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Israeli-Arab journalist offers views on MidEast conflict

By liorac

Section: News

February 29, 2008

In a talk sponsored by Students United for Israel and Hasbara Fellowships, Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh offered up his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for peace.

Despite a downpour outside, Toameh enjoyed a nearly full audience in Rappaport Treasure Hall Tuesday evening. Before making his way to Brandeis this week, Toameh visited Harvard, Brown University, Tufts and Boston University.

Toameh, a self-described Israeli-Arab Muslim Palestinian, works as a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and as a liaison for foreign journalists reporting in the Gaza and the West Bank. He lives in Jerusalem.

“People ask me ‘when did you become a Zionist?’” Toameh said. “I have nothing wrong with working for any paper that gives me a free platform,” he said of working for the Jerusalem Post. He added, “we don’t have a free media in Palestinian areas.”

Toameh then began his discussion with the Oslo Peace Process of the early 1990s. While Toameh maintained that Oslo was an “excellent” idea, its implementation “brought disaster.”

“Back then, people were caught in the euphoria of peace,” said Toameh. They weren’t interested in hearing his skepticism, he commented.

However, “everything [I] predicted happened,” he said referring to the failures of Arafat and Oslo. “Instead of building hospitals, [Arafat] built casinos.”

According to Toameh, Arafat’s failed leadership and corruption caused anger amongst the Palestinians. “People didn’t feel real change in their lives,” Toameh remarked, and as such, became angry.

“When people are angry in the Muslim world,” Toameh said, “[they] go to radical groups.”

Toameh then referenced the failed 2000 Camp David Accords. “Arafat ran away,” he said, “he told Palestinians that the peace process is over.”

Still, Toameh argued, “Palestinians asked ‘what about financial corruption?’” Instead of taking responsibility for his government, said Toameh, “Arafat blamed the misery of the people on the Jews.”

After Arafat’s death in 2004, Toameh said, Mahmoud Abbas, current Palestinian Liberation Organization president, promised to repair the damage rendered by Arafat. After he was elected, however, he “turned out to be another Arafat,” Toameh commented.

Toameh then turned to the January 2006 parliamentary election that saw the ascendance of Hamas to power. “Palestinians thought Hamas can’t be worse than the PLO,” said Toameh.

The aftermath of the election turned into a bloody affair between Hamas and the PLO, primarily Fatah members, described Toameh.

“The Palestinians goes two separate states, [Gaza and the West Bank.].” Toameh remarked with a hint of sarcasm. Toameh described Gaza as an “Islamic state funded by Iran and Syria” and the West Bank as a Fatah state which owes its “presence and survival to the Israeli Defense Force.” Without IDF presence, Toameh maintained, “Hamas will take over.”

Toameh then directed his attention to the recent peace negotiations in Annapolis. “The international community has not learned from its mistakes,” he remarked.

The Annapolis negotiations made little sense due to Abbas’ lack of political power, said Toameh. “Where’s Abbas going to implement this solution?” he asked.

At this point, Toameh turned to audience questions. One question touched upon Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005.

“Israel should have set conditions before leaving Gaza,” Toameh commented. “Israel is still being held responsible for what happens in Gaza.”

“Most Arabs [in surrounding countries] don’t want to deal with Palestinians” who need aid and so “blame the [Israeli] occupation,” he said.

When asked by another student what Israel’s responsibility should be to Gaza, Toameh said, “I don’t want to see Israel meddling in the affairs of Gaza. Gaza should be abroad for Israel.”

The next question focused on Christian Palestinians. “May God help them,” said Toameh. He then said that in the Middle East, Christians only feel secure in Israel.

This commented elicited protest from a Palestinian Christian student. “It’s not safe for me inside Israel,” she said.

A student then asked about Toameh’s critics. “I’m not a self-hating Arab,” he volunteered, “I’m saying what many Palestinians would say behind closed doors.”

“I know it’s dangerous,” he added, “some of my colleagues have been shot.”

Toameh then received a question about his thoughts on the peace process. “You can’t share the land and you can’t divide the land,” he said, “that’s why we’re deadlocked.”

The Palestinian leadership is not strong enough to mainatain order or follow through on any political deals, Toameh said. “Any inch of land you give to Abbas today will belong to Hamas and Al Qaeda in the morning.”

“You can call me a right-wing Jew,” Toameh said, but based on the current state of affairs, “if I were an Israeli leader, I wouldn’t give over land.”

Toameh offered, “I’ve been right most of the time because I’m the guy on the street. I read the writing on the wall and it’s very big.”

“Conflict management is the best we can do,” Toameh said. “If you stop violence and daily killings, you’ve accomplished a lot.”

Toameh then criticized American involvement in the conflict. “When America puts its hands in, it explodes in our faces.”

Another question turned Toameh in the direction of the conditions of Arab citizens of Israel like himself. “My real problem with Israel is the systematic discrimination…against Israeli-Arabs.”

“We accepted Israel’s right…to be a Jewish state,” he said. While Israel is not “an Apartheid state…when it comes to the allocation of funds, employment, education, and infrastructure, I haven’t seen Israel do enough.”

Toameh continued, “I see a generation of Israeli-Arabs who are growing more angry and frustrated…I’m afraid the third Intifada will erupt inside Israel.”

Israeli-Arabs “are not fighting for separation,” Toameh remarked, “we’re fighting for integration.”

Following the talk, Susy Rosenfield ’11 commented, “he sheds a lot of light on the situation” because of his status as a reporter.

She added, “we tend to look to leaders to get a perspective on what’s going on with the people under the leadership.”

Nathan Hakimi ’11 remarked, “he had some interesting points,” during his talk, however “when it turned to questions, he started to get a little weasel-y, not directly meeting the challenges of the questions.”

He added, “just because he’s a Palestinian defending Israel doesn’t mean…his points are any more true.”

The students had “a lot of background,” Toameh observed. “They’re very interested people who came to learn, very open-minded.”

When asked how Brandeis students compared to those at other universities, he remarked, “there is a tiny minority of people who don’t challenge me on facts. [They] just come to make statements.”

“Rarely do I get challenged on the facts,” he added.

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