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Skiing in France and the (Un)Popularity of Israel May 16, 2012 00:43

While skiing in France, I got talking to a barman in a restaurant who was interested in what language I was talking to my children. When he found out where I was from (and after we got over the initial "but you don't look Pakistani"), he mentioned that I was the first Palestinian that he met. I suggested that perhaps not many of our people were in the privileged position of being able to go skiing in France, and perhaps that was why.

What was interesting was his subsequent conversation. Not to tar the French with one brush, but noisy subsections of French society have often come out with racist diatribe that has been both anti-Jewish and Islamophobic. But this man was not making comments aligned with them. No, he was far more specific than that.

"I don't like the Israelis" he ventured.

"Why is that?" I asked, somewhat nervous about what he might say.

"Whatever they have is never enough. They always want more. More land. More everything. Never enough".

As a Palestinian, I am very careful with my words to ensure that people understand that it is the policies and greed of the Israeli state and Zionism that I find abhorrent, and not Judaism, which I respect as a venerable religion. This doesn't stop many from launching onto an anti-Jewish soap box expecting me to sympathise, and being surprised that I don't. I suspect many will launch onto an Islamophobic box given half a chance with an audience ready to listen. This is why I was pleasantly surprised that this French barman had steered away, quite naturally it seemed, from making an anti-Jewish comment. No, he was far more precise. It was the Israelis who were meeting his opprobium. But equally, it was also a very broad-brush comment. "Israelis". Not "Israeli policy" or "Israeli apartheid". No. "Israelis".

I found it fascinating that while I, and many other Palestinians, are very careful about these semantics, he, alongside many other nationalities as we had seen travelling in South America, were far less concerned about this, and tagged an entire nationality with the criminal and greedy behaviour of the policies of its leaders.

And then lo and behold, Globescan releases its report for the BBC on the popularity of nations, and finds that "The most negatively rated countries were, as in previous years, Iran (55% negative), Pakistan (51% negative), and Israel and North Korea (both 50% negative)."

It seems that while most Western media outlets and governments are continuing in the main with the lie of Israel as a well behaved member of the international community, the reality of Israel's crimes and abuse is becoming more widely known. The report notes that the most broadly held reasons for the negative views of Israel are its foreign policy (45%) and how it treats its citizens (27%). Not anti-Judaism (or anti-semitism as it will be labelled), as Israel is bound to cry out. No. Just the way it treats others, and the way it treats its own citizens. It seems that our experience while travelling was not anecdotal.

While the way to fix this lack of popularity for Israel would be to start treating Palestinians as humans with the rights to dignity, life, education, property, and all other aspects of humanity, I suspect this will not be how Israel reacts. No, the more likely response will be to cry out that this is even more reason why it needs to "defend" itself and to use it as justification for continued brutality and crimes against Palestinians. Thereby guaranteeing a worsening position for itself in the world, while continuing to be an ethnic cleanser and abuser.

Expect the governments of the West to rise up and start to condemn Israel in line with the views of their populations. Or not.


Meeting Israelis on Holiday November 27, 2011 21:45

I have had the good fortune to have travelled a fair amount these last few months. While travelling, I have met a number of travelling or holidaying Israelis. Like all conversations with fellow travellers, one of the first two or three questions is always "where are you from?". In many cases, when they find out I am Palestinian, a strange thing happens. Their handshakes become longer and more imbued with 'meaning'. A look of smiling sympathy takes over their face in conversation. They become very interested in the superficial questions of whereabouts exactly I am from. They want to hug on departure.

Now there are some stereotypical traits which many different cultures show when you meet. As much as Spaniards and Argentinians will give a kiss on the cheek for hellos and goodbyes very soon after meeting you, Israelis, like many of East European descent, are not natural huggers of people they don't know. Not a bad or good thing, just the way local norms are. So why are they then inclined to go overboard with friendliness when they meet a travelling Palestinian? Rest assured that this is not the same when they meet a Palestinian inside occupied Palestinian lands. I can vouch for that.

Is it because outside Israel, they can see that their country's behaviour towards Palestinians are immoral and outside the bounds of acceptable human behaviour? And seeing this, they are embarrassed and try to distance themselves as individuals from the behaviour that they are complicit in? Or perhaps being outside Israel with its norms of behaviour towards Palestinians, they feel they have to over-compensate to fit in with more civilised and human norms?

Or is it that face to face with a Palestinian in a bar, they stop seeing me as subhuman and deserving of less worth or rights than they are? Or that they feel that they have to make a pretence at this for the benefit of others who may be watching them? Is it different to see the eyes of a Palestinian over a drink in a cafe than at the end of your gun?

Or is it that lacking the support of one of the world's largest military machines, with no weapons or armed colleagues around them, they don't have the security to face me as they would a Palestinian at home? Does their lack of state organs and weapons of subjugation while abroad mean that they know they must talk to me as a human?

Maybe the charitable view is that these travellers naturally want to hug the person they oppress at home because back in occupied land they just follow a system and orders that make them oppress and brutalise. If that is the case, then I wish they had the balls at home to say "no, occupying and sub-humanising fellow humans is wrong and I want my government and military to stop that today, and to stop ordering me as a common citizen to partake of that". Or that they had the balls to go home and greet Palestinians in their own homes as equals rather than as subhumans.

But then if I take that charitable view, I am more comfortable with the honesty of the minority who I have met who are genuinely inquisitive about my life as a Palestinian, as these will more likely be open to honest discussion. They start from a point of wanting to know rather than of doing one thing when armed and facing a Palestinian and saying another when facing one in their shorts abroad.

I am actually also more comfortable with the minority who continue their hostile demeanour when we meet, albeit bereft of a military that gives them a Goliath's advantage at home and therefore the ability to turn that hostility to violence. At least they are honest and consistent with their behaviour.

No, it is the dishonesty and hypocrisy of that patronising sympathetic tilt of the head, the 'meaningful' handshake, the hug of 'I care' that I can't abide. Maybe because it is the same dishonest behaviour of a country that says to the international community that it wants peace while doing everything at home that prevents peace and extends violence and subjugation.