Jews and Arabs: Media and Conflict

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Nothing may be more harmful to the cause of peace, these days, than the pretension to control most of what the media are dealing with, as regards the Middle East conflict. the problem is already enough complicated within its military dimensions, assuming that in the origin of the present outgrowing explosion of violence, there is essentially a military “fait accompli” of one people (Israeli) on the account of another( Palestinian).

We cannot hide the fact that there is on the disputed lands, since 1948, un invader and an invaded. For in the overwhelming flow of information and pseudo information covering that dispute, people forget sometimes the basics which might remind them that without the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land, nobody among the Arabs would ever have fought against the Jews. Until recent times – most likely up to 1967- there was not a single Arab capital that did not contain more or less an important proportion of Jewish citizens.

From the shores of the Atlantic in Morocco to the Arab Persian Gulf, the Jews were living with the Muslims and the Christians in the Arab world, and enjoying like them the rights of the citizenship. Although the statistics of that period are not entirely reliable, there is no doubt that the Arab Jews of that time outnumbered those of New York and other American cities. Thus, to think that the Arabs and the Jews do not know each other or refuse to know each other, is probably one of those widespread unfounded ideas that intoxicate people’s minds since the beginning of this conflict. In fact, the history of the Jews and the Arabs is the history of a long, thorny, horny, tragically revealing passion about power, and money, and glory , the whole mixed up with religious creeds and deeply soaked in the deepest mysticism. If you do not understand this, you would not understand why youngsters of 18 to 20 years old are willing to sacrifice their lives, neither you would understand why the most powerful Israeli leader – i.e. Yitzac Rabin – has been so unexpectedly killed by one of his compatriots in the street , and so many other dramatic events.

Some Westerners who barely know the history of the Middle East, do not even suspect what the Arab school boys learn since their primary courses about the Muslims and the Jews. The fact that Mohammed – the Prophet of Islam- sought refuge among the Jews of Medina, when he fled Mecca hounded by his fellow citizens who wanted him dead, and that the Jews- and the Christians- welcomed him and his companions and helped him settle in their town, which would be transformed in few years into the Headquarters of the new conquering religion, passes almost unnoticed, although this is the very nucleus of the initial relationship between the Jews and the Muslims. In the same context of blurred and biased historical data, nobody seems to care about rising the question related to the timing of the recent events:

How come actually that about fifty years of blood shedding and reciprocal violence can cause such an amnesia among people of that region, so that they forget completely that they have lived together for more than 14 centuries – since the advent of Islam- without that kind of violence we see today? How did the Arabs and the Jews forget 14 centuries of coexistence just to recall their recent dispute of some fifty years? What are 50 and 100 years in the prospect of History? Everybody must know the answer, though. It is so elementary. Even a boy school would say: these years of struggle are nothing compared to centuries of coexistence. Before the arrival of Sharon, Netanyahu, and alike vultures, Arabs and Jews used to live peacefully on those lands. How can we forget that if the Arabs have been able to carry the light of civilization until the heart of the middle-aged Europe, at a remote epoch, it was also thanks to their Jewish compatriots who worked as translators and copyists and physicians and chemists and musicians and traders, etc? Those famous Jews are known to the Arab scholars- as well as to the orientalists – by the label :”Ahl addhimma”, which distinguishes them – along with the Christians- from the “kafir” (i.e. the atheists). Not only they were respected by the Muslims, but some of them were even able to make their way up to the Caliphs and thus to hold important posts in their administration.

Thus, those who claim nowadays that Muslims and Jews cannot live peacefully together, or that peace in the Middle East is just impossible, do a lot of damage not only to the populations of that region, but also to its history which they likely ignore. In fact, in the wide prospect of global History, what is the weight of Sharon or Arafat? Thus, whether they reach peace or not does not really matter if they are unable to proceed with it for a long time. Maybe the two men , after all, are the real obstacle to peace, not the contrary. Maybe their peoples need to acknowledge that they have been just hijacked, while they were thinking they have chosen!

Obviously, the media are part of the bidding. All the parties are trying to use them, which is not bad in itself. Yet, there is a difference between using the media and subduing them, by threats, bribery, blackmailing, and other kinds of pressure. The point is that those who are almost sure to lose the fight on the ground – I mean in the streets, with people- are precisely those who use these dishonest means to impress the journalists and the writers. For one thing is clear: You would not act as intellectual terrorists if you know that you can convince us just in arguing.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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