* A masters degree in Israeli studies is proving popular at a Palestinian university
* German opinion of Israel now so low that even citizens of the United Arab Emirates think more highly of the Jewish state
* “The Israeli enemy never dared to do to Beirut what Hizbullah has done,” lamented Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s embattled PM
1. Hizbullah’s Western apologists
2. Capture of mountain village by Hizbullah seen as a threat to Israel
3. Fatah al-Islam says it will fight “humiliation” by Iran in Lebanon
4. “Applying electrical shocks to his genitals”
5. Iranian Revolutionary Guards caught fighting in Lebanon
6. Official Iranian press yesterday again denies gas chambers at Auschwitz
7. German support for Israel slipping away fast
8. Palestinians learning about their Israeli enemy
9. The Guardian’s obsessive verbal pogrom
10. An unpublished letter to The Guardian
11. “Why Hizbullah should be condemned” (By Dean Godson, Times, May 14, 2008)
12. “A special relationship” (By Daniel Schwammenthal, WSJ Europe, May 13, 2008)
13. “The Birth of a Nation, 1948” (By Ruth Gruber, New York Times, May 18, 2008)
14. “Learn about your enemy” (By Nathan Jeffay, Education Guardian, May 6, 2008)
HIZBULLAH’S WESTERN APOLOGISTS
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach four articles of interest from recent days (the first two written by subscribers to this email list) and various other related notes.
In the first, Dean Godson (writing in The Times of London) asks why, when Israel defended itself against attack by Hizbullah in 2006, the world was outraged, but now that Hizbullah are deliberately slaughtering Lebanese civilians (include a massacre of Lebanese Druze last week), in what is the worst sectarian strife since the 1975-90 civil war, the world is strangely silent.
“Even the Israeli enemy never dared to do to Beirut what Hizbullah has done,” lamented Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s embattled Prime Minister, last weekend.
Yet there has been not a peep from the concerned humanitarians of the Stop the War Coalition, which boasted of putting 100,000 people on to the streets to protest against Israeli assaults.
If Hizbullah is, as their Western apologists claim, an entirely indigenous “resistance” movement, why have pictures gone up in Beirut of the Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, and the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, for the first time since the Cedar Revolution of 2005?
(For a photo montage about Hizbullah and Iran, please click here. )
HIZBULLAH CAPTURE OF MOUNTAIN VILLAGE SEEN AS A THREAT TO ISRAEL
Tom Gross adds: It was reported that as part of their attacks last week, Hizbullah seized control of the strategic mountain-top village of Niha in Druze heartlands 25 miles south-east of the Lebanese capital Beirut, thereby consolidating strategic gains that could be used in confrontations with Israel.
If the reports are accurate, the village could now provide the Iranian-backed terror group with a crucial link between its stronghold in the eastern Bekaa Valley and the coastal highway that leads to Hizbullah’s bases in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
It was also reported that Hizbullah gunmen took over key positions in Aley, a Druze town north of the Chouf mountains, which abuts the main Beirut-Damascus highway, giving them control of another key artery.
(Other reports suggest the Druze gave Hizbullah a thrashing in the Chouf mountains, and Druze websites claim they killed at least 32 Hizbullah fighters there.)
FATAH AL-ISLAM SAYS IT WILL FIGHT “HUMILIATION” BY IRAN IN LEBANON
The fundamentalist Sunni group Fatah al-Islam, defined by Lebanese government as a terrorist organization, has vowed to confront those “bowing the heads of the Sunnis in Beirut” with “bloodshed,” the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily reported on Thursday.
In an indirect reference to the Shia Hizbullah group, Fatah al-Islam said in a statement that what happened in Beirut, “the killing, burning and humiliation to the Sunni people, is not justified or accepted.”
“Anyone who wants to bow the heads of our people in Beirut” will be confronted even if the price is “bloodshed,” the statement said.
Fatah al-Islam fought deadly battles with the Lebanese army last spring in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese army crushed most of the fighters but some remain at large.
“APPLYING ELECTRICAL SHOCKS TO HIS GENITALS”
Amazingly, this morning’s International Herald Tribune finally carries a front page story revealing some of what went on in Lebanon in the last two weeks. The first two paragraphs of the report read as follows:
“For two and a half days, Hussein al-Haj Obaid lay on the floor of a darkened warehouse in west Beirut, blindfolded and terrified. Militiamen loyal to Hizbullah had kidnapped him at a checkpoint after killing his nephew in front of him.
“Throughout those awful days, as his kidnappers kicked and punched him, applied electrical shocks to his genitals and insulted him with sectarian taunts, he could hear the chatter of gunfire and the crash of rocket-propelled grenades outside, as Hizbullah and its allies took control of the capital.”
IHT: OBSESSED WITH ISRAEL
But lest anyone imagine that the International Herald Tribune has suddenly decided to criticize Hizbullah rather than Israel, both comment pages of today’s Herald Tribune are dominated by articles critical of Israel; the entire letters column is devoted to letters critical of Israel (save for a two paragraph letter on Burma); the paper’s editorial is harshly critical of President Bush’s speech last week in the Knesset (a speech I praised in my previous dispatch); one comment piece sneers at American Jews for supporting Israel; another praises the duplicitous anti-Zionist pseudo-historian Ilan Pappe, and says that Israel has never accepted that the Palestinians should have their own state (this is a complete lie: Israel has on many occasions agreed to plans that would have created a Palestinian Arab state); a third comment piece says Israel is “building settlements all over the West Bank.” (In fact settlement building has ground to an almost complete halt.)
IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS CAUGHT FIGHTING IN LEBANON
Lebanese Intelligence sources revealed that a number of Hizbullah fighters who were captured during last week’s clashes cannot speak Arabic, but only Farsi, Ya Lebanon, a Lebanese website reported.
The sources said that those detained either have identified themselves or been identified by third parties as members of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
Last week, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt called for an end to flights from Iran to Lebanon. He said that these flights were being used to transport Iranian fighters and their weapons into Lebanon.
IRANIAN-TRAINED TERRORIST ARRESTED IN GAZA
This morning the IDF made public that Alaa Jihad Ouad Abu Madif, a resident of Karara located near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, was arrested on April 15 in a joint IDF-ISA operation. Abu Madif participated in a month-long military training course in Iran in May 2007, after being recruited to the Abu Rish faction a short time previously.
His training in Iran included the use of heavy weapons, hand grenades, and target practice.
The Abu Rish faction which splintered from the PLO in the 1990s, was involved in rocket attacks against and suicide attacks Israel.
OFFICIAL IRANIAN PRESS YESTERDAY AGAIN DENIES GAS CHAMBERS AT AUSCHWITZ
More Holocaust denial yesterday here for an English-speaking international audience on the official Iranian government-run Press TV.
GERMAN SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL SLIPPING AWAY FAST
In the second article below, Daniel Schwammenthal, writing in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, examines attitudes to Israel in Europe’s largest country, Germany.
Contrary to popular opinion, Germans dislike Israel as much as other west Europeans. In a BBC survey last month even the respondents in the United Arab Emirates had a more positive perception of the Jewish state than Germans did.
Schwammenthal, who is German-born, notes: “Guilt is an unhealthy basis for a relationship; it easily turns into resentment. This may help explain why so many Germans – 30% according to last year’s survey by Bertelsmann Foundation – are so eager to compare Israel to fascist Germany. If it were true that Israelis are modern-day Nazis, there would be less reason to feel guilty about the real Nazis.
“... Churchill debunked the idea that Israel could be justified only as reparation for past atrocities long before the Holocaust: ‘The Jews are in Palestine by right and not by sufferance,’ he said in 1922.
“... Unlike Americans, German officials almost never argue that Israel deserves solidarity as a Western ally... Given the similar threats Europe and Israel face from Islamic terror and a nuclear Iran, an alliance between them would seem natural. But as long as Europe’s public considers Israel more as part of the problem than as part of the solution, any such alliance will suffer. It’s time for German and European officials to make the real case for Israel – that of solidarity with an embattled ally.”
In the third piece below, veteran journalist Ruth Gruber recounts how she covered the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948, for the New York Herald Tribune, having previously gone to Germany and Austria to interview Holocaust survivors.
This is an emotionally powerful piece worth reading in full for those who have time.
PALESTINIANS LEARNING ABOUT THEIR ISRAELI ENEMY
In the fourth and final article below, Nathan Jeffay, writing in the weekly education supplement of The Guardian reports that “a masters degree in Israeli studies is proving popular among students at a Palestinian university.”
“... What is surprising, though, is that Noful is a Palestinian whose husband is a prisoner in Israel, and she wants an end to the country’s existence. So why is she praising Israel’s achievements?
“The answer is that she one of a growing number of Palestinians who want to study Israel. Noful is a student on the fast-growing Israel studies course at the Palestinian Al-Quds University. Between the university’s West Bank and Gaza campuses, the two-year masters degree has more than 100 students – reflecting a year-on-year growth of about 10% since 2005.”
THE GUARDIAN’S OBSESSIVE VERBAL POGROM
It should be noted that an article of this kind is extremely rare in The Guardian, a newspaper which is almost daily filled with libels against Israel. Jeffay’s article appears in the education supplement. Meanwhile last week’s series of articles maligning virtually every aspect of Israel in the main section of The Guardian led commentator Melanie Philips to note that “The Guardian’s hatred of Israel and the Jews truly is a fathomless – and unfathomable – well. The last few days around Israel’s 60th anniversary have seen a further escalation of its obsessive verbal pogrom.”
With the hate generated against Israel in large parts of the British media, it is perhaps not surprising that anti-Semitic attacks are continuing to rise. Last week four synagogues in London were daubed from head to foot in anti-Jewish graffiti and death threats, reports the Evening Standard newspaper.
AN UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO THE GUARDIAN
Here’s a copy of a letter sent to The Guardian last week by Dr. Denis MacEoin of Newcastle upon Tyne, one of a rare band of non-Jewish defenders of Israel in the UK. Since The Guardian declined to publish it, I do so here:
May 14, 2008
Israel (whose 60th birthday you celebrate so harshly) is not without its faults, but it is equally not without its achievements. As many of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, celebrate the great things Israel has done and continues to do, you choose to focus on one thing, Gaza. Israel no longer occupies Gaza, yet you present no other images to mark the post-Holocaust recovery but images of Gaza, no other articles than articles stressing the miseries of Palestinian life. Where are your photographs of Israeli hospitals where Jews and Palestinians are treated on the same wards? Where are your images of Israel’s cutting edge medical and technological research? Her scientific and artistic achievements? Her preservation of a genuine democracy in the face of repeated attack and splenetic hatred? Her aid work round the world (and today, before almost anyone else, in Burma)?
The words that spring to mind for this week’s coverage are ‘churlish’, ‘bitter’, ‘unfair’ and ‘one-sided’. Your motives are harder to place. Love for Palestinians is commendable, though love for Hamas is harder to understand. And do you feel love and fellowship for their ingrained racism, their religious fundamentalism, their praise of suicide bombers, their celebrations of death, their regular use of misguidance through the media? By all means be politically correct, but BE correct. Palestinian values are not liberal values, yet your animus towards Israel and your embrace of movements like Hamas give credence and respectability to them.
Is it beyond your ability to show photos of Jews and Arabs working together, of Israeli doctors saving Palestinian lives, of prosperous Arab communities in Israel, of women enjoying full equality with men, of gay pride parades in Tel Aviv, of minority religions like the Baha’is living without harassment, given freedoms no other Middle Eastern country will give them? There are poor Israelis, there are Israeli victims of terror, there are Israelis living under daily barrages of rockets, there are Israelis who build schools and invent new technologies, who run orphanages and sing songs and write poetry and dance. What makes Palestinian suffering, much of it self-inflicted, so all-encompassing that it drives all positive images from the other side from your pages? We deserve better. You deserve to be better.
Dr. Denis MacEoin
WHY HIZBULLAH SHOULD BE CONDEMNED
Why Hizbullah should be condemned: When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006 the world was outraged. What about Hizbullah now?
By Dean Godson
The Times (of London)
May 14, 2008
“Even the Israeli enemy never dared to do to Beirut what Hizbullah has done,” lamented Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s embattled Prime Minister, over the weekend. Yet British bien-pensant opinion – so vocal in its opposition to Israeli actions in Lebanon in 2006 – is strangely silent about the recent outrages.
Why? After all, Hizbullah is one of the world’s most ruthless clerical fascist organisations – complete with ersatz Nazi salutes and Iranian-style Holocaust denial. When the legitimate, democratic Government of Lebanon dared to challenge it, Hizbullah went on a sectarian rampage, murdering scores of opponents and destroying much of the country’s free media.
Yet there has been not a peep from the concerned humanitarians of the Stop the War Coalition, which boasted of putting 100,000 people on to the streets to protest against Israeli assaults. Nor has much been heard from two of Hizbullah’s most high-profile and indulgent British interlocutors – the ex-MI6 officer Alastair Crooke and Michael Ancram, the former Conservative minister.
Mr Ancram urges that we “dance with wolves” such as Hizbullah to obtain peace. “It is suddenly possible to explore Hizbullah claims to be an essentially Lebanese resistance movement with no current aggressive cross-border intentions towards Israel,” he opines. Indeed so: right now its aggressive intentions are inwardly directed, towards its fellow countrymen.
Hizbullah and its allies – which command only 30 per cent of the Lebanese vote – seeks to make good its democratic deficit at the polls through the use of force. The group boasts a vast arsenal. But Messrs Ancram and Crooke don’t want Hizbullah to be pressured to abandon this swiftly, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
The other great myth about Hizbullah – peddled by too many of its Western apologists – is that it is an entirely indigenous “resistance” movement: if so, why have pictures gone up of the Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, and the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, for the first time in Beirut since the Cedar Revolution of 2005? And, given the violent oppression of Sunnis by Hizbullah, why has so little been heard from the Muslim Council of Britain and the British Muslim Initiative, two predominantly Sunni organisations? Don’t Lebanese Sunnis deserve a little solidarity from their brethren?
So why does Hizbullah’s putsch of 2008 not excite stern criticism – as did Israel’s invasion of 2006? It’s simple: many “progressives” hate Israeli and Western policy far more than they love Lebanon.
GUILT IS AN UNHEALTHY BASIS FOR A RELATIONSHIP
A ‘Special’ Relationship
By Daniel Schwammenthal
The Wall Street Journal Europe
May 13, 2008
As Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary, there is no denying that the Jewish state has an image problem in Europe. While opinion polls in the U.S. consistently show a majority of Americans sympathetic to Israel, the situation is the reverse on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s particularly bad in Germany. In a BBC survey last month, for example, Germans were among the Europeans with the least favorable views of Israel, second only to Spain. Even the respondents in the United Arab Emirates had a more positive perception of the Jewish state than Germans did.
This may be surprising given that Berlin is considered one of Israel’s more reliable allies in Europe. Successive German governments have justified the “special” relationship with Israel by pointing to the countries’ “special” history. In light of the Holocaust, Germany seems to have no choice but to support the Jewish state. Former Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer advocated this policy of “historical responsibility” as effortlessly as Christian-Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel does.
But guilt is an unhealthy basis for a relationship; it easily turns into resentment. This may help explain why so many Germans – 30% according to last year’s survey by Bertelsmann Foundation – are so eager to compare Israel to fascist Germany. If it were true that Israelis are modern-day Nazis, there would be less reason to feel guilty about the real Nazis.
Historical obligations also tend to have a statute of limitations. As the policy-defining event fades into the past, so will the rationale to stand by the Jewish state. Postwar Germans may reasonably reject any special obligations to Israel as a result of crimes committed before they were born.
This brings us to the fundamental problem with Berlin’s Israel policy. It implies that had there been no Holocaust, Israel would have no right to exist or, at least would have no reason to expect Germany’s support. Israel’s detractors take this argument one step further, claiming it was immoral to establish a Jewish state in the Middle East to atone for European crimes.
Churchill debunked the idea that Israel could be justified only as reparation for past atrocities long before the Holocaust: “The Jews are in Palestine by right and not by sufferance,” he said in 1922. Europe and Germany should thus be able to support Israel not just because of past wrongs committed against Jews but because of Jews’ inalienable right to a state in their ancestral homeland.
Israel’s right to exist doesn’t mean Germans must automatically back it. There has to be some special bond between nations to prompt support in difficult times. Such alliances are usually forged around common interests and values. As the Mideast’s most vibrant democracy, it would appear that Israel qualifies for a truly “special relationship.”
But unlike Americans, German officials almost never argue that Israel deserves solidarity as a Western ally. While Americans generally see Israel as a fellow democracy under attack from terrorists, in Germany and much of the rest of Europe, Israel is more often seen as a human-rights violator.
What explains this difference in perceptions? The U.S media are not that much better in presenting a more balanced view of the Middle East conflict than their European counterparts. More likely, Americans are simply less disposed to believe the worst of Israel.
A key factor is Americans’ appreciation of their Judeo-Christian heritage. While this is a common term in the U.S., and not only among religious people, it is a novel concept in Europe. Only recently has it found its way into the vocabulary of a few conservative Germans. Ms. Merkel and a few colleagues from Poland and Italy wanted to add a reference to the Continent’s Judeo-Christian heritage to Europe’s proposed constitution. The idea was rejected as too divisive, not only to seculars but also to other religions.
But the term does not just cover the moral standards shared by Judaism and Christianity. Its meaning goes beyond matters of faith. It describes the fact that next to the Greco-Roman heritage, the Judeo-Christian tradition is the other main pillar of Western civilization. Acknowledging this basic truth helps Americans to view Jews as part of that civilization and the Jewish state as part of the broader Western alliance.
In post-Christian Europe and Germany, this realization is largely missing. Moses’ law, the foundation for Western legal codes and moral values, is hardly acknowledged on the Continent. Jews are more often seen as having contributed to Western civilization – as individual scientists or artists – rather than being an integral part of it thanks to the role they played as a nation. Jews – often viewed as some kind of guest contributors – thus remain strangers in Europe, as does the Jewish state. And one is more inclined to believe bad things about strangers than about people one feels close to.
Given the similar threats Europe and Israel face from Islamic terror and a nuclear Iran, an alliance between them would seem natural. But as long as Europe’s public considers Israel more as part of the problem than as part of the solution, any such alliance will suffer. It’s time for German and European officials to make the real case for Israel – that of solidarity with an embattled ally.
THE REBIRTH OF ISRAEL
The Birth of a Nation, 1948
By Ruth Gruber
The New York Times (op-ed page)
May 18, 2008
IT was Friday, May 14, 1948. I was sitting in the press section of the United Nations General Assembly in its temporary quarters at Flushing Meadow in Queens. I felt my heart thumping. We journalists were waiting impatiently to see who would win a tug of war taking place in Washington.
On one side was President Harry S. Truman, who had told his aides that, with the last British troops leaving Palestine that day, he believed the Jews had a right to declare their own nation, and that he would make sure that the United States would be the first country to recognize it.
On the other side was the State Department, which wanted the land placed in a trusteeship under the United Nations. Secretary of State George Marshall was so passionate in his opposition to a Jewish state that he threatened to vote against the president in the November election. For Truman, who had come to office with the death of Franklin Roosevelt three years earlier, this was to be one of his first true tests of power.
As I sat waiting for the announcement of the decision in Washington, my mind wandered back to the spring and summer of the year before, which I had spent reporting for The New York Herald Tribune. I had traveled in Germany and Austria with the 11 members of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. There had been many such committees studying the problems of the Holy Land since the Arab riots of the 1920s; this one was distinguished by having no representatives from Britain, which had been universally hostile to the Zionist cause.
With the members, I visited the camps for displaced persons in Germany and Austria and listened, dumbfounded, as the refugees described the horrors of the war. In particular, I remember visiting the Rothschild Hospital camp in Vienna. Some 100 refugees had just arrived from Romania, many of them children covered with sores and dirt. There was no place to put them but the street; they lay, exhausted, on the paving stones.
A young man approached us, his eyes bloodshot. “In Romania, they killed 30,000 Jews in two hours,” he said, his voice sounding as if it came straight from his guts. “They took Jews to the slaughterhouse and hung them alive the way they hang cows, and they put knives to their throats and split them. Underneath them, they put a sign: Kosher Beef.”
In camp after camp, the committee members asked, “Why do you want to go to Palestine? It’s such a poor country. The Arabs and Jews are always fighting. They don’t have enough food, they don’t have enough water. What is it about Palestine?”
A 16-year-old orphan – actually, we never used the word “orphan” because the term couldn’t convey the horrors these children had been through – gave the most poignant answer. “Everybody has a home,” he said. “The Americans. The British. The French. The Russians. Only we don’t have a home. Don’t ask us. Ask the world.”
A woman tugged the sleeve of my jacket. “You are the only woman with all these men,” she implored. “You will understand me. I saw my husband burned. I don’t want to burn. I want to go home – to Eretz Israel.” The Land of Israel.
“That’s why we’re here,” I told her. “To help solve the problem. But if, Heaven forbid, we fail to find a solution, where would you like to go?”
Her reply: “Back to the crematory.”
It was this committee’s report that led directly to the General Assembly vote of Nov. 29, 1947, to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab entities. The Jews accepted this proposal, but the Arabs stormed out and threatened war.
My mind was drawn immediately back to the present of May 1948 as I noticed an American representative to the United Nations, Philip Jessup, hurrying toward the podium. I knew, after talking to his aides, that in his hand he had a speech supporting trusteeship, not statehood, for Israel. The State Department was about to betray the president.
Jessup was halfway up the stairs when an Associated Press reporter handed him a dispatch. Jessup read it, grew white-faced, descended the stairs and then disappeared. The reporter next to me said, “He’s gone to the bathroom.”
I shook my head. “He’s gone home.”
Then we were handed the A.P. report. In Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion had just read the world’s latest proclamation of independence. Eleven minutes later, Harry Truman had recognized Ben-Gurion’s government as the “de facto authority” of the new state.
Israel was born.
A MASTERS DEGREE IN ISRAELI STUDIES IS PROVING POPULAR AMONG STUDENTS AT A PALESTINIAN UNIVERSITY
Learn about your enemy: A masters degree in Israeli studies is proving popular among students at a Palestinian university
By Nathan Jeffay
The Guardian (Weekly education supplement)
May 6, 2008
“It had nothing, and in a very short period has built this very strong economy. We should be amazed by this,” says Azizha Noful. She is talking about Israel, which celebrates its 60th anniversary on Thursday.
You will hear many comments like this on Thursday at the many Israel 60 gatherings taking place across the world. After all, this is a classic observation of Israel’s supporters, and one that always dominates discussions at Independence Day events.
What is surprising, though, is that Noful is a Palestinian whose husband is a prisoner in Israel, and she wants an end to the country’s existence. So why is she praising Israel’s achievements?
The answer is that she one of a growing number of Palestinians who want to study Israel. Noful is a student on the fast-growing Israel studies course at the Palestinian Al-Quds University. Between the university’s West Bank and Gaza campuses, the two-year masters degree has more than 100 students – reflecting a year-on-year growth of about 10% since 2005.
At Al-Quds, scholarship and the Palestinian struggle are closely related. For example, one of the law courses involves running human rights clinics in the hope students will “play a role in the struggle for change” in “occupied Palestine”.
The university fears confiscation of part of its campus for road building by Israel, and in 2002, Israeli forces closed an administration building, confiscating files, academic documents and computers. Student politics tends to be radical, and the university union goes through periods of Hamas control.
Professor Mohammed Dajani, director of Al-Quds’s Area Studies Institute, which runs the Israel studies course, admits his university is a peculiar setting for this subject. He point out that Palestinian identity has largely been synonymous with “a general Arab policy to shut Israel out of Arab memory” and ignore its existence as far as possible.
However, he says, this has been changing since the start of the occupation in 1967. “Before the 1967 war, Palestinians, like the rest of the Arab world, knew nothing about Israel and Judaism. Then in June 1967, Israeli occupation brought a dramatic shift and Palestinians were shocked to find out how much Israelis knew about the Arab world and how little they knew about them. Though Arab interest in Israel grew tremendously, only a few Arab institutions and publishers reflected objectivity in dealing with the topic.” The few courses and books that did deal with Israel were polemics that viewed Israel as an aggressor.
The Al-Quds course set out to remedy this. Every student takes an in-depth course in Zionist thought and history, and Hebrew language is compulsory, as is studying the Israeli political system, the economy and social structure. Electives and dissertations involve detailed study of niche issues in Israeli society, including women’s issues, ethnicity, divisions between Jews of eastern and western origins, the judicial system, the Israel Defence Forces and the status of Palestinian Arabs.
Given that it is covering new ground for the Arab world, the course faces a lack of Arabic-language texts and so uses Israeli scholarship in Hebrew or in English translation. Perhaps surprisingly, students haven’t objected to the use of Israeli texts, says Dajani.
Teaching Zionism presents one of the course’s biggest challenges, says Professor Mohammad Massalha, who is charged with this task. “We are dealing with people who, on a daily basis, face the result of Zionism. It is very difficult to teach about Zionism academically. But my job is to make as much of an artificial separation between the personal level and the academic level as possible.”
Massalha begins by studying the theory of ideologies as a general subject, and then moves on to considering how Zionism fits and breaks the mould of other ideologies. “This way, we have a model for trying to understand Zionism with some objectivity.” As for why students want to reach this kind of objectivity about Zionism and Israel, motivations vary. More than half are officials in the Palestinian Authority. They range from relatively junior officials to the top-ranking Jibril Rajoub and they all believe that increased knowledge will help their work.
For some, like Noful, it is about acquiring knowledge as power. She says: “Every Palestinian has to know about them [Israelis] - it is important to know about our enemy. As my mother says, if you want to face your enemy, know his language.”
She also believes that Palestinians will eventually set up their own state and will do so more effectively if they learn from Israel’s successes. “Israelis are great developers and we can learn from everything they are doing,” she says.
However, she insists that this learning process must take place from a safe distance and shuns dialogue. “We have to know about Israel but not forget they are our enemy. I can’t be on good relations with my enemy.”
Others, like 32-year-old Ramallah resident Sameh Khader, assistant to the secretary of the PLO executive committee, take the opposite view, and hope that their studies will facilitate coexistence and help bring peace. “For me it’s not about knowing the enemy. I want to live peacefully with our neighbours and believe that to do that we need to understand them,” says Khader.
Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar, an Arabic-speaking political scientist at the Israeli Bar Ilan University, says that the success of the course shows a thirst for knowledge about Israel across the Arab world. He is in demand as an Israeli guest on al-Jazeera and other Arabic TV stations and as a writer on Arabic websites. He recently received an offer of a two-year visiting professorship in the Gulf to teach about Israel and Judaism.
“When I publish articles on Arabic websites, I get at least two or three queries every day, from people wanting to know how Israelis think and what life is really like in Israel,” he says.
“While some are trying to convert me to Islam, many don’t like Israel, Israelis or Jews but want to know more. I spend an hour or two every day exchanging mails with these people.
“With satellite TV and the web the Arab world is much more open today than it was, and while this has not brought a desire to accept Israel, it has brought a desire to better understand it.”