One used to be able to associate the dear old BBC with good old British fair play – you know the sort of thing, balanced reporting, the right to reply, offering all sides of every argument, and so on. Not so as far as Israel is concerned. The ongoing BBC series “Letters to the Arab World”, in a glaring admission of bias, once again stifles Israel’s voice.
This morning I listened to BBC Radio 4’s latest Letter to the Arab World from Rajah Sadeh, a Palestinian from Ramallah, to a friend in Egypt.
I really did try to hear him out. The letter was poetic enough, but hardly balanced. Sadeh waxed lyrical about Tahrir Square and the fight for “democracy” (but made no mention of, for example, the mayhem there or the rape of Lara Logan, which even the Guardian admitted was a brutal assault) and got so carried away that it included a description of the togetherness of modern Egyptians with the Muslim Brotherhood. He wanted the same for his country. He seemed proud that he had participated in the Intifada, although he didn’t describe exactly how, but he gave no indication where he stood in relation to the suicide murder and terror his people had initiated then and since before the beginning of the Jewish state.
This combination of magical thinking and selectivity irritated me. His broadcast was infuriating in terms of what it left out – the PA anti-Semitic incitement and glorification of terrorism whilst mouthing platitudes about peace. Further, at a time when decent people are shocked and disgusted by the murder, by Palestinian terrorists, of members of the Fogel family, his failure to acknowledge that such terror is principally to blame for his people’s suffering represents a glaring moral abdication.
Like it or not, Israel lives among Arab nations, and yet the BBC has made another glaring admission of bias by not allowing a letter from one of her writers to the Arab people.
That imbalance needs to be redressed. The following letter to a Palestinian neighbour from Yossi Klein Halevi, written before the 1st Intifada but very relevant today, would be an excellent addition, but would no doubt be more than the BBC could cope with because it is dignified, measured, and lacking in self-pity or overblown rhetoric, and it goes against the BBC’s avowed pro-Arab stance. I reproduce what I believe are the best parts of it here in full, because its poetry deserves to be remembered, but please read the full version!
Letter to a Palestinian Neighbor
by Yossi Klein Halevi
Once before the Terror War, a time that seems now to belong not just technically but substantively to another millennium, I undertook a one-man pilgrimage into your mosques and churches seeking to know you in your intimate spiritual moments. I went as a believing Jew praying and meditating with you wherever you allowed me to enter into your devotional life. My intention was to transcend however briefly the political abyss between us by experiencing together something of presence of God. And I wanted to learn how to feel comfortable in the Middle East’s religious cultures because I believed that the Jewish homecoming would be complete only when the Jewish state were no longer in exile from the Middle East. …..
The dark side of the Muslim reconciliation with death of course are the suicide bombers. But I learned too that acceptance of mortality can be the basis for a religious language of reconciliation. Repeatedly Palestinians would say to me, “Why are you and I arguing over who owns the land when in the end the land will own us both?” That wise ability to place our earthly claims and struggles in the context of our shared condition of mortality gave me hope that peace between us may someday be possible.
But I learned too during numerous candid conversations with Palestinians at all levels of society that in practice few within your nation are willing to concede that I have a legitimate claim to any part of this land. I will cite one telling example. During my journey into Islam in Gaza I met General Nasser Youssef (who at the time of our meeting was head of one of the Palestinian security forces and is now the PA Interior Minister). At one point during our conversation I asked the general to describe his vision of the relations between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state after we signed a peace agreement.
“Let’s assume,” I said, “that Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders uproots the settlements and redivides Jerusalem: What then?” He replied that once the refugees begin returning to the area so many would gravitate to those areas in Israel where their families once lived that eventually we would realize there was no need for an artificial border between Israel and Palestine. The next step continued the general was that the two states would merge. “And then we’ll invite Jordan to join our federation. And Iraq and Syria. Why not? We’ll show the whole world what a beautiful country Jews and Arabs can create together.”
“But,” I asked the general, “Aren’t we negotiating today over a two-state solution?” “Yes,” he replied, “as an interim step.” And then he added, “You aren’t separate from us; you are part of us. Just as there are Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs, you are Jewish Arabs.”
This story is particularly relevant because General Youssef is widely known as a moderate deeply opposed to terror as counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. And so what I learned in my journeys into your society is that moderation means one thing on the Israeli side and quite another on the Palestinian side. …
My journey into the faiths of my neighbors was part of a much broader attempt among Israelis begun during the first intifada to understand your narrative how the conflict looks through your eyes. Your society on the other hand has made virtually no effort to understand our narrative.
Instead you have developed what can be called a culture of denial that denies the most basic truths of the Jewish story. According to this culture of denial which is widespread not only among your people but throughout the Arab world there was no Temple in Jerusalem no ancient Jewish presence in the land no Holocaust. Nowhere is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as popular as in the Arab world which has also become the international center for Holocaust denial.
The real problem then is not terrorism which is only a symptom for a deeper affront: your assault on my history and identity your refusal to allow me to define myself which is a form of intellectual terror. In your society’s official embrace through media and schools and mosques of the culture of denial you have tried to reinvent us to redefine us out of our national existence. ….
You have always found ample justification for saying no to compromise. And from your point of view you had absolute justice on your side. But with each violent rejection of an international attempt to end the conflict the map of potential Palestine has gotten smaller. In 1937 you were offered 80 percent of the land; in 1947 45 percent; in 2000 22 percent. And now that self-destructive pattern has once again played itself out in the Terror War; with unilateral withdrawal and the fence the map of potential Palestine has just gotten smaller.
A majority of Israelis I am convinced are ready in principle to make previously unthinkable concessions to end the conflict. Yet that same majority is likewise convinced that no matter what concessions we offer we will not win peace and legitimacy in return. For that reason I believe that the onus for ending this conflict has now shifted to your side. Many Israelis have made the conceptual breakthrough necessary for peace between us; but we will remain entrenched behind our fence until we sense a shift in attitudes on your side. …
The tragedy of our conflict is that history gave each of us no choice. The logic of our history demanded our return here — and not just because we were persecuted in exile but because exile from this land was always seen by Jews as an unnatural condition a spiritual offense against Judaism’s deepest sense of itself. Yet just as the logic of our history impelled us to return so the logic of your history impelled you to resist our return. ….
Having been privileged to spend time among you I know that most of you are not Nazis just as I know that most of us are not colonialists. We are two traumatized peoples who tragically have projected their most demonic images onto the other. In withdrawing from Gaza we have begun our territorial contraction. Yet can your side stop actively dreaming of destroying us — through terror demographics the Muslim bomb? Can you accept the moral legitimacy — not just temporary political necessity – of a two-state solution?
I wrote above that your people has made “virtually no effort” to understand who we Jews are. One remarkable exception was a pilgrimage of Palestinian Israelis to Auschwitz two years ago. For Palestinian citizens of Israel to reach out to Jews at the height of the intifada was the deepest expression of the generosity of Arab culture. I was privileged to be among the Jewish participants in that Arab initiative. We stood at the crematorium Arabs and Jews holding each other in silence facing the abyss together. At that moment anything seemed possible between us.
Lately perhaps because of the terror lull I have been thinking again about that journey and about the journey I took into your devotional life….. I approached you then b’gova einayim without apology for my presence here or dismissal of your presence. And that is how I dream of being with you again: as fellow indigenous sons of this land which one day will claim us both.