Friday, March 04, 2011

More reactions from Israel and Palestine on the Middle East Uprisings

PIAG's Dispatch for March continues our report on the reactions of Israelis and Palestinians to the uprisings for democracy in the Middle East.

Israeli columnist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery writes, “among ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors in Tahrir Square . . .” Yet “even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there was much hilarity about the idea that ‘Arabs’ could establish democracies. Learned professors and media commentators 'proved' that such a thing just could not happen – Islam was ‘by nature’ anti-democratic and backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc. At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.”

The most common conclusion among Israeli pundits, Avnery continues, “was that democratic elections would inevitably lead to the victory of ‘Islamist’ fanatics, who would set up brutal Taliban-style theocracies, or worse. Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda designed to convince the na├»ve Americans and Europeans that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or alternative military strongmen. But most of it was quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous ‘Islamist’ regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe Israel off the map.”

Yet within all this fear and uncertainty, Avnery sees political and moral opportunity: “When entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of changing old ideas. If Israeli political and intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, they could plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.”

Palestinian reaction to the events in the Arab world is a mixture of frustration, concern, hope, and pride. In a fascinating article, Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist, writes that Palestine’s Second Intifada was the inspiration for the uprising in Egypt:

“The Egyptian revolution, rather than coming out of the blue on 25 January 2011, is a result of a process that has been brewing over the previous decade -- a chain reaction to the autumn 2000 protests in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada. . . Mubarak's iron-fist rule and the outbreak of the dirty war between the regime and Islamist militants in the 1990s meant the death of street dissent. Public gatherings and street protests were banned and if they did take place, confronted by force. Live ammunition was used on strikers. Trade unions were put under government control. Only after the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000 did tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets in protest -- probably for the first time since 1977. Although those demonstrations were in solidarity with the Palestinians, they soon gained an anti-regime dimension . . .”

The obvious, if often unspoken question on everyone’s mind is whether the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and other countries in the region will embolden the Palestinians to rise up again. Reserve Brigadier General Michael Herzog warns in Ha’aretz of a “tremendous earthquake shaking our region. . . Where will the popular revolutionary energy released in our region lead? Israel should take into account that this energy, now directed inward, will at some point be directed at it as well. In the Arab street, there is deep empathy for the Palestinians. . . This is especially true during a protracted diplomatic stalemate. Moreover, because of the stalemate, with the banner of liberty raised in our region, the Palestinian public could embark on a popular anti-Israeli uprising. Israel would then face a difficult test, against the background of serious diplomatic isolation and the wave of international recognition of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.”