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

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


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


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