An interesting bit in today’s Jerusalem Post; Egyptian journalist Nabil Sharaf Eldin argues, in a rather poorly written piece, that as a journalist, he is safer in Israel than in much of the region. His ultimate point? That as a journalist who refuses to mince words in respect to Arab regimes, he is unsafe in most, safe only in Israel. Eldin states: “I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.”
Let me start off by acknowledging two points:
- He is a journalist that criticizes Syria’s Baath regime, Hezbollah, Libya’s Qaddafi. Wrong as it may be, it’s somewhat shocking that he thought Syria would just let him in the country in with no fuss. He strikes me as incredibly naive.
- His points about Syria and Libya are well-taken. Both have a long way to go before they can be considered democratic in the most basic sense, and we should by no means ignore their human rights violations, including imprisonment (and in the case of Libya, murder) of journalists.
If Eldin had stopped there; if he had simply been criticizing the restrictions placed on free speech by Arab regimes, I might have condoned the piece, even retweeted it — or perhaps it would have gone unnoticed. But then he said this:
Failing to find a glimpse of hope across the greater Arab world, we must concede that Israel has become the only “safe haven” where one can be sure of his life and dignity.
Ah yes – Israel as a safe haven. Unless you’re Jared Malsin, perhaps — Malsin is the American journalist whom Israel deported because he was working for the Palestinian Maan News Agency. Or if you’re a journalist aboard the Mavi Marmara — their photographs, videos, and documents were seized, with some used by Israeli authorities without permission. Or if you’re international news agency Al Jazeera, barred by the IDF from covering nonviolent protests in the West Bank. Or if you’re a Palestinian journalist documenting Israeli violations of the right to assemble — four were attacked by the IDF this past January for covering protests in Burin. And the list goes on…
Eldin also writes:
Just like the Palestinian Helles family who fled Hamas “jihadists” in Gaza to Israel, I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.
So, I urge you, dear fellow Arab, to visit Israel.
Everything about these two sentences is problematic. First, there’s the issue of the Helles family; they did indeed flee Gaza to Israel. A pro-Fatah “clan” (as the media would designate them), 181 members of the Helles family sought refuge in Israel; 80 or so were sent to the West Bank, while 60 were sent back to Gaza. I’m fuzzy on the details, but then again, I presume that Eldin might be as well — the media alternately reported the Helles clan as having attacked Hamas or been attacked — in either case, it was hardly a humanitarian effort on Israel’s part.
As for the final sentence, the urging of Eldin’s “dear fellow Arabs” to visit Israel, perhaps it’s a nice sentiment, but it appears Eldin is (once again) missing out on some facts: Arabs (and some non-Arabs) who fly to Israel hoping to visit the West Bank (either alone or in addition to a visit to Israel proper) are frequently denied access, either entirely, or by receipt of a Palestinian Authority-only visa.
Israel is, by a number of measures, freer than a number of its neighbors. But it is neither the region’s “safe haven” nor a true democracy. Journalists in Israel and the land it occupies are hardly freer than Lebanon. There is of course so much more to say on the subject, and I’m looking forward to reading whomever writes it.
Note: Of course Israel is promoting Eldin’s piece on its Arabic-language Foreign Ministry site. Even though they know Arabs will never be able to enter the country in droves as Eldin suggests they ought to. Because image is everything, right?