Khaled Abu Toameh gives the lie to all the incendiary rhetoric about Israel that is heard in Canada --the call to boycott Israeli products, the rants about Israeli apartheid, the campus protests against Israel's supposed oppression of the Palestinians. You know how the protesters insist that it's about Israel, and not about hating Jews? After you've heard Abu Toameh talk, the only conclusion to draw is that it has to be about hating Jews.
"I see more sympathy for Hamas on campuses than I do in Ramallah, more hatred for Jews on North American campuses than in Palestinian areas,” Abu Toameh said during a visit with the Herald editorial board Monday. "The people I've met on campuses are not Arabs and not Palestinians. They haven't been (to the Middle East) and they don't know what they're talking about. I saw signs saying 'Death to Israel' on campuses here. I can't remember the last time I heard this in Ramallah."
Abu Toameh, 46, is a Muslim, an Israeli citizen and a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, specializing in Palestinian affairs. Yes, he works for a Jewish-owned newspaper. No, he is not told by the newspaper's owners to say the things he does.
He says them because, he says, as an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel, he is able to see the truth --and as a journalist, he has an innate obligation to tell that truth.
"People say, 'You work for a Jewish paper, why should we believe you?' If I worked for a Hamas paper, you'd believe me more?" he says, adding, "I said all the same things when I worked for a PLO newspaper."
Here are snippets of what he has to say.
Â• On being an Arab living in Israel:
"Israel can be a Jewish state for all its citizens . . . I would choose to be a third-class citizen in Israel than a first class citizen in Cairo or Amman."
Â• On the security barrier Israel built to keep out suicide bombers, a fence which has stirred ugly cries of "apartheid" among Canadian protesters:
"I don't believe in walls. I wish it weren't there. But if I were Israel, I'd go write on it, 'Made By Hamas and Yasser Arafat.' Jews didn't wake up one morning and say, 'We're bored. Let's spend billions of dollars and build a wall' . . . For three years I was scared to take my children to the mall, afraid to stop at a red light next to an Israeli bus. More than 50 Arabs have died in suicide bombings in Israel. They (the suicide bombers) don't care (who they kill)." He says that before the wall went up, if someone had asked to meet him in downtown Jerusalem, he would have replied, "Are you crazy?"
Â• On Hamas and Fatah:
"Hamas is in a power struggle with Fatah, which makes it impossible to talk about Palestinian stability . . . 2,000 Palestinians have died in this power struggle between Hamas and (Fatah)."
Â• On Hamas's hatred for Israel:
"If anyone thinks Hamas is going to wake up in the morning and sing Hatikvah, that's not going to happen . . . . Why are we begging Hamas to change? Change should come from within the Palestinians. We Arabs and Muslims allow ourselves to be intimidated by a minority of thugs who call the shots . . . Fatah and Hamas are both suppressing (the emergence of) third-way parties."
Abu Toameh sees himself as a proud Israeli who is pro-Palestinian. That's not a contradiction. It's a recognition of who the Palestinians' real oppressors are. Pro-Palestinian does not equate to anti-Israel; it means being in favour of the Palestinians tossing out their corrupt, thuggish leaders and putting in place a government that will help them to become more like Israel.
"I meet many Palestinians in Ramallah who say they wish the occupation would come back; it was better under the Jews. Some want the Jordanians back," he says.
Palestinians have "always admired the freedom of expression in Israel" and they say "we hope we'll have a free media like the Jews have."
This yearning for democracy is a theme that runs through Abu Toameh's revelations about what ordinary Palestinians want. They envy Israel and they "want to build something like what the Jews have." Under the occupation, the Palestinians got a taste of "democracy, prosperity and stability. We were exposed under Israel to all these things."He adds: "We Arabs are trying to become like the Jews. We see how much they've achieved. The Jews are moving forward and we're moving backward." Moreover, the ordinary Palestinians know who's responsible for their miseries: "They know the Jews did not prevent Arafat from establishing good government."
Listening to this soft-spoken man, you can't help thinking of the crowd who loudly condemn Israel.
Abu Toameh's quiet words, drawn from the well of lived experience, show them up for the fools they are. If only they'd listen to him, their eyes would be opened. Or maybe they prefer to keep them closed to truth.
This article first appeared in The Calgary Herald on May 27, 2009.
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