Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Radicals Taking over Arab World, By Ray Hanania

Radicals taking over
Religious extremism slowly, steadily consuming Palestinian society
By Ray Hanania

03.20.07, YnetNews.com

A few weeks ago, stories that were once only whispered as rumors were being confirmed in isolated media reports.

Islamic extremists who have been battling Israel and secular Palestinian forces have also begun targeting secular Palestinian establishments that engage in what the Arabs refer to as "haram," or "sinful activities."

Most of the oppression has occurred in the Gaza Strip where the Islamic movement Hamas has the Israeli-oppressed population in a tightly controlled religious headlock, although there have been some incidents in the more secular West Bank.

Although the "religiousization" of the Palestinian people began more than a decade ago, it only found its strength in the last few years and reared its ugly head publicly after Hamas took control of the Palestinian government.

No secular establishment is safe. An Internet cafe in the Gaza Strip was firebombed. A cultural center was forced to cancel a program deemed unacceptable to the principles of Islam, and other cultural organizations have been carefully screening programs so as not to "offend" the religious police.

Three Palestinian women, believed to be prostitutes, were murdered, each killed with a bullet to the head and chest, and dumped in a public location.

Clandestine Islamic groups with names like the Swords of Islamic Righteousness, suspected to be associated with Hamas or the Hamas security services, have claimed responsibility.

All or nothing
While I don't condone prostitution, the murder of any person is immoral. Not addressed by the religious zealots in the prostitution killings is the fact that the women are solicited by men who go unpunished. But that's not uncommon in a society where increasingly Palestinian women are being forced to wear a Hijab, or head scarves, as a political statement and to prove their faith.
It's no longer enough to believe in Islam.

The threat of the religious fanatics has been on the secular horizon for years. Increasingly during Ramadan, secular and Christian-owned restaurants in "Christian" towns like Bethlehem and Beit Jala have been forced to close their outdoor patios so as not to "offend" Muslims who are forbidden to eat during the daylong fasting.

What is happening is that the Palestine conflict with Israel, which began as a secular battle over land and national identity, is steadily transforming into a religious conflict driven by religious extremists who see secular Palestinians as enemies equal to the "Zionist entity."

That is troubling. While Israelis complained much about the failings of the secular Palestinian leadership, the reality is those secular Palestinians always viewed the conflict as one of achieving "justice" through violent resistance and also through negotiated compromise.

For the religious zealots, however, the issue is "faith." And for them, there is no compromise on faith. Only their version of "jihad."

It's either all or nothing, and they are willing to die for that nothing. For the past 60 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the 40 years since Palestinians took control of their own destiny, the Palestinians have achieved only fragile political gains, but very little substantive gains.

Although it is easy to blame the Palestinians, the truth is Israel has also contributed to the failure of peace by always only offering minimal concessions far short of what is acceptable to Palestinians and fairness.

Harder to deal with religious enemies
Israel's governments have consistently undermined peace through compromise. They have refused to acknowledge Israel's role in creating the Palestinian refugee problem. Their uncompromising and extremist policies have often intentionally provoked Palestinian violence. While claiming to negotiate peace in good faith, they have continued to expand illegal Jewish-only settlements. And, they have unilaterally imposed an unjust pre-condition insisting that Jerusalem will never be shared.

In fact, as the Palestinians fail to achieve peace, so to do the Israelis.Israelis are discovering that it is far more difficult for them to respond to the challenge from enemies driven by religious fervor. Just look at the powerful battle waged against Israel by Hizbullah in Lebanon.

When secular Palestinians become extinct - and that future is on the horizon, Israel's ability to negotiate peace will be extinguished too. While secular Palestinians may battle with a violent fervor, their political drive allows for the possibility of compromise.

There is no possibility of compromise with an individual or a movement that bases its drive on religious ideology.

Faith does not permit compromise, and promises a far more frightening future for Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel should negotiate with secular PA
If the Palestinians are incapable of overcoming the Hamas challenge, then Israel has the responsibility to step up to the plate and separate the religious fanatics from the secular leaders. Israel must continue to negotiate with responsible secular Palestinians.

Palestinian public attitudes are driven by the emotions and suffering of the times. When things are good, they are optimistic. When things are bad, they are inclined to anger and rejectionist sentiments reflected in recent polls.

If the Israelis impose a unilateral compromise on the Palestinians that is genuinely fair, most Palestinians will turn away from the religious fanatics and embrace the compromise as an inevitability of their tragedy.

But to refuse to push for genuine compromise or to negotiate with the Palestinians because of Hamas only plays into the hands of the extremists, in the same way that violence also undermines peace and strengthens the cards of the very perpetrators of that violence.

One day, Israelis will wake up and discover there are no more "Arabs" left in the world to negotiate with.

The Arabs will all have been replaced by a more formidable and impossible enemy to defeat, political Islamicists, who are as unwavering in their cause as they are unwavering in their faith.

Ray Hanania was named Best Ethnic American Columnist for 2006/2007 by the New America Media. He can be reached at www.hanania.com

Monday, March 19, 2007

SYNDICATION: The Dispossessed often become ambiance, a lesson for Palestinians

Dispossession and the Palestinian-Israeli future

By Ray Hanania

(Syndication Columns can be purchased for republication. Contact Ray Hanania at rayhanania@comcast.net for details.)

The dispossessed eventually become little more than ambience.

It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true. Once a conflict is resolved, anyway.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is sometimes compared to the conflict between the American pioneers and the Indians, now more respectfully called "Native Americans."

American hasn’t forgotten it’s Native American history, but that history has become more of a national "decoration" than a reality.

But they were originally Indian tribes long before they became politically correct owners and operators of America’s most profitable casinos, living on an American guilty conscience dole, and still, more than a century and a half later, as outsiders.

As a child, I remember always feeling sorry for the American Indians. My only contact was on popular television Westerns which always pitted the American soldiers against the barbaric, uncivilized and brutal "Indians."

It wasn’t because I was Palestinian. That Palestinian consciousness never materialized for me until years later because my dad tried to shelter me from the tragedy he knew would wreck lives in a country driven by stereotypes, racism and lack of education.

Yes, America is the most educated country in the world, populated by the most uneducated people in the world when it comes to "the world."

I think my feelings for American Indians was the result of how they were portrayed so negatively on television. And even if you favored the "cowboys" above the "Indians," every American child was enthralled with the history of the American Indian.

We all knew the fearsome Apache Geronimo and the battle of the Little Big Horn where the arrogant, golden-haired American Colonel George Armstrong Custer lost his life along with the lives of his entire regiment in one of the last great "massacres" of the American-Indian conflict.

In 1875, two of the largest Indian tribes, the Sioux and Cheyenne, left their reservations and Custer led the U.S. Cavalry to bring them back. Instead, he walked into a brilliant trap.

It’s worth noting that the American military and settlers committed heinous atrocities against the American Indians, too. They massacred men, women and children along with the American Indian Braves.

But there is an old saying in journalism, which is the cornerstone of communications. He who controls the pen controls the history. And for many years, and especially on television programs and Hollywood movies, the American Indians were always the bad guys.

This week I thought about all this as I was attending the Will Roger’s Writers Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a "plains state," the 46th of 50 American states. The name "Oklahoma" comes from the Choctaws, American Indians who once roamed there.

Ironically, many American cities carry Indian names, like Chicago, which comes from an Indian word for "wild onion" or "skunk." People have long forgotten from which tribe the name originates.

I was brought to Oklahoma City not as an expert on Palestinian native history, but as a journalist and as a Palestinian American comedian. My act has gotten huge publicity because I won’t follow the hateful path of some of my other Arab comedian colleagues by refusing to perform with "Israelis."

I’ll be back in Israel and the West Bank to perform, hopeful, in a few months.

But as we convened to discuss and debate hefty journalism issues as all journalists always do, I was struck by where I was at and the parallels (that are really misleading) between the history of Native Americans and the still incomplete history of the Palestinians.

About six blocks away from the conference hotel is the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. To most Americans, it is better known as the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in a terrorist attack on April 19, 1995.

At just after 9 AM that day, a terrorist pulled his truck up to the Federal Government building, walked away and then detonated the explosives inside tearing away half of the buildings front like a volcanic eruption and killing 168 people including many children in the nursery below.

Everyone thought the terrorists were "Arab." But by accident involving a traffic stop, the real terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, a Scottish American Christian Catholic, and a member of one of the many hidden and armed racist militias that exist in America, was caught. He was later executed.
The nation built a huge memorial on the site to remember the attack.

Meanwhile, throughout Oklahoma, massacres that took even more lives of Native Americans remain forgotten.

Nearby, in the city’s trendy "Bricktown Mall" and it’s popular river walk, down the street from the Bricktown Baseball stadium off Mickey Mantle Street. There, restaurants are filled with patrons celebrating sports and other personal events.

Yet, it is hard to forget that this area was once a center of American Indian culture. And today, you can barely see anything of real significance, other than Indian names on streets, some tourist stores that sell "Native American" jewelry and other souvenirs.

A ways from the city is the casino that is run by the region’s major Indian Tribes. No one says Native Americans are not American. They are fighting the way all dispossessed fight assimilation, but they are treated with respect equally under American law. They lost much.

The Native Americans exist here, but their existence if less reality and more ambience. Their history is little more than decoration. Landscaping. Paintings. Trinkets. And interesting memories that continue to fade of their facts.

It makes me think of the Palestinians, many of whom live in refugee camps that are much like reservations, too, I guess. Even those Palestinians like me who have assimilated into American culture, are in a sense, refugees of a sort too. We can’t move back to the homes and land that our father’s once owned.

We can argue about land ownership but I will just point to a recent study by the Israeli organization Peace Now that proves that at least 32.4 percent of settlement lands were stolen from Palestinian owners. Not bought. Not abandoned. Stolen.

Still, I am sitting here in a bizarre world in Oklahoma where dispossession has been completed under the shadow of terrorism. And I am wondering out loud. Does it really benefit the Palestinians to fight against compromise and two states or to insist that everything be returned to the way it was at the beginning of the 20th Century before most of Israel’s Jews immigrated to Palestine, mainly from Europe?

I don’t think the Palestinians are like the Native Americans at all. But I do think that if the Palestinians don’t seriously contemplate their situation soon, they will become a fading memory.

It will take the Israelis a lot longer than 100 years the American settlers took to erase the presence of the Native Americans and force them to surrender, but it will happen one day unless both sides reach a peace accord.

I don’t know how many Geronimos the Palestinians will have in the meantime. There might be more statues erected like the one that greets visitors to Jenin in the Northern West Bank, of Yahya Aiyash, the fearless Palestinian guerrilla who battled the Israelis as seriously as they battled him.

But is that really what we all want?

I don’t think so.

(Ray Hanania was named 2006/2007 Best Ethnic Columnist in America by the New America Media. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)