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Hichem Karoui: Times are changing
November 05, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Israelis are again trying to sell a war off to whoever would buy. At first sight, nothing new: such has been their behaviour since the forties of the last century. Their preferred “clients” used to be the world media, particularly the Western mainstream, some of which participated eagerly in forging the legend of the military “prowess” of the Hebrew state. The targets of the politico-military-media campaign (bluntly called propaganda) were and remain the peoples of the Middle East, from the shores of the Atlantic to the mountains of Afghanistan.

It is no secret that war business could be much more profitable to certain social groups than peace. These groups detain billions of shares at the biggest stock markets of the planet, from Wall Street to the City of London, to Tokyo, to Singapore and beyond. During tough times in the big industrial centres, nothing may be more boosting to the “morale” of the market than a rumour that turns into clamour about big changes in the making, preferably a revolution, a coup, or better, a war... That means many new possibilities for businessmen, creation of thousands of new jobs, relocations, reconstructions, contracts, and a flowing river of gold... especially “black gold.”

Many in the Middle East, a region deeply influenced by religion, have accepted the notion that these little endless wars are somehow the expression of a mysterious destiny; and since the struggle for survival is part of their life on this earth, they would better adopt it as a principle. That is how they would explain the concept of “Jihad” in Islam, which has never been properly understood in the West, except for the elite of learned specialists.

From this perspective, the wars the Israelis have been selling for decades have not changed much in the mindset of the inhabitants of this region: today in 2011 like yesterday in 1947, the Israeli — either civilian or soldier — is still an “alien.” He might be born in Tel Aviv, occupied Jerusalem, or Jaffa, after the birth of his state... He might have learned Arabic, because his neighbours were Palestinians; might even like some aspects of Arab culture and arts, relish Egyptian movies, enjoy Syrian pastry and Lebanese cooking; and if he was a Sephardi, feel nostalgia for the beaches of Tunis, the walls of Marrakesh, and the Kasbah of Algiers...

In other words, an Israeli Jew, either born in Israel to an Ashkenazi or a Sephardi family, might feel at home in the Middle East, completely attuned with his close environment (i.e. family, friends, community)... Still, he will never be at home as long as his government does not recognise to the Palestinians their right to be at home too on the land of their forefathers. Moreover, this denial based on a historic injustice is ingrained in the mind of every Arab born after 1947; and this will be so as long as Israel works as a war merchant and its leaders as warmongers.

The first generation of Israeli leaders wished to make of Israel an “outpost of civilisation” (according to Herzl) defending the values of the West and its liberties against all kinds of despotism and barbarism. Obviously, this highly ambitious project lamentably failed. Instead of an “island of freedoms and peace” in a sea of “darkness,” we have seen the erection of a military establishment disguised into a democracy, unable to hear the voices of peace and reason.

Like all the dictators that oppressed people and forced them to fight wars, the Israeli leaders imitated those whom they pretended to fight and competed with them in tyranny to an unimaginable extent. And while Israel expanded its control over Arab territories, building everywhere settlements for newcomers and new generations of Jewish colonists along with prisons for thousands of dispossessed Palestinians, the Western mainstream media (fortunately with some exceptions) continued to depict Israel as a democracy, omitting to stress at the same time the solid bonds linking the Western governments to those dictatorships of incompetent elites.

Today, times are changing.

The new generation in the Middle East is ambitious and in a hurry. A generation that does not identify with the old incompetent elite of cranks and crooks that ruled these countries as if they were the family orchard. This generation wants freedom and dignity, and it wants it now. It is not willing to accept the beatitude of the fatalists. If the situation seemed to this generation so unbearable that everywhere the youth raised nearly the same slogans, with a total readiness to fight for them until death, maybe should everyone understand that we are henceforth getting into a new age for the entire Middle East.

In this new age, the old legends and myths will not work. The wiser will be those who grasp quickly and anticipate change, not only in discourse but also in behaviour. Warmongers will continue their sinister business; but this time, the old military establishments themselves will have to adapt to the tide not to be carried away.

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, completely bypassed by the recent and brilliant Palestinian victory in Unesco, may just be trying to get himself and his government out of the diplomatic isolation (exteriorly) and the dangerous crisis (domestically) by trying a military venture: he is said to be working to persuade his cabinet to authorise a strike against Iran’s nuclear sites. That may happen. He may get what he wants.

Of course, the objective of a surprise attack similar to the 1980’s strike against Iraq’s reactor, if successful, is to reassure the Israelis about their military capacities, their ability to keep the power balance undisturbed and give Netanyahu enough time to absorb the popular anger against his government, while showing the Palestinians and the Arabs that Israel is still “master of the game,” on the ground, not international diplomacy.

Nevertheless, if such a plan was devised and executed prior to the Arab spring, its chances of success would have been bigger than they are today. Actually, the Arab spring not only shows Israel as a caricature of democracy, but its effect on the mid and long terms may even upset the power balance without war.

The Arabs may not need to fight another war with Israel in order to change the relations (unless they are forced to). These relations are already in the course of changing with the Western countries that are the true “masters of the game” Israel was playing since 1948. What happened in Unesco recently is full evidence of the new rules of this age.

The author an expert in US-Middle East relations at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute).


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