Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yalla peace: No deals with the devil

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Yalla peace: No deals with the devil

Like the proverbial pact with the Germans during the British Mandate and Saddam Hussein inthe 1990s, cheering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause.

‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is described both as a Chinese and an Arabic proverb that is used to explain how someone can make a pact with the devil if it helps their cause. Sometimes called “the devil’s pact,” it’s not a good policy, even if it does have historical weight in the Middle East.

One of the first such pacts was made by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Jerusalem mufti during the Palestine Mandate who reached out to the Germans during World War II. The Germans were railing against international Zionism, although no one yet knew the extent of the Nazi horrors.

It was a pact of convenience, not hatred, often used to wrongly demonize all Palestinians.

Like the US, Palestinians also made a pact with Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrant who was finally toppled and replaced by a new tyrant, Halliburton.

Saddam began as a client of the US in his decades-long war with Iran.

Of course, the US had a stronger pact with Iran’s pre-ayatollah tyrant, the shah of Iran, whose government murdered hundreds of thousands of dissidents.

Palestinians turned to Saddam when the Iraqi dictator, seeking to exploit their suffering for his own political benefit, gave the families of suicide bombers money; Israel’s policy of collective punishment violated international laws and punished innocent people for the crimes of others.

Although the gesture was good, the source and motive were corrupt.

NOW, MANY Palestinians are turning to the strident fanaticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the “president” of Iran. Like Saddam, Ahmadinejad uses the suffering of the Palestinian people to tug at the heartstrings of the pro-Palestinian movement. It is a pact with the devil that Palestinians should avoid. But in a world where support from major powers is weak, Ahmadinejad’s abrasive assaults against Israel have attracted many admirers.

But Ahmadinejad is a demagogue.

After making his outrageous claims at the UN that the US was somehow involved in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, a group of activists – mostly extremists but including some Palestinians – met with Ahmadinejad. They praised the Iranian tyrant and he praised them. I am sure they left the meeting agreeing that his voice can help pull the veil from Israel’s brutal occupation – a veil that is wrapped tightly around the eyes of most Americans.

But like the proverbial pact with the Germans and Saddam, cheering Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause. In fact, it harms it.

The Palestinians do not need to cuddle up to tyrants to find friends; they have a just cause as they challenge Israel’s policies. The issue of settlements is not one of family growth, as Israel contends, but rather one of land theft – theft that is a counterweight to the fight against terrorism.

When Israel doesn’t follow through on its often-empty peace promises, some activists see the devil’s pact as an attractive option.

Palestinians should purge the Arabic proverbs that have helped bring down Palestinian aspirations for statehood. They should slam the door on Ahmadinejad’s hypocrisies, and challenge his own oppressive tyranny. Having principles means that when you criticize one enemy, you never embrace the devil. Principle means that when you stand up for justice in the cause of Palestine, you stand up for justice in the cause of those persecuted by Iran, such as the hikers who have been jailed for more than a year, or the hundreds of political activists who speak out against its vicious policies.

Having principles means that when a Palestinian kills an Israeli, you speak out as forcefully as you would when an Israeli kills a Palestinian.

Sure, Israelis could use these words of advice too. After all, they have stolen Palestine’s felafels and the Arabic proverbs too, making their own pacts with the devil.

But you don’t do your justice any justice if you defend your wrongs by saying the other side does it too, or by accepting the canard that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Ahmadinejad is not our friend.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yalla Peace: Palestinians have already recognized Israel

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Yalla Peace: Palestinians have already recognized Israel
By Ray Hanania
09/14/2010 Jerusalem Post

The acceptance of this country is not only inherent in the Palestinians’ repeated declarations but also in the fact that their leaders are sitting down and negotiating two states.
In the reality of the Palestine-Israel conflict, the field where peace is played is the United States. That “stadium,” if you look at this like a sport, is the home field for the Israelis.

They have many advantages, including the support of the mainstream American media and an American public that still views the Leon Uris book Exodus as the bible of Middle East history.

I don’t want to burn that bible, but I think it is important to weigh both sides and what they are really saying, to look past the rhetoric and analyze what is really being sought.

Both sides want peace. Even the fanatics want peace. They just want it at the end of a war with their opponents vanquished.

Real peace means balance, and balance has never been a major component of the ongoing negotiations that began in 1993 in – to use a sports analogy again – the White House Stadium.

LET’S LOOK at some key issues.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is making his case that Israel needs to end settlement expansion and address the core issues. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is responding with the assertion that settlement expansion is not the key issue here.

Rather it’s Palestinian violence (Israel’s security) and the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state – a new precondition that has risen from the stalemate of years of failed negotiations.

According to Netanyahu, equilibrium does not exist between Palestinian demands on settlements and Israeli demands on security and defined recognition.

But that equilibrium does exist and Netanyahu can’t simply brush it aside.

To the Palestinians, the issue has never been rejecting Israel’s right to exist but rather Israel’s imposed right to grab any land it wants.

To Israel, the issue is security and being recognized as a “Jewish state.”

The fact is Palestinians have recognized Israel’s right to exist. That is not only inherent in their repeated declarations but also in the fact that Palestinians are sitting down and negotiating two states.

Despite that, though, Netanyahu has asserted that the Palestinians have not compromised and they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, with the new caveat of being a “Jewish state,” and he has insisted that Israel, and he personally, have recognized the rights of Palestinians.

What rights are those Mr. Netanyahu? If Israelis can’t recognize that Palestinians have land rights, then what rights are they offering in exchange for a cessation of violence to reinforce security for Israel? What is Israel going to give the Palestinians in exchange for bringing this conflict to a final resolution? Ironically, the extremist movements of both the Israelis and Palestinians are being fed by Israel’s rightwing rhetoric. Many Israelis do not recognize the West Bank as the West Bank at all and in fact refer to the area as “Judea and Samaria.” It is an offensive term that is the equivalent to “Zionist state” used by many Palestinians who refer to the 1948 lands that were occupied by Israel.

Additionally, the right-wing Israeli sentiment is clear. They argue that the Palestinians, and Arabs, lost repeated wars and therefore also lost their right to claim ownership of the lands taken in those wars.

That is exactly the fuel that feeds the growing extremist movement. Because what Israelis are really saying to Palestinians is: “You only will get what we want to give you, and if you don’t like it tough luck.”

If Israelis really want peace, they need to drop the car dealership hustle and start speaking openly, candidly and compassionately about peace. Israel has the upper hand in this relationship. For now.

IF PEACE talks collapse, the Palestinian secular movement will eventually disappear and Israel will not only face the Hamas religious movement but the unbendable and uncompromising Islamic world, which increasingly is building its power and strength and would shift the balance in favor of a one-state solution.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Arabs, Muslims and Americans have too much in common

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Arabs, Muslims and Americans have too much in common
By Ray Hanania

What message should the Arab and Muslim World get from the recent declaration by an obscure and angry Florida priest who announced plans to burn a Quran (Koran), the Islamic Holy Book?

That message is clear. The threat to burn the Islamic equivalent of the Bible is offensive to most Americans.

But that’s not what Arabs and Muslims will hear. The fact that leaders from across America and even across the political spectrum have uniformly denounced the Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center, will not off-set the mounting anger in the Arab and Muslim World.

They won’t understand that just because some fanatic in America says something stupid and racist, doesn’t mean that Americans endorse it.

They also won’t understand that fine point because Americans are not really much different from them. When Osama Bin Laden’s disciples crashed their hijacked planes in to the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were quick to blame all Muslims.

The anger was deep. America as a nation spoke from both sides of their mouth saying they support religious freedom and oppose censorship, but they also view Arabs and Muslims as a monolithic group. That’s why recently most Americans are on record saying they oppose plans by Muslims to renovate a building blocks from Ground Zero that includes space where Muslims can worship and pray, even though they feel Muslims have a right to do so.

Can you blame the Arab and Muslim World for being angry, or maybe confused about Americans? Can you blame Americans for being confused about Muslims?

Americans might argue that Arabs and Muslims live in worlds oppressed by dictatorships, places where free speech is practically non-existent. They might point out that the offenses that Arabs and Muslims complain about here in the United States take place every day in the Arab and Muslim World. The oppression of a minority religion is more pronounced in the Arab and Muslim World than it is in the United States. Muslims can go door to door and give away free Qurans and try to convert Christians to Islam, but Christians who try that in the Islamic World could and do get killed.

But Arabs and Muslims might counter to Americans, though, that the free speech America brags about is really not so free at all. Free speech is severely restricted in America for minority groups like Arabs and Muslims. Bigotry is on the rise in America, too. There is a glass wall that prevents Arabs and Muslims, for example, from entering many of the nation’s greatest professions such as the mainstream news media.

Let me just correct my readers here who will counter my claim by pointing to Fareed Zakaria and tell me (for the millionth time) “Fareed Zakaria is an Arab who has risen to the highest ranks of American journalism.”

Fareed Zakaria is NOT and Arab. He is an Indian Muslim and that is where a major part of the problem rests. Muslims and Arabs are different. There are 4.5 million Arabs in America and only 45 percent of them are actually Muslim. And there are 7 million Muslims in America and only 22 percent of them are Arab.

We don’t really know the precise count because the U.S. Census refuses to include "Arab" as a category on forms. Census forms do list 29 other ethnic and racial groups that include three listings for African Americans, five for Hispanics, and many for Native Americans and Asians, too.

In fact, in the this 9th year debate about the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, there will be much focus on “Muslims” and very little focus on “Arabs.”

Many Americans tell me often how much they hate me, not because I am Arab but because they think I am Muslim. The fact that I am Orthodox Christian raised Lutheran doesn’t seem to matter. That President Barack Obama is not Muslim doesn’t seem to bother the 22 percent of Americans who think he is a Muslim and the 46 percent of Americans who say they don’t know what he is. (I always say Americans are the most educated people in the world but the least educated about the world.)

I remember one woman after Sept. 11 coming up to me and saying "I can't believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab."

Arabs and Muslims are not much different either. The fact that I am a Palestinian born in America who speaks English and only a little Arabic is a cause of great alarm for Arabs and Muslims who use that to discriminate against me and others like me. They find the fact that my first language is not Arabic offensive and write some of the most ignorant and racist comments, worse than those written against Arabs and Muslims by the extremist rightwing in this country.

Americans who defend Jones claim that Muslims burn Bibles, too. I don’t recall any such incidents. But, is claiming that someone else does bad things a good defense for a bad thing you are doing?

What the Arab and Muslim World should recognize is that America is no different than they are. Both suffer censorship issues of different sorts. Both experience racism and bigotry. Both are confused about simple topics. And both sides have extremists who spew venomous hatred and use violence to achieve political goals.

Somewhere in the Arab and Muslim World is an Arab Muslim version of Terry Jones who is doing the exact same thing without much fanfare.

I don’t expect either side to recognize these facts. But it is something we can hope for.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

Sept. 11th ambulance chasers

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Sept. 11th ambulance chasers
By Ray Hanania

Each year that passes, activists on both sides of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assault try to outdo each other and themselves from the past years in over analyzing the crime.

This year, another “Christian” leader in Florida has declared his plans to burn a copy of the Quran (Koran), the Muslim equivalent of the Bible to commemorate the 9th anniversary.

The Rev. Terry Jones, a name that meant nothing before but now symbolizes the nation’s growing intolerance and hatred, says he is doing it because Islam is an “Evil Religion.” I guess in Jones’ favor is the fact that in order to really know evil, you have to be even more evil.

The tragedy chasers, a term sometimes used in journalism to refer to people who grab their 15 minutes of fame by glomming on to high profile tragedies, have found a new life in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the threat of terrorism and the conflicts that are exploited to justify them are resolved or not does not matter to these opportunists.

Like sleazy ambulance chaser lawyers, they have one motive, personal profit. First in notoriety and fame – because there are so many it seems in America clamoring to be fed anti-Islamic hatred – and because their new found fame based on fanning the flames of hatred can elevate them to heights of power.

On the other side are the people like Fareed Zakaria. People always protest when I complain that there is a bias in the American mainstream news media, especially after Sept. 11,  because so few Arabs are allowed to engage the discourse to help Americans understand the challenges of the post Sept. 11 conflict. Without missing a beat, they all say, Well, there is Fareed Zakaria. He’s an Arab.

No. Fareed Zakaria is not an Arab at all. He is an Indian American activist little known before Sept. 11, 2001 but now the journalism face of everything Arab, Islamic and Middle Eastern.

This week he wrote -- wait and drum roll -- Americans “overreacted” to Sept. 11, a ridiculous claim in the face of the fact that nearly 3,000 people died in one event at an icon of American Democracy.

Zakaria, who knows little about the Arab World, does understand journalism and the narrow American mindset. And, he needs to justify his new position with a provocative claim having moved just weeks ago from his perch at Newsweek to Time Magazine.

Honestly, I am tired of the Sept. 11 ambulance chasers. They are people who claim to know so much but really know so little. Sept. 11 is a major catastrophe in American history, a tragedy of immense proportions. No burning of a book or overwritten essay in a national magazine is going to explain the meaning behind it.

We don’t really know if Jones is going to be burning a real Quran or a copy of it, or even more likely a copy of a book he might take off of his library shelf, like Mein Kampf. It won’t matter, though. What he says means more than the reality. His symbolism of hatred is enough to energize both friend and foes.

And, what is being asserted goes far beyond the accuracy of that tragic day when two planes crashed into the sides of two of America’s most important buildings at the World Trade Center.

The terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, not the date itself, has come to redefine the conflict and challenges Americans face. What was once a solvable secular conflict in the Middle East has instead been grown to become the symbol of the insoluble clash of religious titans. Christianity and Islam.

That must come as a relief to the Jews, though. For generations, Christian fanatics, evangelists and Bible thumpers pointed accusatory fingers at the Jewish people for the murder of Jesus Christ, fueling an anti-Semitism that remains today but is veiled beneath a newer and more sinister form of bigotry against people who “look” Muslim or Arab.

I’m not trying to pick on Zakaria who has pushed himself to the front of the line. He is a good writer, and is no Terry Jones. And, he is certainly unlike Jones’ mentors who include media screamers Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter. These screamers are carrying the torch of hatred. But his analysis is ridiculous and is leading the world away from one simple truth. No one overreacted. Americans reacted properly but allowed themselves to be led to the bonfire of the insanities for solutions.

Osama Bin Laden was no Muslim scholar. He was a spoiled rich brat with a long and stupid looking beard who with no worries in the world got involved in one of the world’s great conflicts in Afghanistan using Daddy’s Money.

Afghanistan was fun and it gave the spoiled brat something to do, other than go into the family’s profitable but boring construction business, a business that is booming, by the way, even more today than before. No pun intended.

He represented no one but himself. His al-Qaeda gang of privileged and moneyed thugs had only one talent, the ability to take the frustrations of the simpleminded and convince them to sacrifice their lives for some future that had too many adjectives.

Bin Laden is a new kind street gang leader on steroids with money and an Internet that gives him a worldwide stage for communications.

They built an army of perception that has become reality not because of their leadership, but because of the reactions of people like Jones on one side and Zakaria on the other. People who little about the causes of the conflicts that made it so easy for common street gang leaders like Bin Laden to take center stage with acts of violence noteworthy for the size of the number of fatalities.

When you recognize the real threat we face as Americans, it is easy to understand that the threat is not Islam at all, but a handful of miscreants – the word villain is even too kind.

Burning a copy of the Quran or over-interpreting its words won’t help anyone understand how to protect this country from a future act of terrorism.

But it sure will get a lot of publicity.

Personally, maybe Jones should burn some commentaries by Zakaria. And while he’s at it, he should throw in a few commentaries from Hannity, Beck, Coulter and a few more.

That would be worth celebrating.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

Monday, September 06, 2010

Yalla Peace: Ignore the fanatics

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Yalla Peace: Ignore the fanatics

If we want real peace,
we must move steadily ahead.

I don’t understand why so many people are pessimistic about the chances for ending the conflict. Let’s face it, we’ve only been trying to achieve real peace since 1993. That really isn’t a long time. The conflict has been raging for more than 100 years.

Yet everyone tells me they have high hopes but low expectations.

Well, anyone who is successful will tell you that you must first have high hopes and high expectations, and then fight to make those hopes a reality.

There are many reasons for doubting that peace will come, including that abhorrent terrorist attack last week that killed four people near Kiryat Arba – a settlement whose inhabitants have with a history of vicious assaults against Palestinians. People have been killing each other there since the settlement was created in the heart of Hebron.

The people who live there are not Jews hoping to build relations with the Palestinians; many of them are part of a group determined to impose its will through Israel’s military protection.

It never was intended to be peaceful, so why are we surprised when it explodes in violence? But of course, nothing justifies the heinous murder of the four victims. We need to learn to separate our political differences and show our human compassion and tolerance for all.

THE FANATICS on both sides have already vowed to do everything they can to block peace. Armed gunmen from Hamas and other extremist Palestinian groups have vowed a campaign of violence to prevent peace – isn’t that how it’s always been? And Israelis from the far Right have also declared they will do everything to bring down the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

But we can’t be intimidated by hatred and threats. We need to stand fast for peace. We need to become vocal about peace. We need to show Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that we support peace, and that it’s the only answer.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Israel would agree to share east Jerusalem, taking control of the Jewish sectors and giving Palestinians control of the Arab sectors. That offer was alleged to have been made to Yasser Arafat but never formally offered at Camp David, where the failed “proximity talks” all began.

This time, Netanyahu and Abbas are meeting face-to-face, an important change from Camp David. This time, Jerusalem is on the table.

If Netanyahu has the courage to ignore the public opinion polls driven downward by years of conflict and hate, he can make real peace with Abbas.

The PA president has no choice but to stand up to the fanatics in Hamas,the PFLP and other hate groups who have taken the just cause of the Palestinian people and turned it into a formula for their own political aristocracy.

The issues of settlements and refugees can be resolved. Palestinians are ready to accept a rock-solid plan to compensate the refugees and help them rebuild their lives. To offset the right to return to their original homes and lands lost in 1948, they need strong words of support from both Netanyahu and Abbas.

Netanyahu needs to show understanding for what the Palestinians lost in 1948. It is the height of humanity to extend a hand to people who have suffered.

Israelis need to turn within and confront their own demons, and tell their own fanatics – who would just as easily resort to violence to block peace – to stand down.

Can they do that? Saving all our children depends on it.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Avoid the misunderstandings to get to Palestinian-Israeli peace

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Avoid the misunderstandings to get to Palestinian-Israeli peace

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House with President Obama, they were careful not to make fun of Obama, whose popularity is lower than his bow to the king of Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu didn't ask Obama if he celebrates Ramadan, and Abbas didn't call  Obama a "Zionist hack." Those were good things that came out of the first face-to-face talks in two years. But they need to make sure to avoid creating misunderstandings as were created at Camp David, when Ehud Barak thought he offered a real peace deal to Yasser Arafat, and Arafat thought that peace was based on meeting face-to-face.

Misunderstandings, in fact, have been the major cause of most of the conflicts in the Middle East. Just look at the history
The history of Arab-Israeli relations is filled with misunderstandings, even before the misunderstanding that took place last July when Israeli and Lebanese forces exchanged fire over the trimming of a Cypress tree.

In 1948, it was all just a misunderstanding when Jewish immigrants from Europe arrived in Israel and declared their own state. They thought they were in New York where the Jewish population was vibrant and the Arabs of New York, who were all called "Syrians," welcomed the Jews with open arms.

In 1956, Israel launched an assault on the Suez Canal and captured the Sinai when someone yelled in a Tel Aviv coffee shop "The Egyptians are claiming that since the Hebrews left Egypt, they have no right of return." 

In 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser yelled about "driving the Jews in to the sea." But the Egyptian dialect is filled with heavy with guttural-based sounds easily misunderstood. What Nasser really said was he wanted to drive the Jews "to" the sea.

In 1973, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat attacked Israel because he thought it was the "Day of Kipper," which is his favorite fish; and you can't get a great Kipper dish anywhere else in the Middle East except in Israel, although there is Nasrallah's café off Shadeed Street in South Beirut. But Egyptians are less desired there than the Israelis.

When Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak were at Camp David, Arafat felt uncomfortable being at a hotel named after the Hebrew King David. Arafat was concerned because he recalled that Jewish resistance fighters had blown up the King David Hotel 53 years earlier. Maybe Clinton could have hosted the peace talks on more neutral ground, like in Beirut where both Arafat and Barak would both fear for their lives together.

Arafat did feel slightly snubbed when Barak refused to meet with him face-to-face at Camp David. No one explained to Arafat that Barak spent most of his days at Camp David at the local boutiques checking out the new dresses. Israelis know that prime ministers don't last long and can be quickly out of a job and he might have to return to hunting down Israel's most wanted.

When Ariel Sharon walked upon the Haram al ash-Sharif in 2000, he made a declaration that so many Arabs simply misunderstood. Sharon said Jerusalem will always be the "capitol" of Israel, he was using the word "capital" which referenced the city's monetary value.

The 2nd Intifada began with a misunderstanding, too, when a Palestinian heard that the Israelis had decided that instead of returning the West Bank they were going to keep all of it. Wanting to make sure they had everything, a Palestinian picked up a stone and tossed it towards the Israelis in a gesture of cooperation, yelling "Don't forget this piece of the West Bank."   

Even the Gaza War in 2008 began with a misunderstanding. Hamas was abiding, for the most part, to the truce or "Lull" with Israel that summer. So in honor of having dramatically cut back the number of Qassam Rockets fired at Israeli civilians, Hamas decided to celebrate with their own fireworks display, shooting off Chinese-made bottle rockets. Of course, Hamas never mailed the celebratory invites to the Israelis, who saw the Chinese bottle rockets as being more of a deadlier threat than the Qassams.

Oy Vey. That's all one can say in the Middle East. Although that is a misunderstanding, too. The guy who said the phrase wasn't declaring anguish but merely trying to get his donkey, named Oy, turn to the right, or go "that way." 

Misunderstandings. They happen all the time. Like when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Palestinians that he would "freeze" all the settlements. He meant he was going to buy air conditioners for all the settlers, a promise he said would be completed by Sept. 26.

And when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate with the Israelis until those settlements are frozen, he was merely waiting for the temperature in the settlements to chill, because the settlers because they are such an emotional people. Step one foot on "their" land and they go berserk, twisting their beards into braided knots.

Of course, the worst moment was when an Israeli negotiator told an Arab negotiator at the very first peace talks back in 1993, "If you compromise, we can both live in peace."

The Arab responded angrily, rejecting compromise and declaring, "No Jew is going to tell me what to do!" 

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Obama administration shows respect to American Arab journalists

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Obama administration shows respect to American Arab journalists
By Ray Hanania

Although there is much to debate about the ability of President Barack Obama to bring peace to the Middle East, there is no doubt that he is doing more than any of his predecessors to recognize the importance of American Arab journalists.

In the nearly two years since his election, Obama has slowly and steadily opened the White House to access to Arab World and American Arab journalists, a group that has been missing in action in most past White House Middle East peace events.

Although American Arabs were invited to witness the historic signing of the now failed Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, not invited were American Arab journalists.

Now, American Arab journalists are joining Arab World journalists in obtaining access to firsthand news from the White House, not only in coverage of Iraq but also in coverage of day-to-day news.

The White House has accepted an Arab journalist to be the pool reporter during the restoration of peace talks after a two-year lull between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Although the selection of Yasmeen Alamiri from the Saudi Press Agency to lead the press pool coverage of the Abbas-Netanyahu meeting, the news reports are, for the first time, those pool reports are being made available directly to the American Arab Press. (Read the pool reports at the American Arab News Wire at http://aams.blogspot.com).

Officials at the U.S. State Department have also reached out to the American Arab media to provide thought leaders from the U.S. Government to discuss American policy spin.

Mainstream American media might scoff at the idea of journalists celebrating being put on the government’s PR spin list, but the fact that the government feels it is important now, for the first time, to spin the American Arab media is a significant shift in U.S. Government strategy.

There are more than 103 American Arab newspapers and magazines in the United States today according to an inventory kept by the National Arab American Journalists Association (www.NAAJA-US.com). There are nearly 300 American Arabs in professional journalism, with half working in the mainstream American media and the other half working in the ethnic American Arab media.

American Arabs in the mainstream media, though, are usually assigned to non-Middle Eastern beats and topics, a fact that contradicts the experience of other ethnic journalists like Hispanics and African Americans who are often tapped to cover their own ethnic communities.

American Arab journalists in the ethnic media specifically write about Middle Eastern topics, although as much as 75 percent of the writing is op-ed or opinion commentary content rather than objective news or enterprises feature writing.

These publications reach deeper into one of the most ignored ethnic constituencies in America, Arabs and Muslims, than any other mainstream publication. American Arabs and Muslims do subscribe to, read and watch mainstream American media. But when reporting comes to Middle East topics or Islamic topics, the level of skepticism is higher than the average American.

American Arab publications also have a strong connection to the Arab world media. More often today than a decade before, Arab World reporters and producers are seeking out American Arab journalists in both the ethnic and mainstream media to assist them in identifying sources and stories.

The internet has played a significant role in leveling the playing field between American Arab media and the mainstream American media. More and more, American Arab journalists are also being engaged as commentators on mainstream media panels, interview and news programs. They are being tapped and quoted as resources to round out mainstream media stories.

At some point, American Arab journalists will find their place alongside mainstream American journalists, and their impact in forcing a balanced coverage of Middle East and Islamic topics will continue to grow.

(Ray Hanania is the 2010 winner of the Sigma Delta Chi award from column writing and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New America Media in 2007. He hosts a weekday morning Chicago radio show and can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

Middle East peace requires real courage from both sides

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Middle East peace requires real courage from both sides
By Ray Hanania

On the eve of a long-hoped-for meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, members of the Hamas terrorist organization killed four members of the Israeli terrorist settler movement.

The murders of the four settlers took place at Kiryat Arba in the West Bank where settlers have celebrated the memory of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinians while they were praying at the Hebron Mosque. Amazingly, he wore an Israeli military uniform and the mosque was under the control of the Israeli army.

Talk about an inside job.

This act of terror is more than just a reminder that violence takes place on both sides – yes, Israel settlers kill Palestinians, too. It should remind us of the objective of extremist Palestinians and extremists Israelis, which is to block the peace process.

The extremists have been encouraged by Netnayhau who has been hesitant to give up his drive to take all of the land of the Palestinians in the West Bank and convert them in to illegal Israeli settlements. He has refused to really freeze settlement expansion and despite a minor hold on some insignificant “outposts,” the settlements continue to expand with new construction and more settlers.

Abbas has been trying his best to embrace peace, demanding only that Israel stop expelling Palestinian homeowners from East Jerusalem, which is located in the Israeli occupied West Bank and is a Palestinian majority. Israel has been building homes for settlers in East Jerusalem while demolishing the homes of Palestinian families there for the past decade.

The problem facing both Netanyahu and Abbas is a political problem. And the question is, do they have the courage to do the right thing? Do they have the courage to stand up to the fanatics in their own community and confront the growing anger from the moderates who are pulled apart by violence, failure, and the actions of the other side?

We know what the peace agreement is. Two states. Israel closes some settlements and gives the Palestinian lands in Israel in exchange for the illegal settlements that it keeps.

East Jerusalem is divided not by a wall but by sovereignty with people able to travel throughout the Holy City. The Jewish section though falls under Israeli control and the Palestinian sections, three quarters of the city, come under Palestinian control.

The Palestinian refugees are addressed with real options, not false promises of returning to lands they will never see. Relocation to the Palestinian State. A fund to support their development. An apology and acknowledgement from Israel for that country’s role in intentionally taking their homes, lands and destroying their villages in 1948, an event that took place more than 62 years ago.

Most importantly, an internationally recognized border is drawn between Palestine and Israel that for the first time in history gives Palestine the power of international law if Israel breaks its agreement. Sovereignty gives Palestinians a power they have never had. They have always been the outcast in every international debate about their situation. Their non-sovereignty status has allowed Israel to do all the talking and direct all the action. Israel’s violence has been defined as “defense” while Palestinian violence has always been defined as “terrorism.”

A peace accord would change the power balance to fairness.

Palestine could continue to prosecute crimes as could Israel. Palestine could continue to push for more humanitarian treatment of Palestinians seeking to be compensated for lost lands and homes taken by Israel and so could Jews seeking to be compensated for lost lands and homes in the Arab World.

But if Netanyahu has the courage to stand up to the fanatics in Israel who are beating the drums of hatred and rejection, he could go down as one of the most influential Jewish leaders in modern human history.

If Abbas can push ahead and let go of Palestinian injured ego and pride, he could become the most important Palestinian leader, eclipsing the Hamas terrorist organization which claims power only on the basis of their ability to murder Israeli settlers and civilians and to threaten violence.

In peace, Hamas would slowly disappear. Their power would vanish. It is only in conflict that Hamas has power. And, it is only in rejection that the Israeli settler fanatics -- who murder innocent Palestinians all the time without even a mention in the mainstream American news media – find power. The settlers would disappear as a violent extremist force, too. And that is good for Israeli politics.

Take away power from the fanatics and the extremists on both sides by doing the right thing. And the right thing is for Abbas and Palestine and Netanyahu and Israel to return from their meetings in Washington D.C. with President Barack Obama by holding up an agreement for the world to see.

Make the peace now. Address the details we’ve been haggling over later. We know there will be fights over the line “dividing” Jerusalem. We know there will be fights over which lands Israel must surrender in exchange for the keeping the illegal settlements like Ariel and Gilo.

But we also know that failure means a future of far more violence than what we have witnessed over the past six months. From the attack on the civilians on the Gaza flotilla to the attack on the settlers at Kiryat Arba.

It’s a simple choice. Peace. Or, violence.

(Ray Hanania is distributed by Creators Syndicate. He writes a column every Wednesday for the Jerusalem Post and regularly for PalestineNote.com. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)