lessons from arab lands

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    Lessons From Arab Lands
    Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
    23 July 2003

    The Moslem and Arab press and leadership regularly condemn Israel - a fellow Middle Eastern state - for brutality, racism, oppression, etc. of the Arabs in Israel. Arabs, Moslems and their sympathizers the world also over condemn Israel for its tactics in fighting Islamist and pan-Arab terrorism.

    A common reaction to this condemnation by pro-Israel thinkers is to deny the charges and to point out the freedoms Arabs have in Israel and the moral way in which Israel conducts its wars.

    However, I wish to call for greater humility on the part of Israel’s defenders. We are not the exclusive arbiters of morality. Clearly, if we are being condemned by those around us, then it may be time to stop rationalizing and to start learning, humbly, from neighboring Middle Eastern states.

    How do those states that vociferously condemn Israel behave when facing situations similar to our own? Perhaps, were Israel to emulate the behavior of those regimes, we would finally be accepted as an integral part of the region.

    In Algeria, for example, there have been a series of protests and clashes quaintly referred to as “disturbances” (much like the “troubles” of Northern Ireland) between government security services and the aboriginal Berber youth. Berbers, the non-Arab people of north Africa who were defeated and suppressed by the invading Arab forces in the late 600s, are seeking democratic reform, greater autonomy and official recognition of their language and culture, according to Arab press reports.

    As expressed by two Berbers in an online forum discussing the Arab character of their home states: “It is too bad that our [Berber] names are not recognized. At this moment the world talks about Arabs (Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya...) Those countries are [now] ruled by pro-Arab culture, but I am sure that the people still feel different - the people feel Berber!” and “Arab leaders are trying to kill our culture. They won´t recognize our language even though the Berber community is quite large. There have been protests, but the officials just come and break them up ruthlessly.... [The] people do not feel Arab - they feel Berber and noone can take that away.”

    Lesson I for Israel - Stand firm on the ethnic character of the state.

    Striking a Machiavellian posture with regard to the native north Africans, Algeria itself allegedly supports an ethnic separatist movement - one that has produced a terrorist group (the Polisario) - in the Moroccan Sahara. Some of the Sahrawi people, as the natives are called, are demanding an independent Sahrawi state between Morocco and Algeria. Morocco, for its part, has consistently refused to violate its territorial integrity by ceding land to the Sahrawis, or to sharing it with Algeria.

    Lesson II & III - Refuse to violate territorial integrity. Support terrorists who terrorize your enemy.

    In Saudi Arabia, the “hunt for a sorcerer”, according to the Saudi press, led to the deaths of 40 people in clashes with a minority Moslem sect. The clashes, which took place in April of 2000, came after Ismaili Moslems in Najran, a southern province of the country, publicly celebrated Ashoura, the anniversary of the 7th century slaying of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered Shiite imams. The kingdom responded by closing down an Ismaili mosque and confiscating religious materials. As an Ismaili journalist told al-Jazeera television at the time, “We were only defending our religion, our creed and our honor.”

    Lesson IV - Zero tolerance for beliefs that are not in line with the regime’s perceived interests.

    Of course, Israel needs a more recent example of how Saudi Arabia feels a state should act in response to security threats. This year, the threat identified by Saudi authorities is Islamist, not Ismaili. In Mecca last month, police killed five alleged al-Qaeda insurgents while raiding an apartment building. As the Guardian reported in January, “In terms of security, Saudi security forces are watching, rounding up and trying to eradicate groups which might target the Americans.”

    Arab states, including those “moderate” states bordering Israel, have dealt with the Islamist threat in remarkably consistent and similar ways. In November of 2002, the BBC reported that three people had been killed, one of them a policeman, in violent clashes in the southern city of Maan, when an attempt was made to arrest Islamist insurgents there. Twenty people were arrested, including Arabs from other countries and other foreigners. In advance of the operation, Jordanian authorities cut telephone lines in the city and closed government offices and schools, according to Reuters news agency.

    Lesson V - Arrest everybody. If you can’t arrest them, kill them. And cut off basic services to achieve the desired result.

    Saudis also apparently have a problem with too many resident Yemenite Arabs, whom the authorities consider both an ethnic and security threat. What can the Saudis teach Israel regarding the solution to such a problem? The Saudis are in favor of transfer. Well, for Yemenites living in Saudi Arabia, anyway. According to a report on ArabicNews.com, Saudi authorities have detained and interrogated thousands of Yemenites and are keeping them in “collective detention centers”. A Yemeni opposition newspaper, al-Ummah, reported that “Saudi authorities evacuated 3,600 Yemenites from its territories....”

    Lesson VI - Solve security and ethnic problems by implementing transfer.

    Yemen itself is also not a state that puts great stock in such Israeli ideas like hudna-style cease-fires. From its internal enemies, Yemen only seeks surrender. The Yemen Observer reported last month, “After days of mediation talks with al-Jihad militants in Abyan failed to secure their surrender, a joint military strike spearheaded by Yemeni Special Forces on Wednesday is believed to have wiped out the group. Military forces are now sweeping the remote region of Hatat in Abyan for any residual holdouts.” The report goes on to describe how Yemen “experienced a period of peace” in the past: “after the execution of Abu Hassan Al-Mehdar, leader of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army in 1999....”

    Lesson VII & VIII - Negotiations are only for determining terms of surrender; accept only the absolute defeat of the enemy. Contrary to Israeli strategic thinking, peace can be achieved by killing enemy leaders.

    Across the Red Sea, in Africa, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir recently expressed an interesting approach to peace negotiations with resistance forces in the south of his country. According to a report in the Sudanese daily al-Anbaa, al-Bashir said that he seeks an “honorable” peace, but added, “peace comes though the gun if not through negotiations.” Adopting the language of jihad, al-Bashir said that his government is looking forward by all means to peace, but “will not betray the blood of martyrs.” It should be noted that an “honorable” peace, according to the Sudanese leader, is one that “cannot be attained through weakness and surrender.”

    Lesson IX - This just needs to be quoted: “peace comes though the gun if not through negotiations.... [It] cannot be attained through weakness and surrender.”

    In Egypt, according to al-Hayat newspaper, a new clampdown is currently in effect against the local branch of the Moslem Brotherhood. The reason for the Egyptian authorities new operation against the Brotherhood? A letter signed by the movement´s leader “in which he strongly criticized governmental policies,” according to the Lebanese report. The Egyptian tactics involve mass arrests of Moslem Brotherhood members, much as was done last year, when Egyptian security forces arrested 34 people accused of trying to revive the banned organization. Egyptian regulations, in effect since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, were cited in the arrests of another two dozen Brotherhood activists on charges of “planning a political demonstration.”

    Lesson X - No freedoms for Islamists.

    Finally, it may be most instructive to observe how the Arab regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Syria handle anti-Israel demonstrations in their own jurisdiction. In 2000, at the start of the current Oslo War, a number of Arab governments placed severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and association of their citizens in support of the Palestinian Authority. According to an Arab human rights group in Israel, Hanthala, the Arab countries resorted to violence, in some instances including live bullets, to break up such demonstrations. Many demonstrators were arrested, threatened, beaten and then released, others were kept in custody for weeks.

    Lesson XI - Anti-Israel demonstrations are dangerous things; crush them with force and frighten sympathizers with summary arrest.

    Older examples of how Arab states handle domestic “uprisings” are even more enlightening - and frightening - as they were so successful: Jordanian forces killed tens of thousands of PLO-affiliated Arabs in a few months in 1970, and expelled the rest, thus ending the PLO’s first intifada; the Syrian military killed twenty thousand Islamist, anti-government insurgents in a matter of days and turned their village into a parking lot; Iraq put a swift end to the Kurdish "rebellion" by killing five thousand in one day in Halabja; etc.

    Lesson XII - This is the important lesson: Intifadas, uprisings, insurgencies all need to be crushed instantly, with maximum force and without regard to the number of casualties. Our Arab neighbors never let such things simmer and boil for three years, like we do. In other words, again contrary to Israeli conventional wisdom, there is a military solution.

    No wonder the Arab states and the Western press condemn us so vociferously; if Israel were a true Middle Eastern state, the intifada would have been over a long time ago.
    Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor at Israel National News.com, and frequently writes for National Review Online. His commentaries have been published internationally and translated into several languages. He can be reached through his homepage, www.nrk-online.com.
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