We Arabs claim that Israel is a western imperialist enterprise, the small Satan to the U.S.’s big Satan. The reality however is that Israel is a love story, the affectionate project of the Jewish people that results from thousands of years of Jewish history. The love that Jews have for Israel and the importance of Israel to Jews is profound and powerful. It is the reason for Israel’s success in the face of tremendous adversity, and it is the reason for the overwhelming Jewish support of Israel.
Many of us Arabs deny Jewish history while the more charitable among us concede that Jews have their own narratives and we have ours. I subscribe to neither approach. There is only one history, and in this context, “narrative” is just a polite word for “myth”. History is factual and verifiable, even if it is sometimes painful to admit. We Arabs have a different point of view from Jews, but neither side has its own set of facts, and the facts do not make us look good.
The Palestinian problem is deep and seemingly endless. The fact that so many Palestinians live in camps and remain stateless and vulnerable is a huge tragedy, and it is unacceptable. This reality does not contradict the Jewish love for Israel, and it is not caused by it. In fact, we created the Palestinian tragedy by trying to deny the rights of Jews.
Being Lebanese, I am particularly ashamed of Lebanon’s role in the conflict. We allowed the PLO and then Hezbollah to attack Israel and terrorize and kill its citizens, then we had the audacity to claim victimhood when Israel’s citizens ran out of patience and responded with force. The deplorable way that we treat Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon only adds to my shame. The depth of our hypocrisy would be unbelievable if it were not so real.
Our latest big lie is that Israel is stealing our land in the West Bank. The reality is that the West Bank is Judea and Samaria for the Jews, and they build on that land because they love the Land of Israel. Israel’s building in the West Bank however is a problem for Palestinians who genuinely want to create a state of their own (and it is an excuse for those who do not). These two aspects of the conflict are not two narratives. They are two parts of the same set of facts.
Israelis and Palestinians share one history, but their interests are in conflict, a conflict that we are mostly responsible for creating and maintaining. To resolve it, there is no need to deny history, to claim (as we Arabs commonly do) that Jews are a foreign nation imposed on us “natives”. Instead we must start by recognizing that Jews have as much right to be in the Middle East as we do.
Recognizing Jewish history is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of confidence and empathy. Israel has many groups that recognize and promote Palestinian rights, but this genuine show of concern is sadly asymmetrical. We offer practically nothing in return. We hide behind our lies, and we feel self-satisfied in our hate.
I am told by some Arabs that I should be more moderate in my support for Israel, but I have no affinity for half-truths. To resolve the Palestinian problem we have to recognize that our denial of Jewish history is the root of that problem, and we must convince Israelis that we are willing and able to live in peace as neighbours.
In the Arab / Israel conflict, one side has always initiated conflict, and the other side has always been on the defensive. One side has been intolerant and hateful, and the other side has been inclusive and ethical. One side has promoted war, and the other side has always been ready for peace. I do not need to tell you which side is which because you know. In such a lopsided conflict, trying to take a middle road is both naive and counterproductive.
Some Arabs claim that my support for Israel translates into absolving her of any wrongdoing, but this accusation is absurd. What I do not accept is the sweeping accusation made by antisemites that Israel is evil, racist, and imperialist, and I regret the fact that Arab societies have bought into and promoted that lie. The agenda of those who promote that absolutist view is the destruction of Israel, and I do not accept that because it is neither moral nor beneficial to us Arabs.
The message I am delivering here is essentially the same one delivered by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat almost 38 years ago, but the Arab world has not learned it. In 1977 Sadat visited Israel, which was an unprecedented and dramatic move by an Arab leader. He shook the hands of former enemies, including Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Golda Meir, he paid his respects to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust by visiting Yad Vashem, and he delivered a speech to the members of the Knesset. Sadat did not go to Israel to grovel; he went to show that he respected Israel’s right to exist, and that he was willing to leave behind the hatred and the violence. As a result, he was able to sign a peace deal with Begin (likely the most hawkish Prime Minister in Israel’s history) that gave Egypt back every inch of Egyptian land conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War.
To make peace with Israel and create a Palestinian state, the Palestinians need to do what Sadat did and show that they can be trusted to run their own state. They will not get every inch of the West Bank, and they may not even get any part of Jerusalem, because they have already wasted too many opportunities, but they will come out with a state of their own and much needed dignity. Before any of this can happen, Palestinians need to show that they can be trusted to respect the Jewish state’s integrity and security, but they are very far from having proven that, and they seem to get farther every day.
Israel is strong because it is driven by love. The Arab world is weak because it is far too often driven by sectarianism, hate, and intolerance. This truth is hard for us to hear, but we Arabs have a choice between love and hate: love that frees us to pursue limitless possibilities, or hate that weighs us down and kills happiness, creativity, and hope. Many of us have chosen love, but too many still choose hate.
It is often said that the Israel / Arab conflict is intractable, but it is not. Those of us who chose love over hate have made peace with Israel, and Jews consider us friends and equals. All issues in this conflict are solvable if we start by making that choice. Despite all the deaths and tragedies on both sides, this choice can still be made. Peace is not a betrayal of the dead. Peace is a gift to the living and to future generations.