Speaking from the Middle
Anteaters for Israel (AFI) invited Khaled Abu Toameh to speak about the Israel-Palestinian conflict at UC Irvine last Wednesday. Toameh is an internationally renowned Muslim Arab-Israeli journalist acclaimed for his moderate stance and his intimate experience with the conflict. He spent seven years writing for a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) newspaper and now works for the Jerusalem Post.
Toameh touched on many sensitive subjects, addressing them with a refreshingly moderate perspective that wasn’t precisely anti-Palestinian or anti-Israel. He talked about Yasser Arafat, the deceased chairman of the PLO, and criticized the PLO and Hamas’ past actions. He also criticized Israel for expanding its settlements following the Oslo Accords, but admitted it happened because Arafat didn’t address it in Oslo.
“Israel expanded its existing settlements because Arafat and the PLO forgot in the Oslo Accords to demand stopping the settlements,” Toameh said. “They forgot because they were in a rush to get the $6.5 billion to the PLO.”
Toameh also criticized Israel and America for allowing the terrorist organization Hamas to rise to power in the Gaza Strip. Toameh then proceeded to rightfully point out that peace with Hamas was implicitly impossible, since the terrorist organization’s charter calls for the genocide of Jews and the destruction of Israel.
“If anyone thinks Hamas is going to wake up one morning and sing Hatikvah [the Israeli national anthem] or recognize Israelis’ right to exist,” Toameh stated, “you’re sadly mistaken. Israel said to Hamas, ‘If you want our money, here are our three conditions: denounce violence, recognize our right to exist [and] recognize [the] legitimacy of past agreements.’ Hamas told them to go away.”
When elaborating on the matter, Toameh clarified that while peace with Hamas is impossible, it is still plausible to reach an arrangement with them. He also stated that Israel should reach an agreement with anyone possible. According to Toameh, Israel should talk with anyone willing to talk and shoot at anyone who wants to shoot.
One audience member complained that Toameh placed a disproportionate amount of blame on the corrupt Palestinian governments, such as the PLO, Hamas and Fatah. Toameh explained that if Hamas didn’t want Israeli interference in Gaza, it should not have kidnapped an Israeli soldier.
“We have been asking these Jews to leave Gaza for 38 years,” Toameh said over the audience member’s protests. “They finally do exactly what we ask and dismantle settlements. Then when they leave, we knock on their door and say ‘Give me electricity and water and medicine’… Why don’t we ask our Arab brothers for help? Gaza has a joint border with Israel and Egypt. Between Gaza and Israel, there are two border crossings, with Egypt [there is] one [of them]. The border crossings with Israel were open 90 percent of the time. The one with Egypt closed 98 percent of the time. [Hosni] Mubarak and the rest of the Arab world withheld aid.”
When the audience member began describing the atrocious living conditions in Gaza after the recent Israeli offensive, Toameh agreed that it was awful; however, he proceeded to ask the audience member, “But why did the Jews go mad? Let’s be honest. For eight years, rocket after rocket [landed in Israel], and Israel was warning [Hamas]. Even [Egyptian President] Mubarak was saying ‘Every rocket brings us closer to an Israeli operation.’ Why were they shooting? The Jews left. There was no reason to shoot.”
Toameh also added heatedly that after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the PLO and later Hamas should have turned it into, “Hong Kong.”
“We should have built a really modern place and showed Israel, see, we don’t need you,” Toameh said. “Instead, we launched rockets.”
Toameh went on to express that Israel should stay out of Palestinian affairs because it backfires and that Israel is currently giving up land and getting terrorism in return.
When asked how Toameh would respond to the anti-Israel crowd and people who do not just criticize Israel but outright demonize it, Toameh answered, “Most of these people spitting this hatred – apartheid, racism, imperialism, etc. – have never been to that part of the world. If you are a foreigner and you want to help, go to a Palestinian refugee camp and teach them to speak English so they can learn about peace.”
In response to whether or not Toameh believed Hamas is simply re-arming for another war, Toameh sighed.
“Unfortunately, they are,” Toameh said. “Everyone is. This last war didn’t end in victory for anyone … It’s only a matter of time before it explodes again in our faces.”
Between the Muslim Student Union dragging in anti-Israel extremists and AFI’s pro-Israel speakers, it was a breath of fresh air to hear the conflict from the perspective of an experienced moderate. Due to Toameh’s moderate platform, audience members did not have to deal with him demonizing or inflating any particular side.
“We should stop dreaming about co-existence and harmony and peace … Jews and Palestinians don’t want to see each other,” Toameh said. “The only solution is separation. Keep the conflict on very low flames until something good happens.”
AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He is also a member of Anteaters for Israel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.