February 27, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 350

A Syrian Reader Writes to Al-Hayat: Arab Media Do Not Comprehend; Israeli 'Conscientious Objectors' Prove Israel's Strength - Not Its Weakness

February 27, 2002
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 350

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat[1] recently published a letter to the editor from a Syrian reader,Isma'il Dabaj, criticizing the Arab media for their miscomprehension of the phenomenon of 'conscientious objectors'in Israel. Following are excerpts of the article:

"Arab treatment of Israeli issues often fails to reach the level of real knowledge."

"Perhaps the best example of this was a discussion on a well-known talk show on an Arab satellite channel[2] about the phenomenon of 'conscientious objectors' refusing to serve in the Israeli army. One of the guests, [described as] an 'expert' on Israeli affairs[3]... proved how ideology kills knowledge... Barely a few minutes into the program, [he stated that]: Zionist society... is disintegrating and suffers from atomization... [T]he 'conscientious objectors' movement reflects psychological defeatism.... There is no democracy in the Zionist entity or its military establishment... All this... [in addition to] other issues, such as the proliferation of drugs in Israel and the theft and sale of weapons in the Israeli military [etc.]. His final conclusion was that the Israeli military was facing disintegration."

"The truth is that each of these unequivocal conclusions is inaccurate."

"The term 'Zionist society'... does not accurately describe the reality. Zionism is a political movement that established the State of Israel. It does not apply to a society... Not everyone in Israel is a Zionist."

"Often, rhetoric exposes the cultural traits of the speaker... more than those of whom he speaks:

"Israeli society speaks openly and publicly of its disagreements and contradictions, and allows them to become institutionalized in one way or another. Claiming that the disagreements in Israeli society and the contradictions among the groups that comprise it reflect disintegration and atomization reveals... political culture that always... conceals or rejects differences and pluralism within it, and therefore sees every phenomenon of this kind as disintegration and atomization."

"...[W]e hope for [the disintegration of Israeli society in our dreams]... But the reality is the opposite. I am not trying to make the enemy look good… but at the same time, I object to our creation of illusions about this enemy."

"[We have] an ideological school of thought that specializes in amassing the 'flaws' of Israeli society and presenting them in an exaggerated fashion, so as to imply that this society is heading for a fall – and soon."

"Perhaps, in our minds, there is conjecture that this society, or this country, which has brought us defeat after defeat, must be utopian, perfect, and lacking any of the shortcomings [that exist]... in every human society. [So, when] anything that sullies this illusion falls into our hands, we hasten to make it public, and to state that this is the beginning of [Israel's] end. Has any country, at any time in history, ever collapsed for these reasons?"

"No one can deny that Israel has internal contradictions, but we must examine these contradictions reasonably. We should see how the political establishment in that country accepts these contradictions and handles them [within] the... existing unity."

"What is most distressing is that this program [on Al-Jazeera] and this guest emphasized that there was no democracy in Israel. If they were referring to the known fact that this democracy does not include the Palestinians, there would be no argument with them. But the discussion centered on the absolute absence of democracy in Israeli life."

"If this is the case, how can the changeover of governments, the institutions of civil society, and the [activities of] pressure... groups... in Israeli society be accounted for? How can the existence of [the Israeli] press and other media... and the right to expose and criticize be explained? What about the existence of an independent [Israeli] judicial system (for internal Jewish matters) and [other] supervisory apparatuses? What is democracy if not all these things?"

"Is it our job to criticize the flaws of Israeli democracy? If only it were all true. If only Israel did not have a democratic political system...! If this were the case, we would eliminate the entire [Zionist] enterprise, or at least it would not be as robust and as developed as it is today, and it would be easier for us to confront and eliminate it."

"We must admit that the existence of the... internal Israeli [democratic] system is what gave [Israel]... its power.... This is what made the State of Israel what it is. Our strategic goal should be to weaken this democracy – not censure its shortcomings."

"...If the Israeli army is really afflicted by psychological defeatism, and if [Israeli] society is really suffering from disintegration and atomization, and if the entire country is on the verge of collapse, what are we waiting for? Why don't we attack?"

[1] Al-Hayat (London), February 22, 2002.

[2] "Opposite Direction" on Al-Jazeera television (Qatar), hosted by Faisal Al-Qassem, February 12, 2002.

[3] Majed Abu Diyak, introduced as "an expert on Israeli affairs."

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