must awaken painful memories of the loss your own precious child. Anonymous the real problem with people like you is that your so blinded by your hatred of the Jews and hypocrisy you don't know what truth is. As Mr.Roth said there are plenty of antiIsraeli blogs/websites all over the internet you can go and express your views, and yet for some odd reasoning you come to one of the very few blogs run by an Israeli father and mother who lost their beloved daughter in a terror attack just to trash what they stand for and their country.That alone speaks volumes about you and what you stand for.

Anonymous said...

Something for the hate filled authors of this site to consider;

Bassam Aramin spent nine years in an Israeli prison. He belonged to Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah in the Hebron area and attempted to throw a grenade at an Israeli army Jeep in occupied Hebron. Last Wednesday morning, an Israeli soldier in a jeep in his village of Anata, on the West Bank, shot his nine year old daughter, Abir, in the head. The soldier will not spend an hour in jail. In Israel, soldiers are not imprisoned for killing Arabs. Never. It does not matter whether the Arabs are young or old, real or potential terrorists, peaceful demonstrators or stone throwers. The army has not conducted an inquiry in Abir Aramin's death. Neither the police nor the courts have questioned anyone. There will be no investigation. As far as the Israeli Defense Forces are concerned, the shooting did not happen. The army's official account of her death is that she was hit by a stone that one of her classmates was throwing "at our forces."

We who live in Israel know that stones thrown by 10 year olds do not blow brains out. Just as we see every day the Israeli jeeps circling Palestinian children on their way to and from school and greet them with stun-bombs, "rubber" bullets and riot control gas.

A bullet penetrated Abir Aramin's skull, while she was walking to school with her sister. I saw her just afterwards at Hadassah Hospital, where she slept quietly in a huge hospital bed. Abir's face was white. Her huge eyes were closed. By then, she was already brain dead, and the doctors decided to allow the rest of her to die. I saw clearly that her head had been shot from behind, and I will testify under oath to that fact. A young student who witnessed her shooting told journalists that the Israeli border police, who are part of the IDF, drove up to the girls as they came out of their school examinations. "The girls were afraid and started running away. The border police followed them in the direction in which they were retreating. Abir was afraid and stool against one of the shops at the side of the road. I was standing near her. The border policeman shot through a special hole in the window of his jeep that was standing very close to us. Abir fell to the ground I saw that she was bleeding from the head."

Abir Aramin is dead. The doctors at Hadassah will not disclose the cause of her death to her parents or her friends. Her family has requested an autopsy. Her father, Bassam Aramin, is one of the founders of Combatants for Peace. My son, who served as an Israeli soldier in the occupied territories, is also a member. They are friends. Bassam told us that he cannot rest until his daughter's killer convinces him that nine year old Abir threatened his life or the life of the other soldiers in his jeep. I fear he will never have the chance to rest.

Abir Aramin has joined the thousands of other children killed in this country and the territories it occupies. She will be welcomed by my own little girl, Smedar. Smedar was killed in 1997 by a suicide bomber. If her killer had survived, I know he would have been sent to prison for his crime.

In the meantime, I sit with her mother Salwa and try to say, "We are all victims of occupation." As I say it, I know that her hell is more terrible than mine. My daughter's murderer had the decency to kill himself when he murdered Smadar. The soldier who killed Abir is probably drinking beer, playing backgammon with his mates and going to discotheques at night. Abir is in a grave.

Abir's father was a warrior, who fought the occupation --officially a "terrorist," although it is a strange logic that calls those who resist the occupation and dispossession of their people as terrorists. Bassam Aramin is still a fighter --but as a peace activist. He knows, as I know, that his little dead girl takes all the reasons for this war to her grave. Her small bones could not bear the burden of life, death, vengeance and oppression that every Arab child here grows up with.

Bassam, as a Muslim, believes he must pass a test --as a man of honour not to seek revenge, not to give up, not to neglect the struggle for dignity and peace on his own land When he asked me where we find strength to go on, I said the only thing I could think of: from the children who are left to us. His other children, my three living sons. From the other Palestinian and Israeli children who have a right to live without their elders forcing them into being occupiers or occupied. The so-called enlightened, western world does not get what is happening here. The whole enlightened world stands aside and does nothing to save little girls from murderous soldiers. The enlightened world blames Islam, as it once blamed Arab nationalism, for all the atrocities the non-Islamic world is inflicting upon Muslims. The enlightened west fears little girls with scarves on their heads. It is terrified of boys in keffiehs. And in Israel, children are educated to fear, most of all, the fruits of the Muslim womb. When they become soldiers, they see nothing wrong in killing Palestinian children "before they grow." But Basam and Salwa and all of us--Jewish and Arab victims of the Israeli occupation - want to live together rather than die together. We see our children sacrificed on the altar of an occupation that has no basis in law or justice. And, outside, the enlightened world justifies it all and sends more money to the occupiers.

If the world does not come to its senses, there will be nothing more to say or write or listen to in this land except for the silent cry of mourning and the muted voices of dead children.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Gharqad Tree said...

Nurit Peled-Elhanan,

'Hate filled'??? - there are indeed some anti-islamic, anti-Palestinian hate sites on the internet. I've inadvertently visited a few and been appalled by their dehumanizing of muslims or Arabs and their hateful rhetoric. They are loathesome and should be condemned by all decent people.

There are, on the other hand, sites that ask pertinent and serious questions, and make points that mainstream media coverage shies away from. This site is one of them.

Given the uniformly one-sided and negative coverage that Israel receives from many of the world's most influential news organisations - the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, Reuters, AP, AFP, - and many others - it is a shame that you find it hateful and intolerable that the parents of a murdered Israeli girl should take the opportunity to put their side of the story in sane and measured tones, just as you have put yours in the above comment.

I have never encountered anything that could remotely be construed as hatred on this site - not from the authors at any rate. Here is a passage from the post we are commenting on:

"If the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian Arabs in particular, had the same kind of stake in their own future, the chances that we might find ways to live in peace with each other would be immeasurably greater."

Does that sound hate-filled? Can you, as a parent who has lost a child in this conflict and told your side of the story label the authors of this site 'hate filled' simply because they do the same? They blame those who planned and carried out the bombing that took their child from them, and many other children from other parents. You also lost a beloved child to a bomber, but blame the occupation and ultimately Israel. Does that really make the Roths 'hate-filled'? I find it ironic that your vehement, poetic plea for an end to the occupation and the conflict is couched in terms that demonstrate in microcosm precisely why the conflict continues: the Roths bear witness to what they see as the over-arching truth behind the murder of their daughter, and you visit their site to denounce them as 'hate-filled' for doing so. This site is reasoned and rational, but you - for all that you position yourself as a seeker of peace and coexistence - in many ways represent perfectly the genuine voice of the conflict: a narrative infused with grief and anger that disallows the validity of the grief and the anger felt by people like the Roths.

I've written enough for several comments and feel I should stop now. There's more I would like to ask you though: if Israelis are as you claim "educated to fear Muslims", perhaps you would care to post a detailed comparison of Israeli and PA educational materials, so we can judge for ourselves who is more effectively taught to hate.