If I were to argue that the real enemy of the Arab world is not Israel, but the Arab world itself, what would people say? If I suggested it is the Arab states’ own endemic corruption, poor healthcare, inadequate education system, lack of respect for human rights, and disregard for human life and freedom of speech that is the real problem? If I said that many Arab states actually cause their own people far greater suffering than Israel does? That in attacking Israel in 1948 and 1967, and intermittently thereafter, the Arab world only harmed itself? That Israel offers a far better standard of living to Palestinians than many Arab states offer their citizens? If I argued all of this, wouldn’t the response be a tsunami of animosity?
I think so. For that reason, I won’t. I’ll leave it to Abdulateef al-Mulhim, the former commodore of the Saudi Navy.
In an article that first appeared in the Arab News and has been widely cited since, al-Mulhim made all these points. The Times printed a lengthy extract in their Opinion pages. Here are some choice quotations.
On the real Arab enemy (themselves): “The Arab world … has many enemies, and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good healthcare, lack of freedom, lack of respect for human lives and, finally, the many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people. These dictators’ atrocities against their own citizens are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars … Syrians are leaving their own country not because of Israeli planes dropping bombs on them but the Syrian Air Force doing so.”
On the comparison of many Arab states and Israel: “If many of the Arab states are in such disarray, we should contrast them with Israel. It now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of Palestinians living in Israel is far greater than in many Arab states and they enjoy far greater political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip [sic] enjoy more political and social rights than in some parts of the Arab world.”
On the lessons from the Arab Spring: “The Arab Spring showed the world that the Palestinians are happier and living better than their Arab brothers who fought to liberate them from the Israelis. It is time to stop the hatred and wars and create better living conditions for future Arab generations.”
The motivations of the author are open to speculation. And, let’s face it, much of this is a bit rich coming from a former member of the Saudi establishment, which does not have the best of track records when it comes to human rights. But on the face of it, this is a brave piece to write. The Saudis may not have very much love for many of the Arab countries of which he speaks, but they are traditionally not particularly keen on Israel, either. For that matter, it is unusual for anybody outside of America to argue that for far too long, far too much attention has been focussed on Israel and its supposed evils, and far too little attention has been paid to the nature of the aggression it faces.
I’m not suggesting that Israel is spotless. Personally, I found the excesses of the 2006 Lebanon campaign hard to stomach, the alleged use of white phosphorus during Operation Cast Lead inexcusable, the seeming indulgence of the West Bank “price taggers” unacceptable, and so on. And I’d be keen to see a State of Palestine properly recognised and represented at the UN.
But no country is perfect, especially one that is just 64 years old, and has existed in a perpetual, de facto state of war. Notwithstanding all its faults, for too long we have allowed Israel – an essentially liberal democracy under immense strain – to be demonised in the eyes of the world while holding it to standards we never apply to its neighbours. The UN has passed far more resolutions against the Jewish state than any other country in the world, including Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Russia and North Korea. According to some estimates, a third of all UN resolutions are passed against Israel. Why these double standards? Is it not condescending to ignore the fundamental abuses of humanity and dignity that we see in other states, as if they can’t be expected to know any better? Is it not hypocritical to expend far more energy correcting Israel’s relatively minor misdemeanours while turning a blind eye to the horrendous actions of the dictatorships that surround it?
For the Arab world, hatred of Israel is a distraction. They would be wise to refocus their attentions on putting their own house in order. This is is al-Mulhim’s conclusion, not mine. Many people, of course, may disagree, and they are entitled to do so. But what I want to know is, why is his very sound and reasonable argument made so rarely in the British media? And why will it inevitably be met with such venom?