There’s been an idea floating around that one of the ways Israel can go about ending this apparently incessant cycle of violence it seems to be stuck in with respect to its Arab neighbours, is to embrace them. Yeah, embrace them, rather than, you know, bombing the crap out of them. Let’s face it, justified or not, war really sucks. It’s expensive and brutal and often times, good people die. Greater integration into the Arab world as an admirable post-Zionist goal does not mean surrender. It means making Israel an integral and even indigenous part of the Middle East.
Avi Azrieli in the International Herald Tribune opines that
…an Israel that accepts its identity as a Middle Eastern country would be harder to demonize. Its efforts would foster a perception of indigenousness and spread seeds of personal bonds that would trickle up to the political and ideological spheres, ultimately reversing the tide of destructive enmity.
Azrieli offers a two part solution. First, since charity starts at home, greater civil, political and economic equality for Israel’s Arab citizens. Second, he suggests that fluency in Arabic become a requirement for matriculation as well as other steps aimed at allowing more Israelis to converse in and understand Arabic.
Only with the rise of modern Zionism, perceived by the Arabs as a form of European colonialism, were Jews forced to flee Arab countries to Israel, where their culture and language were dismissed as primitive by the Ashkenazi establishment. In hindsight, this original sin has contributed to Israel’s sore- thumb status in the region… By making Arabic a true national language beside Hebrew, Israel would send a clear message to its neighbors: We respect you and we are here to stay.
Azrieli notes how his great-grandfather and namesake, who was a Rabbi of a farming community on Mt. Carmel, taught himself Arabic in order to converse with his neighbors. Underscoring the difficulty of this project, Azrieli also notes how his great-grandfather and his immediate family were subsequently massacred while visiting relatives in Hebron during the 1929 riots. No one said it would be easy…
Lisa from On The Face also links to Azrieli’s article. The spirited discussion following her post is well worth reading. Also inspired by Lisa’s post is a post by itooter Charles Malik on his blog Lebanese Political Journal titled Israel Must Become Middle Eastern. One of his more interesting suggestions is as follows:
Israel could very easily set up a news channel to broadcast to Arab markets. It would get at least a few viewers – Christians and religious Sunnis tune into al Manar, even though they disagree with the politics of the channel. It would definitely get viewers if it routinely criticized the Arab media.
I mean, hell, why not? Al Jazeera’s Israel correspondent walks around here like he owns the place and no one ever bothers him or his crew. However, anyone want to apply for the job of this Arabic language Israeli news channel’s Beirut or Baghdad correspondent?
What’s really interesting about all this, is that there are already a whole mess of Jewish Israelis who have more than a passing familiarity with Arabic culture. Ahuva of Sabra at Heart recently went to a friend’s Henna (pictured above). Does that woman look like what the Arab world’s perception of an Israeli? If you were to visit me on a Thursday night, you would no doubt be serenaded by the patrons of the two bars I live above. They’re not singing socialist kibbutz songs accompanied by guitars. To hear them wailing at the tops of their lungs, darbuka accompanied arabic ditties, you’d think you were anywhere other than in the heart of the capital of the Zionist, colonialist entity. These are the people who ought to be at the forefront of Israel’s Hasbara efforts in the Middle East.
So, to reiterate. Equality for all citizens. Greater Arabic literacy. New Arabic language Israeli news channel. And finally, lots of cushy spokesperson jobs for my Sephardic relatives. Sounds like a good start to me!