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Yalla Peace: Falafel, fences and Syria

Is the Assad regime really the ‘champion’ of the Palestinian cause when it oppresses its own people?

By RAY HANANIA/ posted January 23, 2011

A day never passes without an Arab complaining about Israel. Of course, a day never passes without an Israeli complaining about the Arabs, either. The complaints vary widely, covering everything from food to violence.

A common complaint is that Israel “stole” the falafel. Well, Israel has stolen Palestinian land, but can you really steal a food?

I recently read an Israeli official’s counter to this claim: has Israel also “stolen” Italian food? To be fair, Israelis don’t go around bragging about their “Israeli spaghetti” the way they promote “Israeli falafel.”

But to be even more fair – is that allowed in the Arab-Israeli conflict? – many Israeli Jews are from Arab countries (Sephardim) and have been making falafel and other Arab delicacies for centuries, too.

If this were just about food, it might be funny. But that’s not the case. What’s not so funny is how, when pushed to the wall, Arab dictators quickly start to sound like the Israelis they often frequently denounce.

For example, I recall the first time I ever heard the phrase “iron fist” was when then-General Yitzhak Rabin vowed to break the arms of Palestinian protesters during the first intifada.

Last week, I heard Syria’s strongman Bashar al- Assad, whose last name means “Lion” in Arabic, vow to crush pro-democracy protesters with an “iron fist.”

I didn’t hear a lot of Arabs complaining about that. In fact many Arabs are cheering Assad, the feeblevoiced eye doctor, with their usual double-vision and hypocrisy.

Assad’s army is also firing “rubber bullets” at protesters. I thought rubber bullets were an Israeli invention?

NEXT THING you know, Assad will probably be declaring, with typical Arab bluster, that if the protesters don’t shut up and accept their restrictive, unfree lives, that he will “drive them into the sea.”

Or, he might start building a 28-foot-tall concrete wall around the most disruptive areas, where protesters have been most active. Assad will probably also call the wall a “fence,” to soften the political impact.

If there are any Jews left in Syria, Assad could have them build the “Oppression Wall” the way Israel has Arabs building its Wall – err, fence, err, barrier, err, whatever.

Maybe the United Nations might find a few moments to organize an inquiry into the Syrian uprising. They could have some renowned Arab jurist, as its lead author, outline the war crimes that Assad is engaging in as he orders his tanks and planes to fire missiles on civilians.

That is a war crime, isn’t it? (There’s even a debate on that in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since when is killing a civilian a war crime?)

Of course, there is a long list of things the UN could do but doesn’t. It could order similar inquiries into the brutal oppression against protesters in Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen and, well, all 22 Arab countries.

If they can’t find an Arab to lead the inquiries, maybe they could convince former jurist Richard Goldstone to do it. He could follow up the 2009 Goldstone Report with The Goldstone Report Part II: Syria. And The Goldstone Report Part III: Egypt. And the Goldstone Report Part VI: Saudi Arabia. It could become an encyclopedia of alleged oppression, easily a 22-volume set.

Oy vey! There are so many crimes being committed against civilians in the Arab World, it would all become a blur. Or maybe the “blur of oppression” might be given a formal name. We can just call it the “Arab League.”

This “fog of conflict” in the Arab World is actually very easy to see.

In fact, although the Arab World claims ownership of falafel, there is one dish that it serves often that it didn’t invent but of which it could just as easily claim ownership.

That dish is called hypocrisy.

Arabs are always pointing to Israel and claiming they are “hypocrites.” They might be. But I don’t hear the Arabs screaming that Israel “stole” hypocrisy from the Arab World the way they scream that Israel “stole” their falafel. They close their eyes to brutality in the Arab World but have 20-20 vision when it involves brutality by Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Israel is any kind of angel in this whole mess. I mean, when Israel announced last week that it would take in Syria protesters and refugees, that sounded a little shallow considering Israel refuses to take in Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967 and refuses to recognize Arabs as citizens who marry Israelis.

But I am saying that the very Arab critics pointing fingers at Israel are doing the exact same thing that they claim Israel has done.

Syria’s Assad says the heart of the issue is that Syria has been the champion of Arab Nationalism and the Palestinian cause. Is the Assad regime really the “champion” of the Palestinian cause when it oppresses its own people? How can that be?

The writer is an award winning columnist and radio talk show host. He can be reached at


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