Thursday, 11 October 2012

Is Israel the enemy?

Arab News, founded in 1975, is an English-language newspaper with a wide and diverse readership across the Arab world. The publication proudly asserts that its website receives hundreds of thousands of hits every day. Emanating from Saudi Arabia, its news and comment sections cover the global scene in most of its aspects – political, economic, social, sporting. Printed at state-of-the-art facilities in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, Arab News can be found on newsstands throughout the Middle East.

Last Saturday, 6 October, a strange and uncharacteristic article appeared in its pages under the by-line of Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Al-Mulhim, a retired Commodore of the Royal Saudi Navy, is a regular contributor to Arab News and to various on-line sites. It may be relevant to record that he served extensively in the United States, part of the time at the Maritime College of the State University of New York.

Watching the Al-Arabiya TV network, the most respected news outlet in the Middle East, and seeing reports and pictures of starvation in Yemen, massive destruction and mass slaughter in Syria, an under-developed Sinai, car bombs in Iraq and devastation in Libya, Al-Mulhim was struck by an unusual, not to say unorthodox, thought. None of all that destruction, all those atrocities, had been caused by an outside enemy (the outside enemy). They were the work of the very authorities that were supposed to protect and safeguard the people of those countries. So nothing if not clear-thinking, Al-Mulhim asked himself, who is the real enemy of the Arab world?

“The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered their sworn enemy,” he wrote, adding wryly, “an enemy whose existence they never recognized.”

The Arab world has many enemies, he asserted, “and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people. These dictators’ atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.”

Al-Mulhim proceeded to outline the history of the major Arab-Israeli conflicts, concluding that the Arabs gained nothing from them but hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. “And now,” he says, “with the never-ending Arab Spring the Arab world has no time for the Palestinian refugees or the Palestinian cause, because many Arabs are refugees themselves and under constant attacks from their own forces.” He declares that Syrians are fleeing from their own country, not because Israeli planes are dropping bombs on them; “it is the Syrian Air Force which is dropping the bombs.”

Finally, Al-Mulhim turns to Israel, comparing it to the disarray of so many of the Arab states. “What happened to the Arabs’ sworn enemy?” he asks. His answer?

“Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states, and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World. Wasn’t one of the judges who sent a former Israeli president to jail an Israeli-Palestinian? The Arab Spring showed the world that the Palestinians are happier and in better situation than their Arab brothers who fought to liberate them from the Israelis. Now it is time to stop the hatred and wars, and start to create better living conditions for the future Arab generations.”

There is no doubt at all that it was courageous of Al-Mulhim to say what he said, and to do so under his own name (though no more, perhaps, than might be expected from an ex-navy commodore). And with fundamentalist groups vying with each other in their zeal to impose their own versions of Islam on the Arab world, it was equally brave of Arab News to print it.

Now, it is churlish to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the fact is that Al-Mulhim’s article was written in English for an English-language newspaper. Is it too much to expect that a version in Arabic is reprinted in another of the 29 publications produced by the Saudi Research & Publishing Company?


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