Fred Maroun
A believer in peace and human dignity

What can Arabs learn from Israel?

As an Arab, I have wondered:  Why is Israel, a tiny nation with a tiny population, able to stand up to the much larger Arab world?  Why is Israel an international economic powerhouse while the Arab world’s economies still rely almost exclusively on natural resources?  Why is Israel able to give its citizens democracy, a modern legal system, and world-class civil rights while the Arab world is ruled by dictators?

Anti-Zionists don’t like these questions, and they attempt to avoid answering them by contending that Arabs are victims of European and American imperialism (they no longer are), by claiming that Israel’s strength is due to U.S. financial aid (it never was), or even by questioning the validity of the questions.  But of course these stark differences between Israel and the Arab world are real.

The Arab world resents Israel, especially that Arab antisemitism has traditionally led Arabs to view Jews as inferior.  They cannot accept that Israel is better in any way, and they reject any Israeli advantage as immoral and imperialistic.  Yet they have underestimated Israel from the start, and they continue to underestimate it, still believing that if only the Arab world had better weapons, more world alliances, or louder rhetoric, it could defeat Israel!

The Arabs’ mistake is the belief that Israel’s strength comes from force.  The reality is that Israel’s strength has never come from force, but from its very different moral framework.  What Arabs see as Israel’s weakness is actually its strength.  When attacked, Israel stands as one.  Despite being a small and isolated state with limited natural resources, while Arab states were mired in wars and civil discord, Israel used ingenuity and initiative to create a powerful knowledge-based economy.

Arabs have been fighting wars with Israel with the intention of destroying it, but Israelis have never wanted to destroy anyone, and their objective has always been building their own nation.  While Arabs have discriminated against their own women and their own religious and ethnic minorities, and while Arabs have used their citizens’ lives as if they were of no importance, Israel has valued the life and the dignity of every citizen as if the whole future of the nation depended on each person.

Arabs see Israel’s insistence on protecting every civilian and its obsession with saving every soldier as a weakness.  There is no doubt that this moral standard carries a cost.  In wars with terrorists, the imbalance in lives lost between Israel and its enemy is often criticized by uniformed observers, neglecting the fact that the discrepancy is due to Israel putting vastly more effort into protecting lives.  In negotiations with terrorists, Israel has freed hundreds of terrorists in exchange for one soldier.  Yet to the Arabs’ dismay, despite Israel’s battle scars, it comes out stronger each time.

In addition to having the most ethical army in the world, Israel also has the most committed and the most ingenious soldiers and intelligence professionals.  These attributes cannot be bought by Saudi dollars, and they cannot be obtained using Iranian missiles.  They come from a nation that has a high sense of its own moral values and its own historical purpose.  They come from citizens who know that every human life is valued, and who know that the state belongs to the people.

It is no accident that Israelis give nicknames to their prime ministers while no Arab nation does.  Calling Benjamin Netanyahu “Bibi” and calling Ariel Sharon “Arik” is not a sign of insolence.  It is a sign of affection and mutual respect.  Israelis are argumentative and show little deference to hierarchy, and they see themselves as the owners and protectors of their nation, not its subjects.

Arabs must stop trying to destroy Israel.  Instead, they should reform their own nations to be more like Israel.  Success will not come from more hate, more violence, or more repression.  It will come from a deeply ingrained belief in human rights and in each individual’s human spirit.  Arabs must look at Israel, learn its history, read its books, listen to its speakers, befriend its citizens, and understand it.  Arabs have everything to gain and nothing to lose from becoming more like Israel.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities co-exist in peace with each other, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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