Just two examples to make a point.
First, the absolutely indispensable but relatively little-known Palestinian Arab journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, writes in one of today's dailies about some Arab voices you almost never hear.
"The situation is very dangerous... I believe that 15 years from now there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem. Then you will need a torch to find a Christian here. This is a very sad situation."Abu Toameh writes of how a monk was recently roughed up for trying to prevent a group of Muslim men from seizing lands owned by Christians in Beit Sahur:
Thieves have targeted the homes of many Christian families and a "land mafia" has succeeded in laying its hands on vast areas of land belonging to Christians... "President Mahmoud Abbas is taking our case very seriously," said Georgette Lama. "But until now he hasn't done anything to help us get our land back. We are very concerned because we're not the only ones suffering from this phenomenon. Most Christians are afraid to speak, but I don't care because we have nothing more to lose..."As Jews, we have never understood how little concern there seems to be among Christians outside the region about the suffering of their Christian brothers. And if you'd like to know why this bothers us so much, click on Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society.
A Christian businessman who asked not to be identified said the conditions of Christians in Bethlehem and its surroundings had deteriorated ever since the area was handed over to the PA in 1995. "Every day we hear of another Christian family that has immigrated to the US, Canada or Latin America... The Christians today make up less than 15 percent of the population. People are running away because the Palestinian government isn't doing anything to protect them and their property against Muslim thugs. "
Meanwhile here's a second illustration of how depressing it is to see what the people in the states that border on ours do and think.
This one is a Moslem viewpoint. Published a few weeks ago by a freelance writer from Islamabad, Pakistan, it expresses opinions that are rarely heard anywhere, and probably least of all in Islamic society. The voice belongs to Farrukh Saleem, a man brave enough - or maybe crazy enough - to publish his email address.
Saleem says the League of Arab States has 22 members. 7 of them are monarchies and 6 are classed by the UN Commission on Human Rights as "authoritarian" and among the "world's most repressive regimes" (Libya, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Somalia).
Against this promising background, our Pakistani observer shares with us these insights:
- Of the 330 million Moslems living in Arab countries, fewer than half a million live in a democracy. That's 0.15 per cent of all the Moslem Arabs in the world.
- You need to travel no more than 250 miles from the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo to encounter the sole parliamentary democracy in the entire Middle East. It's a place that has universal suffrage. It's a country with multi-party, multi-candidate, competitive elections. It's called Israel.
- "Israel [says Saleem] spends $110 on scientific research per year per person while the same figure for the Arab world is $2."
- Knowledge [he writes] makes Israel grow by 5.2 per cent a year. Meanwhile the average production per worker in the Arab League countries was negative throughout the 1980's and 90's according to the World Bank's Arab Development Report.
- The average per capita income in Israel is $25,000. In the oil-rich Arab League countries, it's $5,000.
- "The state of Israel [he writes] now has six universities ranked as among the best on the face of the planet. "
- He gets more specific, quoting an authoritative source on tertiary education: "The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is in the top 100. Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science are in the top 200. Bar Ilan University and Ben Gurion University are in the top 300. The Arab League does not have a single university in the top 400.
- Every second Arab women is unable to read and to write. Noting this, he quotes Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb: "If God were to humiliate a human being, He would deny him knowledge".
- Between 1998 and 2000, more than 15,000 Arab physicians migrated out of the Arab world. According to World Bank figures, "roughly 25 per cent of 300,000 first degree graduates from Arab universities emigrated. Roughly 23 per cent of Arab engineers, 50 per cent of Arab doctors and 15 per cent of Arab BSc holders had emigrated."
- Israel, on the other hand, has more engineers and scientists per capita than any other country in the world. For every 10,000 Israelis, there are 145 engineers or scientists.
- Israel ranks among the top 7 countries worldwide for patents per capita.
- He mentions Teva Pharmaceutical Industries - whose plant we can see from our living room window here in Jerusalem - because it's the world's largest producer of antibiotics. Teva also developed Copaxone, a unique immunomodulator therapy for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, the only non-interferon agent available.
- Most members of the Arab League grant Moslem women few rights in relation to marriage, divorce, dress code, civil rights, legal status and education. Israel is entirely different - its women enjoy the broadest possible rights by any standards.
- Spain (alone) translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years.
- The world's six million Israelis buy 12 million books every year. This makes them one of the highest consumers of books in the world.
- Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita in the world. The Arab world has the lowest.
- Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other country (109 per 10,000 Israelis). The Arab world? Next to none.
But yes, it does matter to people like us. We have a lot to protect: a society that's growing, achieving, making an impact. If the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian Arabs in particular, had the same kind of stake in their own future, the chances that we might find ways to live in peace with each other would be immeasurably greater.
Even from Pakistan, it's clear how far we are from that happening.