Saturday, June 04, 2005

Real peace begins with battle against extremists, June 3/6, 2005

Real peace begins with the battle against extremists
June 3/6, 2005 Creators/Arlington Heights Daily Herald
By Ray Hanania

In 1994, Egyptian author and humorist Ali Salem climbed into his Soviet built car and drove to Israel. The next year, he wrote a book about the three-week experience called "A Drive to Israel."

This week, Salem was about to make the same trip by plane to accept an honorary doctorate from an Israeli university when Egypt stopped him.

Salem’s experience exposes challenges threatening Arab and Israeli moderates who are vilified by extremists for supporting peace.

Arabs are not allowed to communicate with the "Zionist entity" while Israel prevents criticism of its policies or being too supportive of Palestinian independence.

Penalties range from being prevented from traveling and subjected to public ridicule, to worse fates including arrest, detention and even death.

Egypt, against the better judgment of many Arabs who felt the country should not act on its own, signed a peace accord in the 1970s with Israel, without forcing Israel return Palestinian lands and recognizing a Palestinian State.

Egypt was boycotted by the Arab World and "President" Anwar Sadat (not really a president but an autocrat), was murdered. Years later, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was also murdered for signing a peace accord with the Palestinians.

In the case of Ali Salem, preventing him from receiving the doctorate from Ben Gurion University in the Negev Desert town of Beer Sheba made more news than allowing him to go.

The extremists don’t always have to murder you to make their point. They can exploit the emotions of their publics marginalize, disparage, persecute and slander moderates who try to break through the cycle of hatred that keeps Israelis and Palestinians from achieving a compromise based on two states, the return of land and a real front against violence.

Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh came under fire recently when he criticized a British teachers union boycott against an Israeli university that supported one of the Israeli settlements. Extremists pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to have Nusseibeh fired as president of al-Quds University.

When I wrote that although Palestinian refugees have a rock-solid legal right of return founded in law and moral principle, but that achieving that return in a compromise is unrealistic to expect, extremists came out in force and branded me a "traitor."

Their campaign continues, pressuring Arab World newspapers and many Arab online web sites to drop my columns, and they have pressured Arab and Muslim organizations to cancel my speeches and comedy for peace performances.

Israeli extremists have and continue to do the same to moderates who criticize excesses in Israel’s brutal occupation and urge Israel’s total withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem. Jewish American newspapers boycott Palestinian moderates while many mainstream Israeli and Jewish online news sites constantly harangue them with accusations of being "terrorist sympathizers" simply for questioning Israel’s actions.

The real challenge to peace is the ability of extremists to so easily silence the moderate voices like Salem, Nusseibeh and others

Ali Salem should be allowed to accept the accolade. Those who have the courage to support peace based on compromise publicly should be defended for their courage and not so easily punished as "traitors."

If governments in Israel and the Arab World can’t tolerate peace contacts between their own people, no wonder they fail so miserably in achieving lasting peace.


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