Joseph Farah is founder and CEO of the Internet news site WorldNetDaily.com. Mr. Farah, an Arab-American, worked for more than twenty years as a journalist, including stints as executive news editor of The Los Angeles Herald Examiner and editor-in-chief of The Sacramento Union. He founded the Western Journalism Center in 1992 and has taught journalism at UCLA. He is co-author of This Land Is Our Land (St. Martin's, 1996) and was Rush Limbaugh's collaborator on See, I Told You So, the best-selling U.S. book of 1994. He made headlines in October 2000 when he denounced the Palestinian violence against Israel. Mr. Farah spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York City on May 18.
Arab Americans and Freedom
It is a sad statement about the Arab-American community that I find myself virtually alone publicly denouncing the violence of the Palestinian Arabs. It's sad because it shows how little diversity of opinion exists among Arabs in America, where we have the freedom to speak out without repercussion. In the Arab world, by contrast, there is less freedom to state opinions. With more freedom here than anywhere in the Arab world, more Arab Americans should speak out.
"Myths of the Middle East"
I published a column titled "Myths of the Middle East" on October 31, 2000. I received in response 15,000 e-mails from just Israel, and thousands from the United States as well. The Jerusalem Post reprinted the piece and told me that it evoked more reaction than anything the paper had ever printed.
But the reaction was not all positive. I received death threats that were turned over to the FBI. Indeed, many Arab-Americans were quite distressed over the things I had written. But 10 to 20 percent of the Arab-Americans who responded said that my message was long overdue.
The column was designed to debunk two central myths about the Middle East. Myth shattering is important to a journalist like me. Interestingly, I have two specialties as a reporter: the Middle East and Hollywood. The two fields have a lot in common, for both are characterized by myths.
The Palestinian Myth
The first myth is that the conflict in the Middle East today is about the struggle for a Palestinian state because Palestinian Arabs were displaced by the creation of Israel, and the world is now responsible to assist in the establishment of a Palestinian homeland. Regarding Palestinians as a distinct people, however, is a notion that must be reconsidered.
There is no distinct Palestinian culture or language. Further, there has never been a Palestinian state governed by Palestinians in history, nor was there ever a Palestinian national movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel seized Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian national movement has one primary goal: the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state to supplant Israel, with Yasir Arafat as its leader.
The Jerusalem Myth
Another myth deals with the issue of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The myth is that Jerusalem is really an Arab city, and that the Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam, and a central focus of Islam. The truth is that the Palestinians expressed very limited interest in the Temple Mount before 1967. Further, Jerusalem has always been a city with a substantial Jewish population, even during the period of Ottoman rule, 1517-1917.
The Myth of Arafat
There are other myths, too, which I explored in subsequent columns. If you believe the Western media, Arafat is a Nobel Prize peacemaker who is central to any settlement. He's portrayed as where the process begins and ends. But this is not the truth about Yasir Arafat.
I recently interviewed an analyst who worked for the National Security Agency in 1973. This man intercepted communications between Arafat and his murderous Black September organization in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. The communication involved the 1973 kidnapping of two U.S. diplomats and one Belgian diplomat. In the end, Arafat gave the order to kill all three. Why don't the American people know about this incident? Where are the investigative journalists? And why hasn't the U.S. government charged this man with the deaths of two U.S. diplomats? Because Arafat is thought to be Israel's "partner for peace." The charade continues.
Middle East Freedoms
There is only one country in the region with an acceptable level of freedom, and that's Israel. When I go to the Middle East and visit Syria or Lebanon or Egypt, there is no question that I am in a police state. And believe me, working as a journalist in a police state is no fun. By contrast, when I'm in Israel, I feel that I'm in a free country.
So, why is the media always critically focused on Israel? It's one of the few places you can take a television camera with virtually unlimited access. Why can't we take cameras to Syria when the president there decides to destroy an entire town? Simple: we are not allowed.
The West has a different standard for the Arab Middle East than it does for the rest of the world. It's not a healthy thing, but shows a kind of disdain. Arabs need to be judged by the same standards as everyone else.
When I engage in debates with Arab-Americans, I constantly raise this. Their families came to the United States for freedom and opportunity, just like mine did. So, why, when they look at the Middle East today, do they side with the regimes that perpetuate the oppression that their parents or grandparents fled? Why do they think that they are standing up for Arabs when they justify the murderous actions of someone like Saddam Husayn?
Summary account by Jonathan Schanzer, research associate at the Middle East Forum.