‘Doglover’ Lohne: ‘Can Israel be the model?’

In Norway, Israel is often demonized. But not always. A piece in today’s Aftenposten provides a breath of fresh air.

Aftenposten’s reporter Jørgen  Lohne is stationed in Amman in Jordan. He travels around quite a bit, as his job requires him to do (NRK’s Sidsel Wold travels far less, sitting tight in cozy Jerusalem most of the time). In fact, the man travels to such an extent that Israelwhat.com is slightly concerned over the wellbeing of his dog, a seven year old golden retriever by the name of Maja. Who looks after Maja while Lohne ranges the land? What did he bring her to Jordan for, if he leaves her alone for extended stretches of time? And what, exactly, is Lohne’s stance on cats? One thing is for certain, Mr.Lohne has a lot to questions to answer.

Today Aftenposten published Lohne’s articel “Can Israel be the model“:

Arabs make settlement and requires a society with free speech and the right to vote in free elections. Such a society exist is in their midst. In the country they love to hate.

LIBERATION SITE, Tahrir Square, in Cairo less than two weeks ago: Protesters carry posters with Dictator Hosni Mubarak’s face brandishing the Star of David, Israel’s national symbol. Banners with English subtitles proclaiming that Israel and the U.S. should stay away from Egypt’s revolution. Most spectacular: A group of men carry an imagine Mubarak hearse across the square, accompanied by the following message: “Funeral in Tel Aviv!”

The anti-Israel slogans were not dominant in the revolutionary uprising in Egypt. But this type of expression was clear enough, and not only among the protesters who could easily be categorized as Islamists.

By Israel. Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator, was seen as the protector of the 1979 peace agreement and a guarantee against Islamic and anti-Semitic rule in Egypt.

No doubt, the support he received by Israel did not help, and became an issue in the protests. The demonstrators verbally expressed their intolerance towards Israeli interference.

Rights

Then the great paradox exist, that Israel as the only real democracy in the Middle East can be an example for the development of its Arab neighbors.

Egypt and other potential emerging democracies will have to take into account the fact that Israel is the only country in the region where Arabs are in possession of citizenship, largely securing their economic, political and human rights, which are now demanded in demonstrations ranging from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf.

The Arab citizens currently comprises about one-fifth of Israel’s nearly 7.3 million inhabitants. 14 of 120 parliament Knesset representatives are Arabs.

-“I’m Arab and Israeli, and I will not stay in any other country” I established  a friendship with a friendly and chatty bartender while in December, helping me to extinguish my own heartburn after a few days of reportage about the uncontrolled fires that raged in the forests around Haifa.

- Certainly there is much that is missing, till we all have the same rights as the Jewish majority, but we are working to get them. And we do not have a bad life here, “said the young man with a big smile. He told enthusiastic about active participation in the trade union and in his small village’s political life.

I have had many such conversations with Israeli Arabs in recent years.

Not Apartheid

A public opinion survey in December 2007, quoted in the newspaper Haaretz, showed that 62 percent of Israel’s Arab citizens would rather stay in the country than to settle in a future independent Palestinian state. The following year, a survey showed that 77 percent preferred to live in Israel rather than any other country in the world.

“I’d much rather live in Israel as 2nd-class citizen than as a 1st-class citizen in Cairo, Gaza, Amman and Ramallah”, said the Israeli Palestinian Arab Khaled Abu Toameh during a UN hearing in Geneva in 2009.  In the journalistic and public debate Toameh is by his Arab opponents contemptuously dismissed as a lackey of “apartheid” state.

So also at the UN Conference against Racism (Durban II Conference) nearly two years ago, when he was publicly called a traitor.

Toameh is not underestimating, however, the ways that the Arabs in Israel are discriminated against. But speaking about racial segregation policies is too gross, “he stated in Geneva, and chastised Arab members of parliament the Knesset: – What kind of hypocrisy is this? If you live under an apartheid system, how did you see the opportunity, as Arabs, to stand for election? he asked sarcastically”.

Freedom

The Arab minority in Israel are in many important areas unfairly treated in relation to the Jewish majority in the labor market, in the education  system and in the discriminatory laws and practices, as for example the right to own land. But the reason for this is well known, is that both Israel’s state apparatus and civil society has mechanisms that reveals such differential treatment and discrimination. Courts pronounce decisions, often finds injustices, human rights organizations are allowed to protest, and an independent press reviews abuses. This is much more than the citizens of the Arab dictatorships can hope for. So then, well, Israel’s Arabs have no reason to complain?

They have this to the highest degree, and they do use it.

Fundamental to this is that many Arab Israelis feel that not only the state but also large parts of society as a whole treat them as internal enemies. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is far from alone in thinking that a future peace settlement with the Palestinians should lead to Israel’s Arabs “transferred” to a new state, if the intended area now is occupied or blocked by Israel.

In these areas the Palestinians live under different conditions than Arab Israelis’ lives. And not least because of the occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza it can be difficult for Israel to be an active partner of the Arab countries that now may be about to join the world’s democracies.

Popular Commitment

The Israelis fear first and foremost the Muslim Brotherhood influence in Egypt after the revolution. But it depends if they have just as much reason to question how well-educated, secular young people in recent weeks have formed the vanguard of the revolution, will stand.

If this group gets a leading role after the elections as promised in about half a year, it is far from certain that it necessarily will tolerate the injustice that are not upon themselves, but the Palestinians.

The cold peace between Egypt and Israel has lasted since the agreement was signed in 1979 and is unlikely to be in immediate danger. But there may be reason to believe that the popular will that in a few months might be reflected in Egypt’s foreign policy will require that the Israelis more actively demonstrate their willingness to contribute to a lasting solution for the Palestinians – read the two-state solution.

Only when skeptical Arabs are convinced that this will really exist, Israel will be a credible, democratic model and partner for its neighbors.

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