Featured Post

Inconvenient History: tales of lesser discussed history of Egypt & Israel

As Egypt's relationship with Israel takes central stage for both countries, a look at some interesting little known historical facts ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hamas Invasion of Egypt!

After several weeks of travel, I am finally back home. I had a lot of interesting feedback to my essay about my visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Most interesting was the change in the feedback I had from some of my friends & family from Egypt. The email feedback was generally negative or just sarcastic about me going and about my pro normalization comments. By the time I made it to Alexandria and Cairo the Gaza / Egypt crossing had taken place.
Sadly in a way for the Palestinians, and fortunately in a way for the Egyptians and Israelis, Hamas had done what 30 years of peace could not achieve. Most Egyptians I met for the first time, since the first days after the Sadat visit to Jerusalem, looked at Israelis as normal people and some used words such as "the right is on Israel” ..or “what can they do?" Even very religious people were re-examining the recently normal hatred of all things Jewish and discovering references in Islam and in Islamic history about friendship and harmony with Jews. The same people who sent me disapproving emails just a couple of weeks before were now asking me more what Tel Aviv was like, Did you really go running on the beach and in the streets of Tel Aviv? Did people know you were Egyptians? Etc.
The Egyptian press was strange; cruel in a way, in stirring up anger at the ordinary Palestinians, but also fair in reminding people of the suffering of Egypt for the Palestinian cause. Some editors referred to the “Hamas invasion of Egypt”, others were full of praise of Sadat, “the hero of war & peace” and drudging up decades old anger at the Palestinians by reminding the readers of the joy of Arafat and the Palestinians at the news of the death of Sadat and the fact that no Palestinian leader has yet showed the courage and decency to visit Sadat’s grave.
Essam El Areean of the Brotherhood wrote in one of the opposition papers in support of Hamas and clearly felt the need to articulate the whole case for Hamas and what it is doing in Gaza, both in terms of rejecting Abbas’s approach for peace with Israel and taking control. The fact that he had to repeat the argument put forward verbatim by Hamas made me wonder if they were feeling that they were losing the average Hassan on the streets of Cairo.
For a long time advocate of peace and reconciliation, it was really good to see the change in Egypt. Sadly, as a supporter of the rights of the Palestinians I was also sad to see that anger at Hamas was turning Egyptians into anger at the Palestinians as a whole.
It is hard for me to characterize the opinion in Egypt from very few days in Cairo and Alexandria. But I don’t remember anything like this in Egypt for many years.
Anyhow, always fun to be in Egypt, but great to be back in the snow!
February 26, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scattered thoughts from the land beyond Sinai

An emotional journey with many fleeting thoughts about what to expect … a twinge of fear, of understanding, of anticipation and a touch of sadness or resentment at those rejecting my desire to come and see for myself. So this is the other side, this is where the Phantoms and the Mirages were taking off back in 1967!

Recognition …Right to Exist …was it right to come into existence then? …right to exist now?

Somehow I feel that the issue of recognition is split into different questions that need to be addressed separately. For me recognizing Israel today is self evident; it is there and has been for several generations. Today maybe a million or more have already been born to parents who were born in this land, to deny Israel’s right to recognition is clearly delusional ….regardless of how one (I) feels about how Israel came into existence, it does now, and must be recognized.

More than anyone else the Palestinian Israelis have come to terms with the reality of Israel’s existence and are living within the system and are working to better it.

Sadly, I don’t see Israel reaching out to be accepted. Once it did maybe, perhaps it got tired and it doesn’t anymore …did it ever really? Israel’s brutal practices seem to feed the flame of hate rather than yield the desired result of acceptance… why does it persist? I think of those who know everything there is to know about the Jews and have never actually laid an eye on one let alone spoken to one, make up the majority of those debating normalization or recognition. Sadat was truly a brave visionary man, may God forgive his many sins. What he did was truly remarkable, what was going through his head as he landed here, I wonder?

Land of the rejected and the rejecting …the images I have looking at the people as I run on the beach and on the streets of Tel Aviv! There are some people who are here because they can’t be anywhere else. The Hasidic Jews are home here; they can be easy targets for discrimination and have suffered over the centuries ….don’t they get hot in this stuff? I think I must have run onto the stage set of "Fiddler On The Roof” by the beach ….. or am I just too hot in this cold wave?

Yet, there is also the elite that is accepted everywhere ..in New York, in Paris. Some places in Boston look and feel more Jewish than Tel Aviv! The elite who are clearly not rejected anywhere , some of whom are dead set against accepting the other …both others I reckon …. Are they doing this out of compassion for the rejected ones? A good deed! Or are they simply supremacist in their own way? A bit of both, I guess!

Then there is the truly religious amongst those elites, as always I am not so sure if it is adherence to a faith or loyalty to a nationalist movement that fills a void! Funny, I waited in the extra security room at the Airport with a new immigrant in shorts, yarmulke and iPod! Oh, the battle between the Law of Return and the Right of Return is surely one sided.

The “Rejected & the Rejecting” may help me make sense of this! ….and we have our own rejectionists too …what fun with the one verb!

The Weather in Israel Today

The Jerusalem Post is full of complaints about incitement and of Israel being rejected by Arab and Muslim countries, not even being shown on the map. Yet its own weather map on the back page shows the map of historic Palestine plus the Golan with just some marking for Gaza! Why the mark for Gaza but nowhere else? The pot is calling the kettle black, I wonder.

“What good is the IDF if it can’t stop the Qassam Rockets?” cries one of the headlines in The Jerusalem Post! There is something very macho about Israel. An out of place and out of date sort of feeling that overwhelming strength is the key to safety. America is learning more from the four year experience occupying Iraq than Israel has done in many decades of dominating and occupying the Palestinians.

Focus on Israel not the occupation!

I Saw The Wall, visited and prayed at Al Aqsa and I saw the settlements and the house of the zealots, in the old city, with the many Israeli flags. But I did not want my trip to be focused on what Israel is doing to the Palestinians of the West Bank, I didn’t want the impressions of the checkpoints, the oppressive wall, most definitely, it is not a fence, this is one big ugly wall. I wanted to see the pre 1967 Israel, its look and feel, what are the people like, are they European? Mediterranean? vulgar and rude as I heard from another Egyptian? Intellectual? Cool & hip? I admire the guts and courage of Sana Hassan coming to Israel even before Sadat. I should have packed Hassan’s Enemy in the Promised Land as my guide book; it would be funny if it were to be sold as such!

What do the road signs look like? I find Arabic is really the third language after Hebrew and English. It is strange that almost all old Palestinian names are suppressed; I understand the use of biblical names but when a village once existed with a certain name why come in and substitute a very European name. Israel needs to come to terms with its own history, the good and the bad! The different monuments on the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and the History of Israel in the Welcome to Israel hotel book all made me think of George Orwell’s 1984. Yet I could not reconcile this 1984 feel about the place with what must be truly remarkable freedoms even by US standards!

The Pess-optimists … The Palestinian Citizens of Israel


Most interesting for me are what I call, perhaps wrongly, Palestinian Israelis, what the Israelis call Israeli Arabs and what are often referred to as the 1948 Arabs or Arabs of 48! The Palestinian Israelis come across are very welcoming. First, they assume I am a local Israeli Jew who speaks Arabic but then when they find out I am of Egyptian origin they shake my hands warmly, offere tea or coffee. At a gas station, one says ”…we have two Egyptians living here, you should come and see our village…”. This is close to Nazareth; where several Palestinian Israelis were killed by the Hezbollah bombing last year!

Collaborators …the whole lot of them of course not, I highly doubt it; Haifa and other places were already integrated for decades and in many cases people were highly educated and more affluent. I think of Emil Habibi’s wonderful book “The Pessoptimist ~The Secret Life of Saeed” Habibi portrayal of the early years of Palestinian life in Israel through the eyes of a Palestinian “Candide” who was actually a collaborator! Habibi won the Israel prize for literature for his work. I guess the worst and best of all possible worlds!

The different languages one hears American English, Russian, Hebrew, French, Arabic … Almost all the Israelis I meet have been to Sharm. The Palestinian Israelis consider visiting Sharm as a visit to Egypt, the Jewish Israeli refer to it as in Sinai, not Egypt …Oh this still? It is a bit disturbing but, I suspect, just an innocent oversight, not a deliberate statement about Sinai not being Egypt.

The comfortable integration between Palestinians and Israelis in some places, even in the old city is remarkable. As I have dinner at Haifa and look around me I think; are they worlds apart or almost the same people?

Orthodox and those in the black robes!

The orthodox Jews with the Yarmulkes and the many many variants of the “Hasidic” Jews with their different costumes, the long black robes, the ties, and the different types of headwear…something unreal about the movement in flocks. …..The imposition of the Shabbat’s rules on secular Tel Aviv seems unnatural to me! It reminds me of stores closing at prayer times in Saudi Arabia …what a strange thing to remember here?

Constant sound of gunfire!

The beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv are destroyed for me by the horribly noisy racquet ball games, sounding like bullets being fired, I wonder if bullet sounds are relaxing for some? Such a strange aspect of a city and country that is always on edge!

The same exact games are very popular on Alexandria beaches but with a less noisy ball or just more background noise, or just played less vigorously? I wonder to myself as I close the windows.

Diesngof Street,

I walk by the same exact street corner that had 3 or 4 bombings; I see two memorials for the victims of the suicide bombings! I am told the trees had to be cut down in a “box” form to avoid body parts flying all over the high tree branches. What a dreadful image, I close my eyes and turn around.

In the 90’s many west bank Palestinians worked in Tel Aviv, not just as laborers but shopkeepers too! Tel Aviv feels a lot like Alexandria before the overcrowding, perhaps a cross between the Mamoura and Semoha districts of Alexandria.

I wonder to myself: is Israel comfortable with itself? Is it any more or less comfortable than anywhere else?

Temporary Permanent Residents

Those Palestinians in the Triangle, not sure what Triangle but that is what the area around Jerusalem is apparently called! They carry a certain color ID card which entitles them to temporary permanent residence, whatever that means.

What will happen to the people that Israel acquires as part of its eventual settlement with the Palestinians? Will they become like the Palestinian Israelis or will they integrate less?

Are there any territories actually occupied and not disputed …apart from Gaza which is really neither, now at least?

Aren’t we all temporary permanent residents after all?


31 January 2008

Tribute to Benazir

I have always had some conflicted feelings about Benazir Bhutto. She always came across to me as a strong woman who spoke well and very eloquently but I always felt that there were truth to the allegations of corruption against her and always felt that she was most of all driven by power, the desire to rule and to be in control. The father to son or daughter family lines in India and Pakistan have always bothered me, I find it strange that in these two republics even opposition leadership pass through familial lines. There is something fundamentally very arcane and undemocratic about Nehru family three generations and now ready for the fourth controlling the Congress Party and similar with the Bhutto family and the People Party.

In Egypt after Nasser we as a nation, I think, have become so cynical that it will take few more generations before people ever allow themselves to love a leader for real again. Egyptians loved Nasser, well at least the vast majority did and after the 1967 disaster and all the scandals of his era and all the torture and corruption the idea of us ever trusting someone to that point again feels very unlikely! We in Egypt are most ashamed of being taken for fools, we are not naive, we know better and hence no more leader worship, never again! We look with scuff at those silly Asians who adore Bhutto or Gandhi or what have you, we are smarter than that, we know better, we are not fools, no more!

Yet, as I watch news reports from Pakistan and read about the mass sorrow over Bhutto's death I am more conflicted. This woman was certainly a very brave one, she knew the dangers, she knew she was a bigger enemy for the extremists and for the State / Junta than perhaps anyone else. She did not hide, she was out there with the people, her poor miserable nation, dirt poor and with no hope ..she was amongst them leaving her kids, her three relatively young kids away in Dubai while she did her thing in the dusty smelly villages and cities of Pakistan.

Was she power hungry? Perhaps! Was she corrupt? Very likely? Was she self serving? Probably! Did she deserve be a leader just because of her family name? Probably not!...But these are not the only questions to be asked! Benazir Bhutto could have had a much easier life, yes she was driven by some many different motives but she has always spoken out against extremism, always shown courage, exemplary courage in fact and for that she ultimately paid with her life!

May the sole of Benazir Bhutto rest in peace, may God forgive her and may God help her family cope with their loss and May God help the long suffering people of Pakistan and may the end day for this horrible extremism be near

December 29, 2007