Monday, September 15, 2003
It never stops to amaze me just how much both the Arabs and the Israelis work against their own interests in the Middle East. Between the Arabs' inept attempts to get rid of Israel, and Israel's equally bumbling attempts to achieve stability and permanence, everyone seems to display an amazing ability keep firing away at their own toes. At times, it's simply mind-boggling; you begin to wonder whose side everyone is on.

Consider the Arabs' goal of getting rid of Israel -- or for that matter, getting rid of the Jewish communities that lived amongst them. What do they do? They isolate them, and keep them oppressed. (Yes, not as oppressed as their European contemporaries. But we're not measuring against the bottom here.) This isolation served to keep the Jewish community coherent, the way isolation always does. And after several centuries, the Arabs still had substantial Jewish communities amongst them, who were now pretty tired of being second-class citizens. Dumb.

So in the early 20th century Jews gather in Palestine to form the state of Israel. A lot came from Europe, sure, especially in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust -- but a huge number came from Arab lands as well. In the wake of Israel's formation, Jews received ever harsher treatment in places like Syria and Yemen, which naturally proved counter-productive, encouraging emigration and resentment towards the Arab countries that formerly served as their hosts.

Fine, so the Jews get some land together, and, with the goodwill of the International Community™ -- whose goodwill is always abundant for passive victims -- they form a state and a cohesive society. Well, sort of. With various backgrounds, languages, customs, religious backgrounds, and political views, the Jews were in constant conflict. Had the Arabs left Israel alone, odds are it would have collapsed from internal conflicts, possibly into a civil war, allowing Arab armies to charge to the rescue and take control. But noooo, they had to get arrogant about it, and show the lowly Jews what real armies are like. Oops. Turns out that Jews knew how to fight, and the combined Arab attack united them as no Zionist text ever could.

At this point, the Arabs were pretty deep in their hole, but they still could have prevailed -- again, by exercising a little Taoist wisdom, and not trying to win through brute force, but rather doing the exact opposite: open up trade and full diplomatic relations, connect phone and rail links, open borders, set up cultural exchanges -- in short, make the Israelis feel at home and at ease. How would this help? Simple: in the region, Arabs outnumber Jews more than 100-to-1. Allowing them to participate as equal partners with their neighbors would alter their worldview, necessarily making it more Arab-centric. Populations would drift and mix as they always do, and given the Arabs' overwhelming demographic superiority, it's safe to say that eventually, Israel would become just another Arab country, with a Jewish population only slightly higher than the rest of Arab lands, though by no means a majority. The Jewish population would assimilate, and Haifa would not be too different from pre-civil-war Beirut. Embrace-and-extend, writ large. Of course, that's not what happened: instead, the Arabs kept their hostile posture, further uniting Israel's diverse population with their hostility. Their very survival at stake, and with a society far more advanced in terms of education and social customs, the Jews ended up creating a Western society in the Middle East -- complete with superior Western technology and links to their brethren in the U.S. and Europe. It's ironic: the Arabs complain about Israel as a European colonialist state, but its tight links to the West are the direct result of being spurned by surrounding Arab nations.

And, of course, the Arabs continue to do this today, by providing Jews worldwide with a tangible, concrete threat. Even the most assimilated, secular, synagogue-phobic, sausage-pizza-and-bacon-cheeseburger-chomping Jew can't help understanding -- if only at the back of his mind -- that when someone says "death to the Jews," he is not entitled to exemption. Jews who might consider themselves French, Swedish, or American, and would not for anything live in Israel, are still glad it's there. The hostility of Arabs -- and their western sympathizers -- disallows complacency, and gives Jews in Israel and worldwide a common bond, as common enemies always do.

The Arabs could have easily destroyed Israel by embracing it; their hostility united Israel as a distinct, un-Arab political entity, and their standoffishness resulted in the very links to the West that have proven crucial to Israel's survival and prosperity. Just another bit of irony in a region where it is so abundant.

I'll save my comments on Israel's firearm pedicures for another time.

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