Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Calculating the 300 million th American, but not Iraqi deaths

Pinpointing 300 millionth American but not casualties in IraqBy Ray Hanania

The number was staggering and hard to believe, but that was besides the point, I guess. All acts of mass murder and killing are difficult to fathom regardless of which side of the political debate you are on.

But the ease at which many Americans in public, politics and the media have dismissed without a thought the recent report by the prestigious John Hopkins University that nearly 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since the United States illegally invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003 is staggering.

My first questions was, did the number actually include the dozens of innocent people who were murdered when American made missiles struck a house where President Bush had hoped to kill Saddam Hussein and his two sons?

Bush brushed off the number saying the “methodology” used to calculate the number of Iraqi’s killed has been “discredited,” but he never says by who.

Instead, he insists that the far lower and more acceptable butcher’s bill of only 30,000 Iraqis killed is accurate, that he declared without a description of his own methodology last December. Imagine, 30,000 human beings killed and we can accept that from “Professor” George W. Bush, but not the 655,000 from John Hopkins University?

The whole debate would be nothing except that a week later, the American media was declaring that the U.S. Government can pinpoint to the minute when the 300 millionth American will be born.

In fact, they precisely said the 300 millionth American was born on Tuesday, October 17 at 10:46 AM Pacific Time (1:46 PM East Coast Time).

Wow. That is pretty darn precise.

Apparently, there is a baby born every 11 seconds. No mention of how often an American dies of old age or more likely violence, crime and the result of gunfire according to new statistics showing the American crime rate skyrocketing.

It just reminds me of the old American saying, “You can put a man on the moon, but you can’t …?” You can complete the thought. You can’t figure out how many Iraqis have paid the price for Bush’s military arrogance?

How many Iraqi lives equals the worth of a gallon of oil? Isn’t that what the Iraq war is all about? We certainly haven’t invaded North Korea which has done far worse things than Saddam Hussein, and North Korea not only claims to have a nuclear bomb but they tested one and vow to test another.

Well, we all know from our last war there that North Korea doesn’t have a lot of oil. But they have a lot of tough soldiers that were difficult to defeat. In fact, we never defeated North Korea in our last war. We just ended it in an armistice that allowed the dictatorship to build up its nuclear arsenal and remain a world menace.

I didn’t hear Bush talking about pinpoint bombing Pyongyang to kill North Korea’s President Kim Jong Il or his children the way Bush vowed to take out Saddam Hussein and his sons and grandchildren.

How many Iraqis have died as a result of our war there?

Even if we pretend it’s not about oil and that is is about bringing “Democracy” to the oil rich Arab state, what is the price of one vote compare to the number of people who have had to die for it? Most against their will.

We don’t know. But somewhere in the American heartland this week probably, the United States will identify a baby and declare it the 300 millionth American born.

And they will have all kinds of celebrations and parties and the baby will be drowned in gifts, accolades and media celebrity.

The last time it happened, the young baby boy who was identified as the 200 millionth American was so honored that throughout his life he found himself on a public fast-track and became a very successful engineer. He was the son of Chinese immigrants. Imagine that. He wasn’t even “American,” according to some of the conservative Republicans who are battling to keep “foreigners” and “illegal immigrants” from entering this country by building a wall along the border with Mexico.

We’re not building a wall along the Canadian Border because, well, most Canadians are Europeans while the threat along the border with Mexico is to keep those “Mexicans” out.

The issue of immigration is as much about race as the war in Iraq is about oil, and the failure to act against North Korea is about politics.

I pity the 300 millionth American who will be born. That child will become the symbol of an era in American history when morals, ethics and the rule of law was tossed out the window so that a privileged class of European ethnics could reinforce their dominance over new and old minorities and religions.

He’ll always stand as a reminder that when it comes to selfish indulgence, we can be very precise and concerned. The 300 millionth baby.

But when it comes to death, destruction, conflict, violence and tragedy, it only matters when it benefits this country politically.

We do know how many Iraqis Saddam Hussein killed. In this trial, they claim its 180,000. No one dispute that “methodology” of that number because Americans want to believe the worst about Saddam Hussein and they don’t want to be reminded that maybe the invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law.

Americans don’t want to know how many Iraqis have been killed in Iraq because if it really is 655,000 as most of the rest of the world believes, then our soldiers will have been guilty of war crimes.

And war crimes is only something we cast against people we don’t like, not against ourselves as Americans.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and satirist. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gibson is no Ahmadinejad: But then, Ahmadinejad doesn't drink

Gibson is no Ahmadinejad: But then, Ahmadinejad doesn't drink
By Ray Hanania

Suffice it to say that if you want to criticize "the Jews," it’s a lot easier to do it in Iran than it is in say, Hollywood.

Just ask Mel Gibson. He’s not even Arab and he can’t shake the impression that he is some how anti-Semitic.

And worse, when Gibson unleashed what some have called an "anti-Semitic tirade," he was drunk on a stretch of California coastline that is notorious for nailing drunk Hollywood celebrities.

But Gibson is no ordinary drunk Hollywood celebrity. His name has become more synonymous with attacks on Jews than Hezbollah these days.

Gibson was driving in Malibu, a place known for sedate laid-back discretion, when a cop, who happens to be Jewish, noticed not Nazi flags flying from Gibson’s vehicle, but the clear impression that the car’s driver was drunk. Erratic wobbling.

The sheriff’s deputy who stopped Gibson, Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy James Mee, said he feels saddened that he may have destroyed Gibson’s career.

But "destroyed" may be mild.

Gibson is being returned to the Quarter Rack that he once sat on during the gruesome scene in Braveheart. (I wonder what an anti-Semitic spiel sounds like in a Scottish brogue?)

Gibson was arrested on a Friday and the popular entertainment web site TMZ.com broke the story. But hours later, the same web site disclosed that Gibson had gone "berserk" after being arrested.

At first, Gibson started screaming that his life would be ruined. Imagine, a Hollywood actor caught drunk.

When Mee would not let him off, and handcuffed him, Gibson launched into a tirade about his clout, his friends, his power.

For some strange reason, it wasn’t until all of that failed that, according to reports on his comments, that Gibson launched into the anti-Semitism. TMZ.com claims that Mee was forced to rewrite his detailed original 8-page detective novel that he turned in after bringing Gibson to the jail. Sources there said Mee was forced to eliminate all the Jew-hating comments.

My question is, how did he know Mee was Jewish? Or, if he didn’t say what he reportedly said because Mee was Jewish, how did he jump from "a ruined life" to "the Jews start all the wars in the world"?

Of course, Gibson was drunk.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a hardcore Muslim, (Shi’ite), and doesn’t believe in the consumption of alcohol. So, when he goes off on "the Jews," you know it’s not the alcohol talking.

Although when Ahmadinejad rails on "the Jews," I wonder if he’s not sipping a few martinis with a couple of those Harem broads!

But drunk or not, the hammers came down hard on Gibson.

Barbara Walters, whose accent sounds more like a drunken brogue than classic New York strut, immediately tossed her two lisps into the controversy saying, "I’m neber gwoing to twee anudder Meaw Gwibson mobie again!"

Of course, Walters has been criticized for racism against Black people and the rude manner in which she tossed African American TV star, Star Jones, off of the popular TV Show, "The View."
Hey. "Jew bashing" trumps anti-Black racism in America.

Hollywood executives, many Jewish, denounced Gibson and vowed never to rep him or his films, even though Gibson’s last big film, "The Passion of the Christ," was denounced as anti-Semitic when it was released in 2004 but earned nearly $400 million at the box office.

There’s a lot a "Jew-bashing" going on in the American heartland, apparently.

Gibson initially apologized for the drunken behavior, and conspicuously didn’t mentioned his "anti-Semitic tirade." But once the tirade got out and the TMZ.com web site reported that the LA County Police were trying to downplay the anti-Semitism, the first statement didn’t seem to do much good.

Having sobered up quickly, and recognizing that Jew-bashing in a Jewish city like Hollywood isn’t the same as Jew-bashing in Tehran and can quickly undermine a career in acting, Gibson issued a second statement. This time he begged for forgiveness, asking Jewish leaders help him "find a path to forgiveness."

Actually, the original term probably was "beat a path" to forgiveness.

Gibson’s publicist released a statement that began, "Hatred of any kind goes against my faith … I'm not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing."

Ah, which faith is that? I thought anti-Semitism began in the Christian faith, didn’t it?

Of course, we don’t know when group of "Jewish leaders" Gibson was hoping to sit down with, the ones who lead the community or the ones that he sees heading up the ABC TV network.

Days after Gibson’s remarks were made public, ABC TV announced it was canning the Holocaust TV mini-series Gibson had signed a deal to produce about a Catholic family that protects a Jew during the Nazi Holocaust. Right, another let’s make excuses for the Catholics who some claim have institutionalized anti-Semitism in their religious teachings. They will go ahead and release his other movie, "Apocalypto," about the ancient Mayan empire.

Of course, Tehran declared Gibson "shadeed," or martyr in Arabic, and announced they would supply him with katyusha rockets to fight the "Zionist infidels." Ahmadinejad said that with fronts in Gaza, Lebanon and Hollywood, "the Jews" would really be under siege.

Most Iranians probably don’t know who Mel Gibson is, considering that Hollywood movies are banned as "haram" (a sin) in Iranian society.

And while Gibson has entered a drug treatment center in California, I doubt there are any drug treatment centers in Tehran.

Although, maybe there should be.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Israeli assault exposes impotency of the Arab World

Israeli assault exposes impotency of Arab World
By Ray Hanania

We could all sit back and just blame Israel for all the killings but the Arab World has to share in the blame, especially its leaders.

The fact is that no Arab country has the power or the courage to stand up to Israel, at least not the courage that Hezbollah and Hamas have shown despite being labeled as "terrorist organizations" by the United States.

Yet, after seeing the massacre of Lebanese children and their mothers in Qana in Southern Lebanon this past week, it would be hard not to describe Israel’s government as a terrorist organization, too.

In fact, when you look at how the conflict began, Israel’s government looks more and more like a terrorist organization that deserves to be confronted for its own good.

The problem is, no one has the courage or strength to stand up to Israel.

Hezbollah and Israel have been in battle ever since Israel invaded Lebanon and the Arab World did nothing to stop it. Israel took a military beating not from any Arab government army but from Hezbollah, a ragtag group of Muslims who banded together to expel Israel from occupying another Arab country.

In fact, while Israel was in Lebanon, it was also occupying Syrian land, and Palestinian land, in violation of international laws and United Nations resolutions.

Israel argues that Hezbollah initiated the conflict and gave it the right to fight back with unrestrained power when Hezbollah fighters crossed into Israel and attacked a fully armed Israeli military patrol. In the fire fighter, both Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters were killed. And, Hezbollah, which more and more is proving to be the only real Arab World force that can back up its promises to defend Arab land, captured two Israeli soldiers.

Israel calls them "hostages," mainly to claim the mantel of the moral high ground in this conflict and Hezbollah merely refers to the captured soldiers as prisoners. Hezbollah has offered to return the two Israeli soldiers if Israel will return hundreds of Lebanese fighters and political prisoners who have been held in its jails along with nearly10,000 Palestinian resistance fighters and civilian political prisoners.

Israel has always held the Western media, mainly in the United States, in a vise-like headlock. It’s so criminal, though, it might better be referred to as "vice-like."

Still, even with the cheerleading from the American media, Israel continues to attack Lebanon unprovoked.

Israel argues it is attacking Lebanon to end the Hezbollah rocket attacks, but it was Israel that launched the full scale attacks with missiles and rockets and initiated a blockade by land, sea and air. And Hezbollah’s first rocket attacks were in response to Israel’s rocket attacks against Lebanese civilian targets, Such as Beirut’s civilian Rfik Hariri International Airport.

Israel and the United States blame Iran and Syria for arming Hezbollah, a claim that has never been proven but is published in American newspapers as if it were the Gospel Truth.

Yet, the fact is that the bombs that killed the little children and mothers of Qana, Lebanon were in fact supplied by the United States. The United States continues to provide the bombs and weapons of mass destruction to Israel that makes Israel a continued threat to longterm peace.

Rather than step in and criticize Israel’s excessive response to what many see as an ongoing cross-border raid, the Arab World leaders have basically been silent.

The truth is the Arab World is crumbling. They have been bought off in Egypt and Jordan. Elsewhere, the Arab World believes it is protecting its oil interests and even protecting itself from possible Israeli attack.

After all, Iran is only accused of trying to build a nuclear weapon, but it is Israel that has more than 200 and that refuses to abide by international nuclear treaties.

In reality, when the Lebanon war ends, and it will certainly end, probably with the wholesale destruction of a country and the mass murder of thousands of civilians, the Arab World itself might also formally cease to exist, too.

Despite their numbers, the Arab World has no real voice in the United Nations. Despite their oil reserves and industry, the Arab World has no ability to exercise economic power.

And worse, despite the justice that is in their cause to liberate Palestine, by forcing Israel to accept a peace based on two states defined on the basis of realistic boundaries, the Arab World doesn’t know how to use that justice.

It never has.

(Ray Hanania is the former National President of the Palestinian American Congress, a columnist and author. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Follow-up to my column of July 4: Wall Street Journal article on divisions in Arab Community

The Wall Street Journal published this feature by a reporter who is pro-Israel (read about his background in Israel and at a yeshiva). Yochi writes that the division is based on the claim that too much emphasis is placed on the Palestinian issue, but no research by the reporter was done into: 1) whether the groups invited were in fact singled out by the Bush administration which is extremely biased against most Arabs and Arab causes, or 2) that the split is really the result of many Lebanese feeling that "mainstream" Arab American organizations have been co-opted by the larger and faster growing Islamic organizations which have a religious agenda rather than a "Palestinian" agenda.

I wouldn't expect the article to address these issues since it is written by someone with a pro-Israel slant because the purpose of the article is to slam Palestinians and cause further divisions in the Arab American Community.

ADC National is a great organization, but there are SOME members who are fanatics who use their influence to exclude people. Chances are the Lebanese groups often are the victims of exclusion by the very groups not invited to this reported meeting. AAI is a secular group that is conflicted by the growing Islamicism and won't address it, so Zogby's comment is typical and intended to brush the issue aside rather than address it.

The fact remains Arab American organizations refuse to address their problems publicly and attack anyone in their community (like me) who addresses those differences. The attacks take the form of ostrcizing, calling eople names (like Mossad agent, mukhabarat, Jew-lover, Jew, etc). It's disgusting and it needs a far better analysis than this very shallow andf self-serving political slant offcered by the WSJ reporter.

The Dreazen feature should have been labeled a pro-Israel Op-Ed, and the feature should have been tackled by a far more objective reporter. (The WSJ is a great newspaper, by the way, but anti-Arab bias exists everywhere.)

Ray Hanania
Split Among Arab-Americans Curbs Political Clout
By YOCHI J. DREAZENJuly 28, 2006; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- When a coalition of Lebanese-American groups gathers on Capitol Hill today to condemn the Israeli offensive in Lebanon and push for an immediate cease-fire, the event will be as notable for who wasn't invited as for who was asked to attend.

The "Lebanese-American Leadership Conference" is expected to include representatives of a dozen small Lebanese political-action groups and at least one member of Congress. But the organizers pointedly chose not to invite representatives of high-profile advocacy groups like the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Institute. The decision to shun the groups -- which have large professional staffs, significant financial resources and savvy media operations -- highlights the growing tensions roiling the Arab-American community as the conflict in the Mideast grinds on.

Although often seen as homogeneous, the Arab-American community of 1.2 million is deeply divided by nationality -- and by fierce arguments over how it should flex its political muscle. Arab-American groups lack the resources of pro-Israel organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and have traditionally contributed far less to political campaigns and parties. The Arab-American groups are working hard to narrow the gap financially and build lobbying arms modeled on AIPAC, capable of exerting greater influence with the administration and on Capitol Hill.

However, many Lebanese exiles and their families complain that Arab-American advocacy groups focus disproportionately on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the exclusion of all other causes. The leaders of the mainstream Arab-American groups counter that the Lebanese are placing parochial concerns above the interests of the broader community, which sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the root cause of the region's chronic instability.

"The major Arab-American organizations focus on Palestine first and foremost, and they really have very little interest in Lebanon," says Joseph Gebeily, the Lebanese-American activist organizing today's event. "That shifts the public and political attention, to be honest. We feel like we're out there pushing one thing, and they're out there pushing something completely different."

The upshot is that the dispute is preventing the advocacy groups from presenting a united front at a moment when Arab-Americans are trying to find a strategy to respond to explosions of violence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The larger Arab-American groups acknowledge the tensions but deny that they focus too heavily on the Palestinian cause. Officials at the groups note that the organizations have held an array of public events in recent weeks designed to raise funds for humanitarian relief work in Lebanon or to call attention to the civilian suffering there.

"We can walk and chew gum at the same time," says James Zogby, a Lebanese-American who heads the Arab American Institute, a large political-advocacy organization that is leading its own Capitol Hill event today focusing on Lebanon's humanitarian crisis. "For anyone to say that we're not concerned with Lebanon is just nonsense."

The strains between Lebanese-Americans like Mr. Gebeily and the leaders of the higher-profile Arab-American organizations have been building for a long time, in part because of the demographic differences between the Arab-American community here and the Arab communities in the Middle East. Arabs as a whole are overwhelmingly Muslim, and nations like Iraq and Egypt account for a much larger share of the region's population than smaller countries like Lebanon. The Arab-American community, by contrast, is predominantly Christian, with people of Lebanese descent comprising the largest single block -- 37% of the 1.2 million Arab-American population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That has led many Lebanese-Americans to expect that they could make Lebanon's fate a key priority for the Arab-American community as a whole and sparked fierce feelings of anger and disappointment when the broader community refused to go along.

The Lebanese community here has long focused on a series of discrete goals: ending Syria's occupation of Lebanon, disarming groups like Hezbollah that have taken refuge there and pressuring Israel to respect Lebanon's borders. The broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a far lower priority, largely because Lebanon has bad memories of the years it spent under de facto Palestinian military control in the late 1970s and because Lebanon largely sat out the Arab-Israeli wars of the past few decades.

The tensions between the groups first peaked in 2003, when Lebanese-American groups flooded Capitol Hill in support of the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed travel and economic sanctions on Syria because of its long occupation of Lebanon and its support for anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah. The legislation had been a top priority for many Lebanese-American groups.

The larger Arab-American groups, by contrast, strongly opposed the bill, which they saw as overly punitive of Syria and as an improper congressional attempt to dictate foreign policy. The Arab-American groups lobbied against the bill and denounced it in op-ed columns and public speeches, though they made clear that they also opposed the Syrian occupation.
"We didn't think it would work, and we didn't think it was the right approach," says Laila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the oldest and largest Arab-American organizations in the country.

The legislation passed and was signed into law, but the bad feelings continued to build. Many Lebanese-Americans were infuriated when an Arab-American delegation led by a senior official in Ms. Qatami's organization visited Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus in late February 2004, just as the United Nations had begun considering measures demanding that Mr. Assad end Syria's occupation of Lebanon.

"The Syrians killed more Lebanese in one month in 1978 than Israeli has done in 30 years of war, but these big groups appear to believe that it's OK for one Arab country to invade another Arab country and abuse people there," says Joseph Hage, a wine merchant in Miami whose American Lebanese Coordination Council is an organizer of today's event. "They see Lebanon only through the context of the Palestinian cause, and it's really totally different. For us, Lebanon is what matters most, not Palestine."

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com1

Thursday, July 27, 2006

An Israeli Arab held "hostage" in the Israeli Gulag?

A political prisoner in Israel’s Gulag
By Ray Hanania

I remember when I last traveled to Israel. It was on British Airways and as the plane approached Ben Gurion Airport, the pilot announced that “Israel prohibits passengers from taking pictures from the airplane.”

I thought that was very odd and wondered how the offender would be handled. Would nearby passengers turn in the criminal? And, what would happen to the offender?

Certainly, I can understand why Israel would not want anyone to take pictures, I guess. They are building a Berlin-like Wall that is grabbing Palestinian land in the West Bank that can be easily annexed into Israel.

The last thing Israel’s government wants are photographs of the ugly behemoth floating around that might be published without their mandatory two-shekels of PR spin explaining it all away as just another innocent looking little fence.

But I figured taking pictures at a tourist site might not be so much of a crime in Israel.

Apparently, I’m wrong.

Several weeks ago, Ghazi Falah, a Palestinian with US residency who also is a citizen of both Canada and Israel, was in Israel visiting his sick mother, who is undergoing brain surgery. As a distraction, and being an “Arab Israeli citizen,” he went to Nahariya Beach, a popular Israeli tourist site near the Lebanese border.

Israeli police saw Falah “taking pictures” at the Beach. They approached and then “arrested” him, putting him in jail in Haifa.

To his family and friends, Falah just disappeared off the face of the Earth. For weeks, there was no word on his status.

Falah’s abduction occurred on July 8, days before Hezbollah crossed the border July 12 and attacked an armed Israeli military convoy and took two Israeli soldiers prisoner.

But Falah’s stories only surfaced a few days later as the conflict between Israel and Lebanon exploded, thanks to the reporting of a local Ohio newspaper, the Beacon Journal.

What happened to Falah?

There is a big debate over whether or not the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah are “hostages” or “prisoners of war.” Technically, Israel and Lebanon have been at war for years, despite armistice agreements. Israel and Hezbollah are at war, too. In fact, Israel is pretty much at war with a lot of groups these days.

So Hezbollah refers to the soldiers as POWs. As POWs, they should be accorded the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But Israel doesn’t recognize the Geneva Conventions in the occupied Palestinian territories. Then again, neither did President Bush in detaining prisoners in the Iraq and Afghan wars, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his actions are in fact a violation of the Geneva Accords.

Israel considers the two soldiers to be hostages, of course. And since Israeli lobbyists and supporters have the American mainstream media in a headlock grip that only gets tighter when the issues become more controversial, few American media have referred to them as anything but hostages.

I wonder what the Israelis consider Falah, one of their citizens?

His family told me no one in Israel would tell them anything. And that has to be frightening. We now know he sits in an Israeli jail. An official of the Israeli embassy in Philadelphia, not too far from where Falah’s family lives, said the issue involves “national security.”

In her reporting, Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky may have offered some clues as to why Falah was abducted by Israeli security. “He reportedly was bitter toward the Israeli academic establishment for preventing him from getting an academic post equal in standing to his Jewish colleagues …”

Falah also wrote some academic papers criticizing Israeli policy, which is usually the real reason why Israel grabs people at airports, detains them and throws them in to what Palestinians refer to as the “Israeli Gulag.”

Ah, that Gulag Word really upsets many Israelis. They don’t like it, insisting “every Palestinian prisoner,” nearly 10,000 of them, are all “terrorists, murderers and criminals.” Including many youngsters who are also detained.

Falah went before a magistrate in Haifa, but his lawyer was not only barred from entering the courtroom, he was also warned against saying anything about Falah’s condition to anyone. The gag order was only recently lifted when an Israeli newspaper complained that Falah’s story was being carried by newspapers in the United States and the gag order was unfair to them.

Falah’s still in jail, and his family members told me they still have not spoken to him and have no idea how he is being treated.

Sounds like “hostage” is the right term, to me.

Now, Israelis are going to dispute all of this, of course. They dispute everything, except when it is in their best interests.

The occupied territories are not occupied. They are now “disputed territories.”

And Ghazi Falah is probably not a hostage or a detaining or a prisoner, since he technically isn’t being held with the same respect that Israeli police give to mobsters, drug dealers, and other criminals who happen not to be Arab.

In fact, so little is known about Ghazi Falah’s situation that we might actually refer to him as a “disputed person.”

Palestinians complain of these kinds of Israeli security disappearing acts all the time, but not all of them are reported. It is just another example of Israel’s double standards.

They kidnap, take hostages, bomb, attack and even kill civilians when it is in their defense. But Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have no right to do the same.

Even as an Israeli citizen, apparently, Falah doesn’t seem to have any rights in Israel, a country that asserts to be the region’s “only real Democracy.”

I think we all know what the real problem is.

Falah isn’t really a “national security threat” at all. He just happens to be a Palestinian who disagrees with Israeli policies and he used his right to free speech to express his beliefs.

In Israel, apparently, that is all it takes to justify Falah’s detention in the Israeli Gulag.

What is Falah’s real crime? Apparently, it is “guilty of being Arab.”

(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Monday, July 24, 2006

Chicagoland's Arab Community needs leadership, not religious fanaticism

Chicagoland’s Arab American community needs leaders
By Ray Hanania

When you review the roster of government services, representation and community institutions, the Arab American community sits at the bottom of the list behind everyone.

Part of the reason is that our community lacks true leaders who are willing to set aside their personal gain in favor of helping our community, but more importantly, we lack leaders who understand the importance of the word “Arab.”

It’s not a religion and it’s not a political movement. It is a very proud culture that is slowly disappearing as the leadership void grows.

Instead of an Arab community, we see fragments of our community drifting towards religious fundamentalism, political extremism and people who support government institutions in order that they can get grants, awards and jobs for themselves and their own children and relatives.

You can’t blame these opportunists for trying to take care of themselves first, if the majority of Chicagoland’s Arab Americans remain apathetic, silent and inactive.

We have the “Arab disease,” which is basically the urge to only do something when you are angry and driven by emotion, rather than out of strategic planning and calming and more successful long term planning.

Emotion forces us to act now, sometimes in great numbers, but most often in few numbers.Strategic planning forces us to view the challenges long term and plan out strategies to overcome and then improve them.

The downside of the emotional response is that it doesn’t last long and it transforms from energy into hatred. We end up feeding our despair with hatred. One day, we see a hundred or even one thousand people chanting for justice in Palestine, and then they go away for months with no sustained strategic action.

Worse, because these “flare-ups” of activism which are not substantive activism at all only last a few days or during the height of crisis, we turn away from the challenges and the groups and organizations that cause our suffering and instead focus on ourselves as a community.

We prey on each other, individually, instead of standing together as a community. We start talking about others in derogatory terms. Instead of viewing the efforts of others as small steps forward, we tear each other down.

In reality, the only way a poor leader can look good is to bring someone else down. Attack others and push them down to make ourselves look good. So we find leaders in mosques and churches railing against people and individuals because they have dared to ask questions or wonder why our leaders act the way they do.

Leadership is not only about leading. It is about doing what is right, doing it fairly and doing it strategically.

It is also about recognizing differences of opinion and being “tolerant,” which is probably the one characteristic of leadership missing from those who claim to lead us today.

When I was younger, I recall a true leader in Professor Imbrahim Abu-Lughod. Professor Abu-Lughod was a Muslim, who happened to be married to a woman who was Jewish. He was probably the most effective spokesman for the Palestinian and Arab cause.

Why? Not because he was the most eloquent. But because he recognized that the real answer to our challenges in this society rested on strengthening the secular spirit of the community in order to bring Christian and Muslims together, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis and others. There are 22 Arab countries and these days we act as if only one of the 22 count. Ourselves.

We hide behind religion as an excuse for our failed leadership, putting our faith in God as if God did not want us to be responsible ourselves. Instead, we should cherish our individual faiths and respect our traditions and apply that morality not only to our enemies but to ourselves.

The God of the Muslims and the Christians is the same God. Both communities refer to him as Allah. And according to Allah, it is wrong to slander and gossip about others in our community, to support suicide, to support violence, to use the pain of others as the reason to launch movements.

Professor Abu-Lughod understood this and preached this. And under his leadership, our Chicagoland community was stronger, even though there were fewer Arab families then than there are today.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen newcomers who have no history in our community using their religion to force everyone to follow their dictates. They lash out those who are different, of different religions and different political views and of different Arab nationalities, because they view the challenges not in the broader perspective that Professor Abu-Lughod recognized, but from a narrow perspective that suits their personal goals.

We need to get past these losers and we need to do it quickly. We need to strengthen the bond that brought most Arab Americans to America. We are American and we are proud of being American. We are not visitors here. We fled the persecution and the insanity of the monarchs, mullahs, dictators and tyrants to experience the true meaning of freedom.

When the silent majority of Arab Americans find the courage to stand up and push the cowards aside who exploit our anxieties and suffering for their own selfish gain, then once again will our community be able to speak to Americans about the justice of the Palestinian cause, the righteousness of Lebanon’s needs to defend itself against Israeli government terrorism, and remind Americans that the Arab World is a just and moral World that deserves their friendship and support, not animosity.

That was Professor Abu-Lughod’s dream. And it was his dream that drew deep into the activism of the Arab American community in 1975, long before some of today’s so-called leaders ever even heard of Chicago.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning journalist, author of the book Arabs of Chicagoland and the host of the Internet TV program “CounterPoint.” You can reach him at www.hanania.com.)


Miss Universe Pageant, no distraction from Middle East politics

Miss Universe is no distraction from politics and conflict
By Ray Hanania

I thought I would distract myself from the ongoing Israeli terrorism against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Lebanese in and around Beirut by switching from CNN to the 55th Annual Miss Universe Pageant.

But all I could think of was how deeply the political fighting and fanaticism has burrowed into our lives.

Of the 86 contestants this year, only two were from an Arab country. Egypt and Lebanon, despite the destruction being inflicted on it by Israel, sent a contestant, maybe in a defiant gesture that Israel could destroy their country but they will not be able to destroy their humanity.

A third contestant from a country that some no longer consider “Arab,” withdrew when Islamic extremists threatened to have her killed.

On April 9, Tamar Goregian, 23, a Christian from Iraq, which is occupied by American forces, withdrew after Islamic extremists, calling her “the queen of infidels,” threatened to kill her if she attended the Miss Universe Pageant.

The pageant, held this year at the Shrine Temple in Los Angeles, actually moves from host country to host country each year, although the US has won more of the contests, 7, than any other country.

The two runners-up in the Miss Iraq Beauty Pageant are Muslim and they declined to take Miss Goregian’s place in the face of the death threats. The fourth place runner-up, Silva Shahakian, 23, also a Christian, was left to take the title, but apparently she, too, declined as she was not among the 86 pageant beauties who were introduced Sunday night during the show’s broadcast.

Don’t blame the lack of Iraqi contestants on the United States. The last time an Iraqi woman competed was back in 1972.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I became angry.

There are 22 Arab countries and only two could come up with pageant entrants this year.

I credit Egypt and Lebanon for standing up to the principle of tolerance. Must everyone live by the lowest common denominators in the Muslim World, extremists who seek to impose their will on everyone else?

While the main attraction of the contest is physical beauty, the winner becomes a world activist for good causes. Last year’s winner, Natalie Glebova, became the champion of the sick. She helped raise awareness of HIV/AIDS education. Other winners have championed the needs of the poor, the homeless and helped strengthen the image of their home countries in the eyes of most of the rest of the world, if not in the 19 Arab countries that have failed to proffer entries.

The contest seems rigged, but that’s besides the point. A panel of judges narrows the field down to 20 finalists for the TV broadcast. Both Egypt and Lebanon were not selected as finalists. That was fine because Israel wasn’t selected either.

In 2002, Israel’s contestant caused a minor uproar when she wore a gown that featured a map of Israel on her dress that merged the occupied Gaza Strip, West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem as parts of that country.

So much for the Israelis who constantly bark that Arabs are biased because they have maps of Palestine that don’t identify Israel. (The Israelis are the world’s greatest hypocrites, as we all know.)

In that contest, Miss Lebanon decided to withdraw rather than appear on stage with Miss Israel, citing the Israeli incursions into Lebanon even after Israel withdrew from its near 20 year long occupation of Southern Lebanon only two years earlier in 2000.

In contrast to Israel, Miss Egypt was very professional. Her gown featured the word “peace” written in Arabic.

So even before the first of the 20 finalists from Sunday’s show were even eliminated, I had switched channels in disgust thinking about all this controversy.

None of the finalists were Arab, so why watch?

Well, the real issue is why does the Arab World permit the fanatics to define who we are?

Who are they to insist that we cannot sing, dance, imbibe modestly and even perform standup comedy?

Who are they to hold back the rest of us by issuing death threats against 23 year old women who are not even of their religious faith, forcing them to withdraw from the contest.
It may be about beauty, but the show is one of the most watched programs in the world. More than 170 countries view the show, maybe because the majority of people in this world prefer to see the basic beauty of womanly innocence on a TV screen rather than the frightening look of some religious fanatic with a full beard issuing death threats and launching entire regions into conflicts they have no right to start.

When it comes to the Miss Universe Pageant, the Arabs and Israelis are tied. Lebanon’s won once in 1971 and Israel won once in 1976.

If the religious fanatics have their way in the Arab World, we won’t even have two contestants in next year’s pageant.

I think that is a shame. And if we want to defeat the extremists, we should stop letting the extremists control our lives.

Next year, every Arab country in the Middle East should have a contestant in the 2007 Miss Universe Pageant.

But that assumes that the extremists won’t have achieved their goals and there will still be a “Middle East” and an “Arab World” left standing.

(Ray Hanania is the former national President of the Palestinian American Congress, a writer and author. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not giving up on Palestinian-Israeli peace

Palestinians, Israelis must find courage for peace
By Ray Hanania

(Arab News, YnetNews.com, Utah Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Newsday, the Future News, and more)

Responsible Palestinians reject Hamas's rejection of Israel. But Israel's got the upper hand to make peace
Most Palestinians and Israelis recognize that there is no military option to end their conflict.

As Palestinian society continues to deteriorate, the threats against Israel -- as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombing targeting innocent Israeli citizens -- only increase.

Israelis cannot make the Palestinians go away, and Palestinians cannot defeat Israel. Both sides can either make things worse, or they can continue to fight for a lasting peace.

Because Israel has the upper hand, it faces the hard choice either to contribute to the erosion of Palestinian society and reject the Hamas-led government, or to accept the fact that violence will never go away until a real lasting peace can be achieved.

As a Palestinian, I oppose Hamas because it has violated two principles that Palestinians who support peace believe are sacred.

Not only has Hamas driven a decadelong campaign of suicide bombings and violence, but worse, it has used that violence to undermine the only real peace process Palestinians and Israelis have seen that was initiated more than a decade ago by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

As an extremist Islamist group, Hamas has been driven by faith. But as a result of its election, Hamas faces the higher responsibility of representing the greater needs of the Palestinian people, setting aside its religious zealotry and embracing the secular responsibility that comes with Democracy and governing.

I am not sure Hamas, a terrorist organization, can do that. But we have seen many terrorists transform into statesmen, and not just in the Middle East.

From terrorist to statesman

Arafat was a great revolutionary who forced the world to recognize Palestinian rights. He was not, however, a very good government bureaucrat, and his government was plagued by corruption. Yet Arafat was the first Arab leader to openly recognize Israel's right to exist and to accept the inevitability of a mini-state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Had Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a genuine concessions, such as really offering to return or share East Jerusalem in 2000, Arafat might have been able to embrace that peace and then enforce on his own people a compromise on the delicate issue of the Palestinian Right of Return.

But all that is behind us.

Confronting Israel is the dilemma of treating Hamas as a terrorist government or accepting its own logic, which has argued that only a hard-line rejectionist Israeli leader, like Menachem Begin, a former terrorist, could be capable of negotiating peace with the Arabs.

Dealing with Hamas

Maybe Hamas is the only Palestinian entity that can enforce a peace accord that will be accepted by Palestinians, if Hamas would be willing to compromise.

Although Hamas has refused to renounce, or even condemn, the violence of other splinter groups, the Islamic militant group has abided by a unilaterally imposed hudna, or suspension of violence, for more than a year. Even as religiously zealous as Hamas leaders are, they didn't hesitate to distance themselves from the recent tape in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden expressed solidarity with their election. Hamas leaders said their views are "vastly different'' from bin Laden's views.

Collective terror

In contrast with Hamas' actions, what has Israel done? Israel continues to punish all Palestinians for the crimes of a few, a policy that is the equivalent of terrorism and called "collective punishment.''

So far, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not used the collective-punishment policy against the leaders of Hamas for the suicide bombing of another splinter group, Islamic Jihad. He did not respond to the suicide bombing by striking out at all Palestinian leaders, Hamas, Fatah or others. Instead, he has focused on moving foreward with his vision of a unilaterally imposed settlement that will separate Israelis from Palestinians and possibly give Palestinians the choice to build on their own independence, or, worse, use the developments as just another opportunity to incite anti-Israeli violence.

Either way, a critical moment is upon us all. And, maybe, there is a strategy for peace in this awkward turn of events.

Creating peace

I am not defending Hamas. It suffers the same failure that plagues all "rejectionist'' Palestinian groups. They can prevent peace, but they have no strategy to ever win. And violence for the sake of vengeance is not a strategy.

There is only one real strategy to achieve peace, and that is to not give up on peace even as the violence continues. And we have seen that, even at the heights of the peace process, violence has always been present.

This is not about giving Hamas a chance. It is about giving the Palestinians a chance. It is outrageous that Hamas would not denounce the recent suicide bombings. Yet, its failure to act responsibly should not preclude the pursuit of strategies that might drive Palestinians and Israelis back toward peace and to the negotiating table as is being continually urged by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli responsibility

Responsible Palestinians have condemned the violence and recent suicide bombings. And they have also even rejected Hamas' rejection of peace. At the earliest opportunity, Palestinians should throw Hamas and all the rejectionist hypocrites out of office.

Until then, though, Israel can prevent the situation from worsening. Israel should punish only those Palestinians who directly engage in violence. It is a responsibility Israel cannot avoid.

Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, not the other way around. Israel has the means to push toward peace or toward more conflict.

We don't need more violence. We need more leaders like Rabin and Arafat who had the courage to shake each other's hand.

To achieve peace, Palestinians and Israelis must shoulder their own burdens to make it work. We have no other choice.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian-American journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Thursday, April 06, 2006

In memory of Ghada Elayyan Feb. 15, 2006

Memory of Ghada Elayyan lacked enough Arab/Muslim support
Feb. 15, 2006
By Ray Hanania

The last time I was in the Orland Park Civic Center, some 600 people were their shooting expletives at a group of Muslim Arabs who wanted to build a mosque in the village.

So many Arabs and Muslims complained that whenever they try to do good, bigotry and discrimination stands in our way as a community.

The mosque is being built, thanks to the hard work of several dedicated and tireless community leaders.

But on Friday, January 27, I saw something that made my heart pain. And I had to ask are we any better than those who came out to denounce the mosque?

Months earlier, on Nov. 26, while working in her father's store, Frank's Food and Liquor, in the nearby suburb of Robbins, Ghada Elayyan, 27, was shot dead by a robber.

Ghada died on the floor of her father’s store. Her father, Fakhri, was seriously injured during the robbery and has remained hospitalized at Advocate Christ Medical Center. The killer, a known Gangster Disciple Cornell Tyler, was later apprehended and has been charged in Ghada’s murder.

Although many Arab and Muslims Americans have been killed while working in their stores throughout Chicago, Ghada’s story is even more tragic.

A few days before her murder, Ghada graduated with highest honors from Robert Morris College. She set an example for other students and teachers at the school. Many at the college admired Ghada and looked up to as a true role model.

While being Arab or Muslim in this country can draw out anger and animosity from some Americans, Ghada proved that she could rise above the animosity that we all saw with shock at the Mosque public hearings, and yet still go forward achieve great things.

To honor Ghada, her classmates and teachers at Robert Morris College organized a fundraiser that was held on Friday, January 27 at the Orland Park Civic Center, the same place where the hundreds of people came to attack Muslims and Arabs.

Robert Morris College created a scholarship that has been dedicated in Ghada’s name, and the event was intended to raise funds for that scholarship that will help her memory and achievements be remembered for a long time to come.

Ghada’s father Fakhri Elayyan was still hospitalized and could not attend.

Nearly 600 people attended the fundraiser event which featured entertainment, speeches, song, dance and comedy. I was proud to donate my time to help sell tickets and raise money for the Ghada Elayyan Scholarship.

But I was very disappointed, because the truth is very few Arabs and Muslims attended the reception.


Why didn’t more Arabs and Muslims support this worthy cause?

We all complained loudly about the bigotry of so many Orland Park residents when they denounced the Mosque plans and accused all Arabs and all Muslims of being terrorists.

Yet when we had the chance to do something good, few of us found the time to attend.

In fact, I saw only about 25 Arabs and Muslims at the event. And that includes Ghada’s nine siblings and her mother, who seemed to be on the brink of tears as students stood up to praise her daughter’s great legacy.

Several who attended the event said that some in the community did not want to support this event because, they alleged her father’s store includes alcohol.

I was shocked by the excuse. So many Arab and Muslim Americans sell alcohol in their stores. Alcohol is a legal item in the United States, restricted only by being prohibited from being sold to minors under the age of 21.

I don’t even know if the claim is true. But even if it is true, we, the Arab and Muslim American community, should be ashamed of ourselves for being so judgmental about others.

Some of us will find any excuse not to help a fellow Arab or a fellow Muslim, yet the same people are the first to jump up on their feet and criticize others.

Among those who did attend was Carol Koldenhoven, 40, the daughter of former Palos Heights Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Carol Koldenhoven was one of Ghada Elayyan's classmates and school friends. The woman, who is a junior at the school, said Elayyan would often come over and play with her children.

She told a local newspaper, "Ghada was a very good friend of mine. We weren't just classmates."

For the fundraiser, Koldenhoven created a memory book of pictures of Elayyan and a table of remembrances, including the program that Elayyan created for a performance of the play "The Lottery."

Robert Morris College deserves a lot of credit for organizing this event. It would have been so easy for others to have complained and prevented it because Ghada was an Arab, in light of the problems associated with Sept. 11. You can bet if that would have happened, more Arabs and Muslims would have complained about bigotry and racism.

Yet, when something good is done for someone who was so good to so many other human beings, and we can’t find the time to help her, we should, as Arabs and Muslims, be ashamed of ourselves.

Ghada Elayyan worked selfishly for everyone. She was a role model not just for Arabs and Muslims, but also for Americans, as was evidenced by the unprecedented turnout in her support Friday Jan. 27 at the Orland Park Civic Center. Her death is clearly a tremendous loss for our community.

But worse, the failure of the community to step up and support her memory is a tragedy that continues to hold us all back.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Chicago journalist and author. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Our children need parental involvement and leadership

Our children need parental leadership
March 15, 2006, The Future News, Arab Newspaper Chicago
By Ray Hanania

A few years ago in District 230, Arab families noticed that their children were being singled out by the school board, and being punished harshly. Many were being expelled.

The board members, mainly from Palos Heights, were behind what later appeared to be a racist-driven campaign to force the Arab families to move to other communities. That racism boiled over, as we all know, in 2000, when the community protested plans to convert a long-abandoned Christian church into a mosque.

At the time, we organized a campaign to approach the school board to determine how we could work with them to address what was clearly a problem.

District 230 has three schools, Stagg, Andrew and Sandburg, and about 6,60 students in all. Of that, about 10 percent, or 660 were Arab, mostly Palestinian and Jordanian, split evenly between Christian and Muslim in religion.

Yet, of the students expelled, 90 percent were Arab.

We went to the school board meeting and said that if the Arab students are only 10 percent of the school population yet 90 percent of the punishments, didn't that suggest that something was wrong that needed to be addressed?

Instead of responding positively, the school board rejected our efforts and some described our children as "street gang members."

They avoided their responsibility as an elected school board paid for by our tax dollars.

But at the same time, we quickly recognized that the Arab parents of our students also neglected their responsibilities.

Sometimes, we, as parents, don't even know what our children are doing at school. And worse, we don't get involved in the school activities ourselves.

The only time we do something is when we are there to complain. We become reactive, not pro-active.

Things have changed much since the early 1990s. The number of students in District 230 and also in the neighboring Oak Lawn High school district, have increased dramatically.

In Oak Lawn alone, 20 percent of the students there are Arab. I have participated in several programs through Oak Lawn high school from career days to parental training to help get parents involved. I've seen many Arab students at these events, but very few parents.

Oak Lawn is a good example.

Although we have so many students there of Arab heritage, we have very little parental involvement. As a result, our students are not performing as well as they might.

For example, just walking through the hall of the school I noticed a few things and jotted down some statistics.

There are seven members on the Oak Lawn high school board. None are Arabs. In fact, since the school was launched in 1950, there were no Arab members, even though the Arab community in Oak Lawn is significant and continues to grow.

There are four officers on the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and none of them are Arab, either.

On one wall, I did notice something that made me feel pride.

The co-president of this year's student council is Maysa Matariyeh. One of the school's sports stars highlighted in several newspaper stories is Mohamed Abdel-Qader.

But although I know we have many students who are great achievers in sports - like the soccer team which has many Arab members, we are dragging behind in other important areas.

Of the 240 students this year cited with achieving "High Honors" and a grade point average of 3.75 or above, only 8 are Arab. Of the 480 students this year cited with achieving "Honors" and a grade point average of between 3.0 and 3.749, only 39 are Arab.

The school newspaper, which is so influential in terms of defining students and putting the spotlight on student achievement, had no Arab names in it or on its editorial board. The Year Book has about 20 editors and 15 of them are Arab, I was told, which is an encouraging sign.

And, of 200 students who were cited with having "perfect attendance" this semester. Only three were Arab. Tariq Haddad and, presumably his brother,. Khalil Haddad, and Shadi Ahmad.

Of hundreds of teachers, we only have one teacher and two teacher aides who are Arab. We should have far more given the number of students at the school.

And, of all the languages taught at the school, Arabic is not one of them, even though today it is one of the most sought-after languages by companies and the government in job hiring.

Is there a problem?

If there is, it is not with the students. It is with the parents. We don't get involved. Few of us attend school board meetings. Even fewer could tell you what their children ate for lunch.

Some say that the cultural difference place an excessive burden on our students. But I don't believe that is the real reason. It is a factor, but not the most important factor.

Our children don't have role models in the school system or in life who are Arab that they can look up to and help to build their own lives. The role model who is most important is the parent.

We need to do something about it. But don't wait for the school district or even agencies like the Human Relations Commission to do anything. They always have excuses. You have to do it yourself.

Get involved in your child's school life and you will be amazed at how much of a positive impression you will have on them and on the non-Arab parents and families who participate.

It can change the way we live in a positive way and make it easier for our children to achieve great things with their lives.

(Ray Hanania is a 1971 graduate of Reavis High school and former editor of the school's newspaper. He is an award winning journalist, author and standup comedian and can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Reasoned Voices in media only emerge when it's safe

Reasoned voices only emerge when it’s safe
Feb. 22, 2006, The Future News, Arab Newspaper of Chicago
By Ray Hanania

A few weeks ago, a senior editor at the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s largest daily newspapers and a formidable voice on foreign policy issues, came out of the closet in a column on the issue of media bias against the Palestinians.

Don Wylciff has been a member of the Tribune’s editorial staff since 1990 and its public editor since 2000, positions that have given Wycliff, a former New York Times reporter, a lot of clout.

So when he wrote in a column trying to analyze the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, and the so-called terrorism case against Bridgeview resident Mohammed Salah, Wycliff pulled no punches. He wrote something that is rarely admitted in public journalism circles, acknowledging something candidly about the reality of the American media and the Palestine-Israel conflict:

"Part of the reason we felt blindsided by Hamas' victory is that we don't see or hear things from the Palestinian perspective very often.

"On Sunday, for example, the Tribune's Commentary page carried two articles on Hamas' victory. One was by ‘an American-Israeli peace activist’ from Oak Park, the other by the executive director of the publication of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

"Our Commentary page features no columnist who can be depended upon to routinely explain and defend Palestinian actions and attitudes as, say, Charles Krauthammer defends Israel's. So on probably the most enduring and insistent foreign policy issue of our time, we routinely do not hear from one side."

Wow. I have never heard an editor at any of the nation’s powerful dailies admit what most observers of the Middle East conflict have known for years. The Op-Ed pages of most major American newspapers are biased, not so much because they are pro-Israel, but because they lack a Palestinian voice.

Krauthammer is probably one of the most racist, anti-Arab columnists in America, but that is a very difficult distinction to draw when so many columnists at American newspapers are anti-Arab bigots and racists.

I wish the Chicago Tribune had a Palestinian columnist who wasn’t like Krauthammer, but just offered the other side, as I have done for 30 years.

I wouldn’t expect the Tribune to ever hire me. I was a veteran City Hall reporter at the rival Chicago Sun-Times and later a critic of Tribune policies, specifically their lack of a balance perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

I’ve never asked an editor at a major American newspaper to be pro-Arab. I’ve only asked that they be fair.

Wycliff’s column, published on Feb. 2, 2006, finally comes close to offering a neutral perspective and a vindication of that claim of bias against Palestinians.

But, as usual, reasoned voices don’t always surface on such touchy issues as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

About eight days after publishing the column, the Tribune announced that Wycliff was taking a new job, as spokesman for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the school where he graduated in 1969.

I doubt that Wycliff was punished for his views, as some in my community emailed me.

The position Wycliff is taking became open when Matt Storin, who happened to be my former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times back in the late 1980s, left the post a few weeks earlier to take on a teaching post at the same university.

I suspect Wycliff had already decided on his departure before writing the column. But clearly, writing the column gave Wycliff a sense of personal relief.

In fact, Wycliff concluded his very eloquent column, saying, "I'm not sure what this has to do with Muhammad Salah and my conscience. Maybe what I feel is the anxiety that comes from knowing that, in this case anyway, ignorance isn't bliss."

You are and always will be my hero, Don. But I wish you had the courage to say that five years ago, instead of eight days before announcing your departure.

You can’t blame him for saving his candid views until this late date in his journalism career.
The fact is that the Tribune is not the only newspaper that lacks balance on the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Most newspapers are even worse.

While the ChicagoTribune has tried to build a reputation as a thought-leader on international issues, it’s rival newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, my former alma mater, has been an unabashed, shameless and shill for pro-Israel voices. It’s anti-Arab and anti-Muslim columnists have been vicious and strident.

So the Tribune has always looked better. But "better" is a relative term. Because it was better, the Tribune has been the target of a boycott and protests and pressures from the Jewish American community.

Some Jewish American leaders have even called the Tribune anti-Semitic, an often over-used but powerful bludgeon used to silence those who exercise their so-called rights of free speech when criticizing Israel, or challenging Israeli policies.

Still, if Wycliff really wanted to clear his conscience, he would have done something about the imbalance in reporting and hired a Palestinian. There are not a lot of us, but clearly, you can’t really comprehend the complexity of the Palestinian-Israel conflict unless you have access to both sides.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist, author and Palestinian American standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

King Tut's First Visit to Chicago -- 1977

The return of King Tut reminds us of near past
Jan. 28, 2005, The Future News, Arab Newspaper of Chicago
By Ray Hanania

King Tut returns to Chicago after 29 years. While the Egyptian Boy King will display remnants of an ancient past, it is King Tut who will see the striking changes that have taken place since his last visit.

When King Tut came to Chicago in 1977, the Arab American community was organized as one. Though smaller than it is today, it was a solid community built around Arab pride.

We had a great dinner, a great celebration and all of our leaders stood together, even when they disagreed or had differences about politics. That ability to come together was the great achievement of the Arab American community of the past.

Christians and Muslims partnered at every level in the many professional organizations and also in political activism.

Today, that is an ancient and long lost Chicago past. On his return to Chicago, King Tut will instead see a community that is very divided on religious lines, and that instead of moving forward has stumbled backwards.

Just mentioning how seriously relationships between Christian and Muslim Arabs have declined will provoke some Arabs to angrily scream hatred and throw epitaphs. Meanwhile, Christian Arabs will do what they do best these days, crawl into their self-enclosed environment and hide silently, uninvolved, voiceless and unproductive.

Muslims and Christians no longer work together in a serious way. Despite some contacts and cooperation, relations are strained and they have each turned in different directions.

Muslim Arabs have turned and embraced their own religion not just as a faith but as a political activism.

The Council on American Islamic Relations is by far the largest and most effective organization championing the Palestinian cause these days. Yet, it is all Muslim, as its national president emphasized to me in an email many months ago.

Christian Arabs are not a part of CAIR, except as filtered guests invited to speak to politically correct topics, as if CAIR fears opening the door to real debate. And many Christians will ask under their breath, in the most hypocritical of new traditions, why they are not included when CAIR claims to address "Arab" causes?

King Tut will learn that Arab Americans in Chicago have learned only one thing, that the best way to deal with our community problems is to ignore them.

Still, King Tut will find that CAIR Chicago is very active and does much, and deserves recognition as one of the most active in Chicago, while the national organization remains under the constant scrutiny of anti-Arab phobia in our American society and in American government.
King Tut will also find himself crowded and yet alone.

In 1977, the few Arab American organizations that existed came together and organized a special reception to welcome him to Chicago.

By playing an official role in the King Tut exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History, they were making a statement that while King Tut represented the ancient past, the Arabs of Chicago represent the present Arab heritage and pride.

This visit, King Tut will be surrounded almost exclusively by non-Arab Americans who will hypocritically marvel in the greatness of Egypt while scowling at the Arab World.

The organizations that claim to speak for Arab Americanism are basically useless when it comes to organizing outside of their very specific professional and social concerns.

As a result of the recent public quarrel over Zanies Comedy Club, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations has started to stir from its five year slumber. Despite the ugliness of their attacks, the director of the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs feels pressure to start doing something, holding "meetings" with "filtered" Arab invitees, those that they deem to be acceptable.

I hope the Commission succeeds in rebuilding its mandate, doing the good work that it is capable of achieving, and refocusing efforts where they should be rather than where they have been. They can still embrace an effective strategy of inclusion and democratic effectiveness, if they set aside political differences and reach out to everyone. There are many good members of that board.

There’s no long term planning, only reaction in the Arab community.

During King Tut’s visit, there may be several Arab events, mostly fundraisers often featuring
the same-old, same-old speakers talking about the same-old, same-old topics.

We’ve talked these issues to death and have go no where. In fact, if King Tut kept notes about his last visit in 1977, he would wonder why nothing has been achieved by the community since.

He’ll shake his golden and blue striped royal crown in sadness as he sighs that the glory days of the Arab American community in Chicagoland has long past.

Today, we have some good organizations. And we have many more organizations that were once great that today have nice luncheons, give out many awards to themselves, and then fail to administer the mandates they were handed, such as defending the civil rights of Arab Americans.

King Tut, maybe you can save us. Clearly, we, the Arab community divided between Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs and living in denial, cannot.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Fundamentalists of all religiouns threaten Middle East peace Jan. 6, 2006

Christian fundamentalism drives American extremism and racism

Arab American Media Syndicate, Jan. 6, 2006
Permission granted to republish

By Ray Hanania

Imagine, Israelis are outraged with the anti-Semitic comments of their frequent ally, Christian Fundamentalist Pat Robertson.

As he and other Christian fundamentalist demagogues have done in the past, Robertson has offended Jews. He said that the brain hemorrhage of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is God’s punishment for "dividing" the land of Israel and compromising with the Palestinians.

He said the same about Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an Israeli extremist. And he continues to blast all those who urge compromise and non-violence as a basis for a Middle East peace accord.

Robertson is typical of American racists who exploit the Arab-Israeli conflict for personal gain. Their support sustains American foreign policy and conservative leaders like President Bush.

In reality, Robertson and the Christian fundamentalists are worse than the Islamic extremists that they, Bush and other American conservatives constantly attack.

Robertson is a Christian Ayatollah. His equivalent of suicide bombing is his "suicide bombast." I am certain that if Christian Fundamentalists in America were to ever find themselves in the same situation as the Palestinians, for example, they would defend suicide bombing as a "justified" form of combat.

Israelis know that Robertson and the Christian fundamentalists are a double-edged scimitar.

I watched one Israeli spokesman on CNN hem and haw in shock when confronted with Robertson’s comments. Instead of denouncing Robertson, the spokesman distracted the issue to inflaming the hatred of Iran’s president who often spouts anti-Semitic and anti-Christian comments.

To extremist Israelis, they, too, exploit Christian Fundamentalism to strengthen their own ideological goals. The dirty, ugly secret of Israel’s embrace of the Christian Evangelical movement is that deep down, they know that Christian Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are in fact more anti-Semitic than the Iranians, and may be the most anti-Semitic people on Earth.

Christian fundamentalism is built on a latent hatred of Jews. But they are not beyond exploiting Biblical prophecy to drive their own money machines, disguised as Christian Ministries. They downplay their anti-Semitism and exploit the tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Christian fundamentalists like Robertson believe Jesus cannot return to cast judgment on humanity until Israel is established and the Jewish Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.

But the core of the Evangelical movement is the belief that all non-believers, including Muslims, moderate Christians and especially Jews will be dispatched to an eternity of hellfire on that Judgment Day.

Ironically, most moderate Christians who wince at the outrageous comments of Christian fundamentalists like Robertson and others tend to ignore these anomalies and contradictions to true Christian belief.

Moderate Christians believe that all people who believe in the One God, be they Christian, Muslims or Jews, will go to Heaven. Fundamentalist Christians, however, believe that only those who embrace their interpretation of religion will go to Heaven.

It is an uncomfortable reflection of the core beliefs of extremist Muslims, too, who believe that those who do not embrace Islam will also burn in hell. That includes all Christians, all Jews and even secular Muslims.

Christians constantly criticize this Islamic view, but their silence on the ignorance of Robertson and other Christian Evangelical Ayatollahs is deafening. Their silence is the real sin, the true violation of Christian belief.

While Robertson preaches his disguised hatred in the United States, Christians who are suffering in Palestine, the Holy Land, never attract his support.

As far as Robertson is concerned, Palestinian Christians are no different from the Jews, except in terms of how they may be exploited. There is no benefit to Robertson and his Christian Evangelical Ayatollahs in defending the rights of Holy Land Christians. That’s why they sacrifice them on the altar of their own selfish fundamentalist cause.

The Jews, on the other hand, offer Robertson and the other Grand Muftis of the Christian fundamentalist movement a political opportunity to feed their supporters.

Christian Fundamentalists need the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to build their flock of blind sheep. They do not want a Middle East peace. Everything they do is designed to prevent peace, including pressuring American administrations to pursue one-sided foreign policies that aggravate rather than resolve the Middle East conflict.

Although the Christian Evangelists claim to pray for Judgment Day, they are the ones who should fear it most.

Like all tyrants, demagogues and dictators, Christian fundamentalists do not practice what they preach. They don’t believe God will really come down to judge mankind.

But they do know that the fear of that Judgment Day allows them to easily control their followers and, more importantly, to fill their pockets with money and accumulate power.

Regardless of which religious book they carry, the Torah, the Bible or the Qur’an, fundamentalists of all three religions threaten the future peace.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. A Christian, Hanania can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The future without Ariel Sharon Jan. 4, 2006

A future without Ariel Sharon
Arab American Media Syndicate, Jan. 4, 2006
By Ray Hanania

Whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon survives his most recent stroke may not matter to the future of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Someone else will probably take over the reigns of Israeli politics and they might not be able to continue with Sharon's vision.

Sharon’s demise from politics, and possible death, would be very inopportune not just for Israelis, but for Palestinians, too.

The secular Palestinian leadership today face two battles. The first is the endless conflict with Israel and their inability to force concessions from Israel to result in an acceptable compromise Palestinian State that includes a contiguous West Bank land mass and sovereignty in East Jerusalem at its heart.

But the second is more serious as secular Palestinian leaders find themselves in a greater struggle today against the growing Islamic militant movement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not as strong nor is he as popular as his predecessor, the late President Yasser Arafat. Although disliked by Israelis, Arafat had the power to restrain Hamas and prevent the religious movement from overpowering his own Fatah organization.

In his final years, Arafat’s powers weakened. A Fatah militant splinter group, the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, joined rival Hamas in embracing religious fundamentalism and suicide bombings against Israel.

Palestinians will not show as much sympathy for Sharon’s personal tragedies as they did for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a decade ago. But Sharon’s unilateral moves may have offered secular Palestinians their only immediate way out of mounting political troubles.

Sharon planned to impose his own vision of a peace plan, unilaterally. Though not to the liking of the Palestinians, they could have lived with it. Sharon's peace would have allowed Abbas to refocus on restoring secular authority in the face of the growing popularity of Hamas.

Sharon is the odd couple partner to peace. A military man all his life, to Palestinians, his legacy is stained with much blood dating back to his days as a border unit commander in the 1950s. A longtime hardliner and a Godfather of the Israeli settler movement.

But in recent years, Sharon seemed to mellow. Maybe it was old age. Sharon saw a chance to define his legacy as a man of peace. Or, maybe Sharon came to accept the popular notion of Israeli military colleagues that there is no military solution to the conflict.

Any and all of those reasons may have prompted him to change.

Sharon helped hurry the collapse of bilateral peace negotiations with the Palestinians in 2000 standing under the shadow of the al-Aqsa Mosque and prompting Palestinians into a second, more religiously defined Intifada.

As an alternative to peace, Sharon build the Wall, a concrete, razor-wire and fence barrier built on occupied Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Although at first, Israelis insisted the it was temporary, most now accept that Sharon’s Wall will define the boundaries separating Israel from a Palestinian State, a state most Israelis accept as inevitable.

With Arafat out of the way, and no equivalent charismatic Palestinian successor who shared the power Arafat once enjoyed, Sharon was free to take even more dramatic steps. Sharon withdrew Israeli soldiers, dismantled 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and also four smaller settlements in the Northern West Bank. Sharon made it clear he would close more settlements and withdraw from much of the West Bank, too.

Although Sharon’s definition of a Palestinian State is far short of what Ehud Barak reportedly offered Arafat in the final days of the peace process, it would have given Abbas and other secular Palestinians the opportunity to shift their focus away from Israel and toward their real threat, Hamas.

For many years, Hamas has always been the wild card in Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Whenever Palestinians and Israelis appeared to achieve a peace agreement that might lead to more peace, Hamas stepped in with violence and in 1994, suicide bombings. As the bombings increased, Israeli public opinion against the Palestinians hardened.

Arafat could not stop Hamas, but he could keep Palestinians from rallying around the terrorist organization's ranks. During most of the ARafat years, Hamas influence was restricted to certain areas of Gaza. That quickly changed following Arafat's death and Hamas popularity has grown not only on the street but also at the election booth.

Many Palestinians will cheer Sharon’s demise, in much the same way that Israelis rejoiced in Arafat’s death. But in the end, Israelis may find themselves in the same situation as Palestinian’s after Arafat’s death.

It is possible that no other Israeli successor will enjoy the same power or popularity that Sharon enjoyed, and that may empower his foes to block further withdrawals.

Abbas faces a more difficult struggle with Hamas that will further paralyze his administration and further weaken support for compromise with Israel.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and author. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


The tragedy of the New Year and the Arab-Israeli conflict

New Year always promises more grief, not good news
Arab American Media Syndicate Jan. 2, 2006
By Ray Hanania

Some people see the New Year as an opportunity to start again. But I think it is the worst time of the year for most people.

First, there is a clear recurring pattern that takes shape.

At the end of the year, we are pushed by businesses and by the media to spend money. Lots of money. On gifts and on cleverly marketed "end-of-year sales."

On top of all that, most people tend to celebrate the end of the year holidays by eating. Americans, especially. We gorge ourselves with food. We consume food at a record pace. And it’s all junk food, too. More junk food is eaten at the end of the year than at the beginning.

And then, the New Year’s Eve arrives. Happy New Year! Auld Lang Syne (Old Long Ago). Celebrations. Hope. Cheer. So, we make New Year’s resolutions, only to break them in the aftermath of the New Year’s binge.

Most New Year’s resolutions are broken. For good reason. Most people promise to do things that common sense normally begs us to do all year, but we don’t. We make them to feel good. Not that we expect to fulfill them.

Sometime in the middle of January, all that good cheer and optimism comes back to haunt us. It hits us like a brick, or maybe like a stone, depoending on where you live.

Hangovers. Indigestion. Weight gain. Record setting personal debt. Most New Year’s resolutions are about losing weight and saving money.

January is also one of the coldest months of the year for many. Cold only adds to our misery.

Diets and debts make people angry. But the New Year piles on all kinds of other, unresolved challenges. In reality, at the beginning of the New Year, people are angrier, meaner, grumpier and out to punish someone. Anyone.

And nowhere are those unresolved challenges more imposing than in the Middle East, between Palestinians and Israelis are always looking to blame someone else for their troubles.

Take the Palestinians, please!

Why would the Palestinians hold elections in January?

American’s hold their primary or political party elections at the end of February (local offices) and in April (national offices.) But the big American elections are always in the Fall, in November. That’s because some genius political consultant recognized a long time ago that people are happier BEFORE the holidays start, not after.

I know Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants a good excuse to delay the January 25 elections. The terrorist organization Hamas, which is feeding on extremist Israeli policies, is threatening to gain power as each new election is held. Abbas’ own political group, Fatah, is divided between the greed of the older generation and the greed of the younger generation.

There are a lot of big Mercedes at stake, and contracts and jobs that fat-cat Fatah activists could give to their relatives if they win office.

Abbas doesn’t get very good public relations advice. He has a lot of freelance spokespeople who go around the country telling us why things don’t work, but they never offer solutions on how they can make things better. My favorites are former "Legal Advisers" Diana Bhutto and Michael Tarazi.

Well, instead of delaying the elections in order to hold on to power by blaming Hamas, Abbas should just blame the negative New Year trend. Have elections in the summer when people are happier – which is a relative word, but still in a better mood than they would be in January.

Angry voters vote against things. Happy voters vote for things.

And then there is, as the American’s say, "the 300 pound gorilla" of Israeli politics, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Clearly, it was a big, happy end-of-the-year meal that moved Sharon to act out his melodramatic political adventures.

He broke from the Likud Party and launched a new one called Kadima. The names of the party don’t really matter. They could have been named "Your Marbles" or "My Marbles." But I don’t blame Sharon for leaving Likud.

Who wants to be partners Benjamin Netanyahu, the only Israeli leader who is grumpy all year round, not just at the beginning of the New Year?

Good move, Ari. But you should have done it after the New Year, not before. Israelis are people, too. They are going to be angry, and one mistake on your part and they’ll jump all over you.
Sharon has better PR people. They know how to spin good and bad news to make it all better. Of course, they always look great against the always terrible public relations failures of the Palestinians.

Arabs hate Sharon for many reasons. But I think Sharon’s biggest problem is his lifelong difficulty with managing his weight. He eats too much.

People who eat a lot usually have personal problems or are haunted by ghosts and memories of bad things.

Sure enough, just as he was stuffing himself this Hanukkah, he had a stroke. Israeli doctors found a small hole in Sharon’s heart and they ordered Sharon on a diet. (There was a rumor going around that Netanyahu was sending Sharon eight fat Turkeys for each day of Hanukkah.)

Like a diet’s really going to make a difference for Sharon. Sharon hasn’t been the best partner for peace with the Palestinians and it’s not going to get better. People on diets are the grumpiest people around.

Of course, the positive side of Sharon’s problems is that Israeli doctors discovered that Sharon really does have a heart.

But Palestinians will just say that’s more Zionist propaganda.

Happy secular New Year.