On the long trip home from Jerusalem last week, I reflected on the new/old Middle East—from historic changes no one predicted to old hatreds seemingly immune to change…
We are a long way from the early days of the Arab Spring, when young people like 30 year-old Google executive Wael Ghonim personified the possibilities of anew, democratic Egypt.
Everywhere, social networking signaled change. In 2009, Twitter channeled the hopes of tens of thousands of “Green Revolutionaries” protesting Ahmadenijad’s theft of Iran’s presidential election; last December, the Internet in just 23 days transformed one man’s suicide into a campaign that brought down Tunisia’s dictator.
Then, Facebook helped mobilize a million protestors in Tahrir Square who peacefully put an end to the Mubarak era.
But what Ghonim called “revolution 2.0” seems to be morphing into “counterrevolutionary 3.0”.
The Iranian regime—with help from both Europe and China—quickly learned how to leverage the Internet to identify, silence, and punish dissenters. Other Mideast tyrants have also taken countermeasures to ensure you don’t witness more than a flicker of their repression on YouTube.
Then came Syrian President Bashir Assad’s tour de force.
With thousands of his citizens killed, wounded or disappeared by his dreaded security forces, the Syrian President was desperately looking for some relief from the P.R. pounding he’s been receiving from Al-Jazeera.
Someone came up with a brilliant idea: Play the Palestinian card on May 15th, Naqba ('Catastrophe' of Israel’s founding) Day.
Social networking sites like Facebook were part of the strategy that brought thousands of protestors to the Israel border on the Golan Heights. Along with millions of Arabs and Israelis, I watched on live TV as the perfectly orchestrated street theatre— produced a rock- throwing, chanting mob surge across the Israeli border, generating tear gas, bullets and real blood.
For one day at least, Assad could present his regime as the vanguard of the Palestinian cause.
He wasn’t alone. In Lebanon, the Army first gave Hezbollah-organized Palestinians permission to infiltrate the “militarily sensitive” al-Ras region, and then breach Lebanon’s border with Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza—where Fatah and Hamas recently negotiated a “unity” agreement allowing Hamas to join an all-Palestine government without abandoning its commitment to the violent destruction of Israel—Palestinians have been using the Internet since last winter to demand a “Third Intifada.”
One Facebook Page with this agenda gained 300,000 members before being shut down in March for advocating violence. The fruits of Fatah-Hamas fusion and extremist online advocacy were seen at the Qalandia border crossing near Ramallah where 600 demonstrators rioted. Elsewhere, a 18 year-old Gazan tried to plant an explosive and a 22 year-old Arab Israeli truck driver brought death and destruction in Tel Aviv by deliberately driving into cars and a bus near an elementary school.
In Egypt—the final leg of what may be remembered as “The Digital Four Borders Attack Against Israel”—organizers, on and off the Internet, staged menacing Naqba Day protests. From Cairo to Northern Sinai, thousands chanted “down with Israel”, demanding: abrogating the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, stopping the sale of natural gas to Israel, and opening Egypt’s Gaza border to facilitate Hamas’ terror game-plan.
Predictably, Israel—not the violent demonstrators breaching borders that have brought terrorist attacks in the past—is being criticized for the human toll. Never mind the Egyptian and Jordanian police who were also forced to use force toquell rioters.
Meanwhile, scant coverage was given to another deadly border incident when Turkish military killed 12 Kurds caught attempting to breach Turkey’s border from Iraq.
Critics of Israel suggest that the Jewish state should have behaved non-violently, more like U.S. agents on the Mexican border. But how would the U.S. react if bordered, not by Mexico, but by al Qaeda waanabees or government-backed terrorists seeking to infiltrate our southern border?
Whatever the impact of the Naqba Day on the Arab Street, Israelis watching the staged violence on their borders were in no mood for President Obama’s outrageous demand they retreat to pre-1967 Six Day War lines, which were dubbed by the late Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, “Auschwitz” borders. Such a move will make all Israeli cities vulnerable to renewed homicide bombers from a Hamas-dominated Palestinian regime, and by 60,000 Iranian-supplied rockets stockpiled by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by Hamas in Gaza.
In the last few days, President Obama-- from his speech at the State Department, to his face-to-face confrontation with Bibi Netanyahu and his appearance before AIPAC-- has struggled to create new parameters for U.S. engagement in the roiling Arab world and for fast-forwarding Israel-Palestinian peace.
For now, the most important contribution President Obama can make to peace is not by predetermining borders but by signaling Palestinians they must choose between genocidal Hamas or America’s support for a future state.
It's also time to tell the Palestinians this inconvenient truth: There can be no peace until they realize that the real “Naqba” or Catastrophe has been their own failure to reject Arab leaders who continue to offer the Palestinian people a future built on little else than hatred of their Jewish neighbors.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.