Avoid the misunderstandings to get to peace
By Ray Hanania — When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House with President Obama, they were careful not to make fun of Obama, whose popularity is lower than his bow to the king of Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu didn’t ask Obama if he celebrates Ramadan, and Abbas didn’t call Obama a “Zionist hack.” Those were good things that came out of the first face-to-face talks in two years. But they need to make sure to avoid creating misunderstandings as were created at Camp David, when Ehud Barak thought he offered a real peace deal to Yasser Arafat, and Arafat thought that peace was based on meeting face-to-face. Misunderstandings, in fact, have been the major cause of most of the conflicts in the Middle East. Just look at the history.
The history of Arab-Israeli relations is filled with misunderstandings, even before the misunderstanding that took place last July when Israeli and Lebanese forces exchanged fire over the trimming of a Cypress tree.
In 1948, it was all just a misunderstanding when Jewish immigrants from Europe arrived in Israel and declared their own state. They thought they were in New York where the Jewish population was vibrant and the Arabs of New York, who were all called “Syrians,” welcomed the Jews with open arms.
In 1956, Israel launched an assault on the Suez Canal and captured the Sinai when someone yelled in a Tel Aviv coffee shop “The Egyptians are claiming that since the Hebrews left Egypt, they have no right of return.”
In 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser yelled about “driving the Jews in to the sea.” But the Egyptian dialect is filled with heavy with guttural-based sounds easily misunderstood. What Nasser really said was he wanted to drive the Jews “to” the sea.
In 1973, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat attacked Israel because he thought it was the “Day of Kipper,” which is his favorite fish; and you can’t get a great Kipper dish anywhere else in the Middle East except in Israel, although there is Nasrallah’s café off Shadeed Street in South Beirut. But Egyptians are less desired there than the Israelis.
When Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak were at Camp David, Arafat felt uncomfortable being at a hotel named after the Hebrew King David. Arafat was concerned because he recalled that Jewish resistance fighters had blown up the King David Hotel 53 years earlier. Maybe Clinton could have hosted the peace talks on more neutral ground, like in Beirut where both Arafat and Barak would both fear for their lives together.
Arafat did feel slightly snubbed when Barak refused to meet with him face-to-face at Camp David. No one explained to Arafat that Barak spent most of his days at Camp David at the local boutiques checking out the new dresses. Israelis know that prime ministers don’t last long and can be quickly out of a job and he might have to return to hunting down Israel’s most wanted.
When Ariel Sharon walked upon the Haram al ash-Sharif in 2000, he made a declaration that so many Arabs simply misunderstood. Sharon said Jerusalem will always be the “capitol” of Israel, he was using the word “capital” which referenced the city’s monetary value.
The 2nd Intifada began with a misunderstanding, too, when a Palestinian heard that the Israelis had decided that instead of returning the West Bank they were going to keep all of it. Wanting to make sure they had everything, a Palestinian picked up a stone and tossed it towards the Israelis in a gesture of cooperation, yelling “Don’t forget this piece of the West Bank.”
Even the Gaza War in 2008 began with a misunderstanding. Hamas was abiding, for the most part, to the truce or “Lull” with Israel that summer. So in honor of having dramatically cut back the number of Qassam Rockets fired at Israeli civilians, Hamas decided to celebrate with their own fireworks display, shooting off Chinese-made bottle rockets. Of course, Hamas never mailed the celebratory invites to the Israelis, who saw the Chinese bottle rockets as being more of a deadlier threat than the Qassams.
Oy Vey. That’s all one can say in the Middle East. Although that is a misunderstanding, too. The guy who said the phrase wasn’t declaring anguish but merely trying to get his donkey, named Oy, turn to the right, or go “that way.”
Misunderstandings. They happen all the time. Like when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Palestinians that he would “freeze” all the settlements. He meant he was going to buy air conditioners for all the settlers, a promise he said would be completed by Sept. 26.
And when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate with the Israelis until those settlements are frozen, he was merely waiting for the temperature in the settlements to chill, because the settlers because they are such an emotional people. Step one foot on “their” land and they go berserk, twisting their beards into braided knots.
Of course, the worst moment was when an Israeli negotiator told an Arab negotiator at the very first peace talks back in 1993, “If you compromise, we can both live in peace.”
The Arab responded angrily, rejecting compromise and declaring, “No Jew is going to tell me what to do!”
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show Host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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