Blaming the Arab World Is Inappropriate Right Now

Joel Suarez found fault with my previous posting on Shahids and Hayals, in that I come down hard on the rage in the Arab world at this time. Over the weekend I got many more reports of the atrocities occurring in Gaza at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, and the fact that the Arab world, unlike Israel and the United States, sees the direct evidence of this regularly on their television screens. It occurred to me that Joel’s critique was a good one, even though I may disagree with some facts. I will regularly post guest writers and I think this piece has good merit. Joel is a graduate student at Columbia University and writes at .

Joel Suarez writes:

Dear Marc,

I recently read your post on hatred in demonstrations. I’d have to agree that it is extremely disappointing to see bigotry injected into protests but I can’t agree with you on all points. Very briefly, you state:

“Every American has to take responsibility for what the American military has done, every Israeli must take responsibility for what its military does. And every Arab must take responsibility for what Arab governments and violent groups do in this region.”

Though I understand where this sentiment might come from, I simply cannot understand why Arabs should have to be held responsible for the actions of their authoritarian governments. They are not elected, and in most cases they go against the will of the people. Right now the Egyptian government is sealing off Gaza from aid and shooting at innocent people who are trying to leave to seek refuge. Should Egyptians be held accountable for this even though they strongly oppose these policies?

I don’t think it is useful to make such broad generalizations about these demonstrations. I don’t see why one should assume most or even a very large chunk of the people protesting is doing it solely to delegitimize Israel. There is genuine rage at the massive carnage reaped upon the Palestinians. In the first 4 days of Israel’s attack the number of Palestinians killed was nearly double the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians in the last four years. The sad fact is, according to nearly all reports and studies, the vast majority of Israelis support this operation. Surely, one can understand that they fear and loath rockets falling on southern Israel, but one wonders what they come to expect when they (and I say this intentionally because most Israelis supported the blockade) deprive 1.5 million people of the basic necessities to sustain life. I won’t rattle off numbers and statistics here, since I’m sure you are very familiar with them, but you know as well as anyone that what Israel has been doing to Gaza BEFORE Cast Lead was a terrible.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people and governments around the world support a two-state settlement on the 1967 border. It has been Israel and the United States rejecting this for the last few decades. The latest vote on this in the UN was 164 to 7 (Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and the United States). This has been the case for the last 20 years. The Saudi Peace Initiative was presented back in 2002 and rejected by Israel. Saudi Arabia also had a peace proposal based on a two-state settlement back in 1981, also rejected by Israel. Time and time over, the world (Arab included) extends peace to Israel and it is rejected and more violence and the tightening of the occupation are embraced. With this in mind, it is understandable that the world is frustrated with the US and Israel. This might sound extreme but in some sense Israel NEEDS to be isolated, much in the same way South Africa was isolated in order to force change in Government policies and the consciousness of Israeli society. This, of course, is no excuse for bigotry and blind hatred, but it puts much needed context into the nature of these demonstrations.

I also STRONGLY disagree with the notion of Arabs only caring about Palestinians when Jews are killing them. I’ve followed the Arab press quite closely, and the disdain the Arab masses are showing at the Egyptian government, at the PA, etc. is overwhelming. There isn’t a night that goes by when Al Jazeera doesn’t interview protesters across the Arab world condemning Egypt and asking “Where are these Arab leaders? Where is the Arab League?” and so on.

You ask: “Why all this breast beating and ringing of the hands now, all these cries of ‘holocaust’? Where were they when we needed them?” Do you really have to ask why people are outraged? I’m not sure what you can ask of Arabs that all live in dictatorships they hate. I’m not sure what exactly they can do. They also live in despair and desperation in large part because they are repressed and have no say in what their governments do. Nearly 800 Palestinians have been killed, hundreds of them children; does it make these protests disingenuous just because they aren’t marching out there every single day for the last 40 years of the occupation demanding peace and flowers? What are they supposed to do?!

Also, you cannot neglect the countless number of Arab youth organizations aimed at reconciliation and peace. I was in Jordan last summer and I had some great experiences with a few groups initiated by young Muslims who wanted to reach out to Americans and Jews who were visiting. This, of course, is anecdotal, but it shouldn’t be dismissed either. At a moment where there is a mass slaughter occurring with virtually full support of the Israeli government AND people, can you really find it dumbfounding that Arabs don’t feel like singing about peace and instead are shouting in desperation? If Iran were pounding New York with hundreds of bombs every day, killing hundreds of children, would you not “respect” and belittle protests of genuine moral outrage? Of course, one only hopes that everyone reacts with the detachment of an analyst or a foreign peace-maker, but this is not realistic, nor very human. I greatly admire those like yourself who refuse to succumb to hatred and bigotry and I really wish everyone would react this way, but I also understand and even sympathize with the public outrage and know that expressing outrage does not mean you are a bigot, militarist or a supporter of militarism.

I am glad you wrote what you did, and I think it needed to be said, but I do think you overstated your case. You seem to dismiss legitimate anger and desperation as hatred and anti-Semitism, and I don’t think that contributes towards peace. To achieve we must understand people’s anger, not dismiss it.



© Marc Gopin