The Middle East consists of millions of square miles of territory and hundreds of millions of people, mostly Muslim and grindingly poor. The map shows the relative geographical size of Israel (the little blue area) and the Palestinian territories in the Middle East. The green regions are Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. No Israeli soldier guards this vast green expanse. There are no Israeli settlements anywhere in this area. Israel does not occupy any of the lands.
Israel and the Palestinian territories are a tiny drop in this vast expanse. The Jews and the Arabs who live here together with all the Palestinian Arabs scattered throughout the Middle East and the world, might amount to 20 million people. That is probably under 5% of the population of the Middle East, much less than 5% of the population of the Middle East and North Africa!
Most of these people are angry and poor. They have scant work opportunities and no education. Their rights have been severely curtailed, not by any Zionist occupation, but by their own Arab and Muslim governments. The inhabitants of these countries, hundreds of millions of them, are poorer and more oppressed and worse nourished than the most downtrodden Palestinian.
An absurd and obnoxious popular superstition has attributed the poverty, repression and chaos of the Middle East to Israel, or “Zionism” or “The Jews,” just as the Black Plague was blamed on “The Jews” in medieval Europe. This hoax was originally perpetrated by bad Middle Eastern governments and demagogues to distract the people from their own shortcomings. If there has been little development in Yemen, it can be blamed on the struggle with the Zionists. The poverty, the repression and poverty in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and other countries were always blamed on the Zionists or on “Western Imperialism.”
This bizarre idea was adopted not only by Arab masses, but by serious political and academic institutions. The U.N. has a separate Secretariat branch concerned with the rights of the Palestinians, though no such branches exist for the much more unfortunate Kurds, the Bahai, or the Amazigh peoples (most people never even heard of the Amazigh). The U.N. General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Council have devoted most of their time and debates to “Palestine.” The media have devoted most of their coverage of the “Middle East” to Israel and Palestine. Arab Lobbyists sold the U.S. foreign policy establishment on the idea that all of the problems of the Middle East could be fixed by “settling the Israeli-Arab conflict,” or in other words, by annihilating Israel.
Rights groups have focused on imaginary human rights violations of Israel, and tried to whitewash the most heinous crimes of Arab countries like Libya.
The first sign that the Middle East might not be limited to the little area of Israel were the attacks of 9/11, which made Westerners aware of the existence of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Islamism. Americans rushed to find Afghanistan on the map. There was suddenly more to the Middle East than Jewish villains. All was soon put right. Somehow, this noxious development could be blamed on Israel and Zionism, even though Islamism was born before Zionism. The peculiar myth that blamed the troubles of the Middle East on the “Zionists” persisted for another ten years, nourished be ignorance, convenience and massive petrodollar bribes like the ones from Iran to Columbia University, from Arabian Peninsula monarchies and sheikhdoms to Georgetown and other universities and from Libya to the London School of Economics.
Meanwhile, most of the Arab and Muslim peoples suffered in silence under their corrupt and incompetent rulers. Admittedly, the solutions they advocated were usually worse than the social ills they wished to cure. Most of them involved killing Jews, secular people, or Westerners. They called this “democracy.’ “Democracy” in the Middle East has not the same meaning as it does elsewhere, because Muslim and Arab societies have no concept of fundamental human rights. In most of the Middle East, “democracy” implies majority rule, in the sense of the most primitive sort of mob rule. Constitutions, if the exist and are honored, usually protect the rights of the majority. They name Islam and Shariah law as the religion and law of the country. In most Middle East countries, majorities believe in wife beating, and in killing or repressing Christians, Jews, homosexuals and apostates, in female genital mutilation (FGM) and honor killings. A regime that does not adopt these practices may be not considered “democratic” in the Muslim world. Even worse, it may be considered “apostate.”
Nonetheless, the youth of the famous Arab Street had a message for the world. They gathered in Tahrir square, in Ben Ghazi and Tobruk and Manama and in Sana and in Oman and Tunisia and Tehran. They did not agree on solutions, but they were united in saying that the existing regimes and the existing rulers must be deposed. They were resolved that the world would hear about the rest of the Middle East.
The readers of The Guardian and Time Magazine, the Tony Blair groupies, and the audience of CNN were lost, astounded and confused. Mostly they were unaware that there were any countries in the Middle East except Israel, or any people other than the Palestinians. They had to learn about Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other such places. None of the news media outlets explained why they had never reported the misery in these places before, why they had never pointed out the rights abuses in Oman or Bahrain.
As for the readers, how could they know? Nobody told them there is anything out here except big bad Israel and the persecuted Palestinians.
The Turks buried almost 500 executed Kurds in mass graves, but it did not rate a line in any of those publications and was not the subject of a U.N. investigation. If Israel sneezed at 500 or even a hundred Palestinians, it would certainly be documented in detailed photos and lurid copy supplied by a dozen eager Jerusalem bureau chiefs and their editors .
Those concerned for the Palestinian cause need not worry. For about a month, at most, people will be vaguely aware that the Middle East includes countries beyond Israel and that the poverty and despotism that have characterized the Middle East for over a thousand years could not be the fault of 19th century and 20th century Western imperialism or Zionism. Afterwards, everyone will forget the obvious truth, because the media and the ideologues will have “re-educated” them. Already the dictatorships, including Gaddafi, are being blamed on the United States, and by association, on Israel. How could Muammar Ghaddafi be a puppet of the West? With imagination and willpower, anything is possible.
Already, Palestinians are threatening a Palestinian and Arab rising against Israel. They are trying to coopt the Arab revolts:
Part of the rage displayed by the people in these uprisings is at the Israeli aggression and the crimes committed against their Palestinian brothers as one of the major and obvious demands of the Egyptian January 25th revolution is to stop exporting the Egyptian crude natural gas to Israel in a clear message that urges the Egyptian government to stop supporting and collaborating with the occupying and aggressive Zionist regime.
Really, is that why Egyptians are angry with Hosni Mubarak? Is that why Libyans were angry at Muammar Ghaddafi? Because he is soft on Israel? Could anyone imagine that people risked death in Benghazi because of the supposed apathy of Muammar Ghaddafi to the Palestinian cause?
It doesn’t matter that none of this rhetoric corresponds in any way to reality. The media and the ideologues will insist, and the academics will be bribed to invent a convincing rationale.
In the meantime, for a few short weeks, the Arab revolts are evidence, for those who care to know, that there is more to the Middle East than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.