Wednesday, July 16, 2008

16-Jul-08: Their values, our values

As a ceremony unfolds on Israel's northern border this morning, thoughtful onlookers are struck by what the exchange of murderers for dead kidnapped soldiers tells us about the two sides. Today's Jerusalem Post has the editorial below that captures our mood eloquently.
A disparity of images
Jul 15, 2008 20:49 | Updated Jul 16, 2008 9:12

Israelis are steeling themselves today for the painful images that will doubtless accompany the anticipated exchange of unrepentant terrorist Samir Kuntar for IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

It's already been a week of images that, mostly, encapsulate Israeli frustrations: newly-released but old photographs of Ron Arad; pictures of Syrian president Bashar Assad with his back turned to Ehud Olmert at the Bastille Day ceremony in Paris; and of Olmert at the same ceremony, his hand good-naturedly draped around Hosni Mubarak's shoulders.

Even the encouraging image of banter between Mubarak and Olmert left us wishing Egypt didn't hold our bilateral relations hostage to what happens with the Palestinians; while Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas looking so affable in Paris made us wonder what there is to smile about.

AN IMAGE that weighs heavily on our minds today is that of a smiling, 32-year-old Ehud Goldwasser in a photo recognizable worldwide. Yet his real life - as a son and brother, his deep love for his wife, Karnit, along with his work at the Technion, and his hobby as a photographer - has been largely obscured despite his unwanted celebrity.

The same holds true of 27-year-old Eldad Regev. He is often pictured in a photo that shows him carefree, sunglasses balanced on his head, smiling into the camera. His real life, too, is largely unknown. Friends describe him as "a fanatical football fan" whose dream was to become a lawyer.

Then there are the inscrutable images of Gilad Schalit, kidnapped on June 25, 2006, and held by Hamas in Gaza. That he is quiet and introverted comes through in the photos we have of him. Sometimes pictured in uniform, wearing eye-glasses, sometimes in civilian clothing looking like the boy next door, he seems even younger than his 21 years.

IMAGES REFLECTING Zionist sacrifices - and desire for peace - are nothing new.

On January 3, 1919, Emir Faisal, the Arabian-born Hashemite ruler, was famously photographed with Chaim Weizmann (both men wearing desert headdress). Faisal had just, conditionally, accepted the Balfour Declaration. Eight-nine years later, that image of Jewish-Arab partnership still beckons.

Of course, as the numerous Oslo-era meetings between a smiling Yasser Arafat and various Israeli leaders demonstrated, positive images - even written commitments - do not guarantee sincerity of intentions. Unlike the emir, the Palestinian leader could never reconcile himself to genuine accommodation with the Jewish state.

Yet when Arab leaders display warmth and try to meet Israel half-way, their goodwill is reciprocated. We think of the images of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at the Knesset in November 1977, and how, within five years, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty.

Good personal relations do not dictate positive policy outcomes, but they certainly do no harm. King Hussein of Jordan first met publicly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on July 25, 1994. The two men developed a relationship of mutual respect and collegiality best captured in the famous photo of the king lighting a cigarette for the premier. The Jordanian-Israeli treaty was signed on October 26, 1994 - less than 100 days after Rabin and Hussein's first meeting.

THERE IS no surefire way to calibrate the right combination of image and substance that might pave the way to Arab-Israel peace. We know, however, what doesn't work. At the November 2007 Annapolis summit, for instance, the Saudi foreign minister wouldn't join in shaking hands with Olmert and Abbas - and thus chose to avoid giving much-needed legitimacy to Israeli-Arab reconciliation. A rare opportunity was squandered.

Sometimes, pictures only raise questions. How can the debonair Assad, so cosmopolitan in Paris with his fashionably dressed wife, also feel at ease in the embrace of the medieval-thinking mullahs of Teheran? Are image and policy really that divergent? Plainly, though, Assad avoiding Olmert, Assad opting not to replicate Sadat by coming to the podium of the Knesset, tells us much about his true intentions.

Today will bring difficult images of a Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon celebrating a slaughterer of innocents, and of an Israel mourning its fallen. That disparity of images reflects the yawning gulf of values between Israel and too many of its neighbors.


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