In an age where Arab media often demonizes Israel, the London-based pan-Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat, recently published two articles about Israel where the author Dr. Amal Al-Hazzani gives a surprisingly somewhat positive take on Israelis.
An assistant professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dr. Al-Hazzani in her article, “The Israel We Do Not Know” describes the recent Israeli elections “as something of an exception in the Middle East.” She writes admiringly of the unexpected win of Israel’s new center-left party, Yesh Atid and of its leader, Yair Lapid’s focus on liberal concepts of social equality and education.
The assistant professor writes that Israel has “changed” since its major wars, and that there is “an emerging generation that harbors dreams and expectations different to those cherished by a leader like Netanyahu,” and that they are “…inclined towards civil interests, a love for life, and decent living standards.” She also writes that Arab youths are not aware that there exists in Israel, youths who “strongly believe that Israel’s stability is conditional upon its coexistence with the Arabs.”
While the author also makes sure to pepper her article with negative terminology of Israel, using terms like “oppressive,” “invasive,” “an occupying state” and “bitter enemy,” she emphasizes the democratic aspects of Israeli society.
“In Israel, politicians are distinguished by their sincerity and devotion to the higher interests of the state, rather than their affiliation to a certain group, and this is something we have yet to see in the Arab Spring” Dr. Al-Hazzani writes.
During the Arab Spring, the assistant professor added that “the Arab youths turned to poets with their cheap words, and to politicians who heap[ed] insults upon Israel from their luxurious hotel rooms.”
Dr. Al Hazzani explains that because Israel’s neighboring Arab states do not teach Hebrew, their citizens remain ignorant of Israel and that is the primary cause of weakness. “A simple means of demonstrating our ignorance of Israel can be found in the fact that its neighboring states are ignorant of the Hebrew language.” She notes that in Lebanon and Syria, “people prefer to study French rather than the language of a country that continues to jeopardize their own security…”
On the other hand, Dr. Al Hazzani notes that in Israel “there is ample opportunity to study the Arabic language,” and “there is a considerable number of Israeli politicians and media representatives who speak Arabic fluently.” The author claims that Israeli immersion in Arab culture, serves as the “real cause for their power.”
The author, however, does not mention that nearly half of Israel’s population is made up of Jewish refugees from Arab countries from across the Middle East as well as their progeny.
In response to her article, Dr. Al Hazzani was inundated with hate mail, to which she responded with another article, entitled “Know Your Enemy” published February 7 in Asharq Al-Awsat, where she states she expected the outrage “for breaking a taboo.” But she says that “… outrage will not change reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.”
The assistant professor writes in her reply that Arab knowledge of Israel is limited to war, conflict and land dispute. “The bitter truth is that although we Arabs refuse to openly recognize Israel, we implicitly acknowledge it through the martyrs’ tombs, the refugee camps, the Palestinian diaspora, the occupied territories, the periodical wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the settlement projects. If we insist on denying the reality, we will remain alone in the dark.
Dr. Al Hazzani continues further and explains that there is much more to Israel than the above issues. “The Arabs have been preoccupied with rage and blind hatred since 1967. During this time, Israel has managed to build eight public universities and 200 museums that receive nearly 4 million tourists a year. It has also become a rival to the US in the programming and software industry.”
The author also adds that “it is untrue to claim that America is feeding the Israelis and funding their education and health; Israel is a rich state that does not need others to support it.”
The pragmatic professor concluded the article with her solution to the current state of Arab affairs: “We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”