Following the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and his failure to visit Ramallah, Ghassan Charbel, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published an article about the economic and cultural gaps between the West and the Arab world and about the contrast between Israel's successes in science and technology and the weaknesses of its Arab neighbors, as reflected in Modi's Israel visit. Charbel noted that the West pays close attention to issues such as human rights, protection of the environment, and public health, while the Arab world neglects them, which is why Arabs feel envious of the West. As for Israel, Charbel notes its scientific and technological capabilities and what it has to offer to a giant world power such as India, contrasting it with Israel's neighbors, mired in extremism and internal wars. Charbel notes that in the past India was the first country to support the Palestinians in every way, while today its Prime Minister, upon visiting the region, ignored them completely. According to Charbel, this causes Arabs to feel not only envious but completely defeated.
The following are excerpts from his article:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (image: watanserb.com)
"The Arab feels envy when he comes into contact with the developed world. A friend of mine fled his country, which is sinking into darkness and despair, and settled in London. He bought a house [there] and waited for the war [in his country] to end. One day, a tree in his small garden bothered him and he decided to 'execute' it. He asked his British neighbor if he knew someone who could do the job, and the neighbor laughed [and said], 'you have no right to kill the tree, even if it belongs to you. First, you have to submit a request to the local council and convince it of the reasons [for your wish to cut down the tree]. The law here protects trees. You have to obtain a permit, and only after that comes the job of the murderer.'
"My friend was astonished. He comes from a world in which an [entire] city can be razed and no one would bat an eyelash. A citizen can be killed, and neither his wife nor his mother will have the right to ask why... A tree here [in Britain] has more rights than a citizen of the [Arab] countries of torture and suffering.
"Envy is neither a useful nor a noble emotion and it usually opens the gates of bitterness and hatred, [yet] it is not unusual for an Arab to suffer from this malady [of envy]. If an Arab visits a museum in a developed country he immediately thinks about what happened to the antiquities in Iraq and in Syria... If he notices the attention paid in Oslo to public health he remembers where the sewage flows in some Arab capital or another.
"Trying to minimize his disappointment, the Arab sometimes searches for excuses for the yawning chasm between him and the developed world. We are in a completely different historical phase. Those countries [in Europe] are reaping the fruits of great events that occurred there and changed the face of the world: the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the ideas of the Renaissance, the separation of church and state, German philosophy, and the huge change in the status of women.
"The Arab feels envy again, [because] the Europeans experienced wars between nationalities and sects, border disputes and plans for conquering and wiping out [the other]. They painted the continent and the whole world with blood – but they emerged in the end with conclusions. The empires became [exhibits on] museum shelves and sentences in history books; borders were transformed into bridges, not walls; [the European] societies accepted the right to be different. Minorities are no longer thought of as mines that must be defused. The constitutions [in Europe] prevent the majority from erasing the characteristics of those who disagree with it. These countries no longer seek historic leaders whose biographies are soaked in blood; they seek governments that devote [themselves] to fighting unemployment, developing the economy, encouraging investments, protecting the environment, and [combatting] the problem of climate change. The visiting Arab is consumed with envy.
"Let us set aside talk of trees and antiquities, since there is worse to come. The Arab notes that [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled all his plans so he could graciously receive his guest, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel. Another thing that attracted attention was that the guest felt no need to visit Ramallah, which gladdened his hosts. We are talking about India, which was the first to express understanding for the aspirations of the Palestinians and did not hesitate to stand alongside them in international forums...
"Modi evidently sees Israel as a technological lighthouse, and spoke about the need for his gigantic country to benefit from Israel's capabilities in this sphere. The result was that Modi and Netanyahu signed an agreement worth $2 billion, according to which India will receive the Israeli Iron Dome System to [detect and intercept] rockets and artillery. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to establish an India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund. Other agreements included areas such as water, agricultural development in India, and partnership in economic projects in Africa and the developing world.
"It is not enough to explain what happened by saying that Modi belongs to an extremist nationalist Hindu stream and that 'jihadist' terrorism increased his conviction that ties with Israel should be strengthened. The important point is that a country the size of Israel has something to offer the Indian army, beyond the role it [already] played in the past in developing the Soviet and Russian weapons that were owned by India; that it also has something to offer [in the spheres of] agricultural development and treatment of water problems, and [can maintain] a strategic military, security, and economic relationship with a country of the size and stature of India.
"The Arab was disturbed by the arrogance of Netanyahu's speeches during Modi's visit, but when he opened the map of the terrifying Middle East, he discovered that Israel had achieved a series of victories in recent years without firing a single bullet. Maps, countries, armies and economies around it have crumbled. Waves of extremism caused catastrophes in some parts of the Arab world compared to which the Palestinian Nakba is but one clause among many.
"This time the Arab felt not only envy, but felt the total defeat of the one who cannot join the [modern] era."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 10, 2017.