FROM STEVEN HARTOV: "I’m not much of a blogger, so you won’t find musings here on my cooking skills (none) or my personal life (private).  However, from time to time I’ll post an essay or opinion on what’s going on out there.  Feel free to respond in an email, with the caveat that we might post your comments below in Back Brief."

Steven HartovDreams of the Old Middle East

by Steven Hartov

When I joined the Israeli Army back in 1977, things in that part of the world were fairly simple. 

We were young paratroopers, all volunteers and pure of heart, many the sons of Holocaust survivors or Jewish refugees from Arab lands.  Israel, having barely survived the Yom Kippur War, still gleamed in the eyes of dreamers, a David amidst a sea of Goliaths.  Our enemies were mostly conventional Arab armies, commanded by dictators who simply objected to having this democratic Jewish ghetto dropped in their neighborhood.  We understood their beef, and they knew we had nowhere else to go. 

Yes, there were terrorists amongst them, but viewed through the lens of the present they now seem quaint: the PLO, Black September, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  They bombed us occasionally and slaughtered our civilians, but we killed them right back in good measure.  It was a fair fight.  We actually signed a few peace treaties and made accommodations.  It looked like this all might work out someday.

But the world didn't want it that way.  You can't sell weapons to peaceniks.  The Soviets armed the Arabs, the West armed the Israelis, and the Gulf States understood that the oil business was best served if they kept the pot boiling.  It was much more fun to stoke the fires of Palestinian nationalism then to buy each refugee family a villa in Ramallah and let the Jews just be envious.  Not a single Palestinian had to live in a refugee camp. The Saudis alone could have turned the West Bank and Gaza into wonderlands of beautiful schools and hospitals and high rises, and felt nary a pang in their pocket books.  Ah, but that would have meant accepting the Jews into one's tent in peace, and living together in a new, modern, advanced Middle East.  No one wanted that, except for us young soldiers, who had to do all the fighting and dying, and we did both well.

Now, in many of the jaundiced eyes of the world, Israel has become the villain of the piece.  For someone who has lived that culture and speaks the lingo fluently, it's stunning to watch the defamation of a multi-cultural society that welcomes all comers, engages in a healthy and vocal democracy, rushes off to treat the victims of hurricanes in Haiti and earthquakes in Japan, provides the world with high-tech innovations and medical wonders, and even under decades of mortal threat manages, for the most part, to hold the moral high ground.  Sure, there are Israeli cynics, scoundrels and xenophobic fanatics, but given Israel's  circumstances and the relatively low percentage of such undesirables, the country's angelic.  And yet, that tiny land is routinely branded with epithets of racism and apartheid, even as its platoons of Hebrew-speaking black Ethiopians march off to defend its borders, and throngs of Asian-born school children skip along the boardwalks in Tel Aviv.

But the media outlets of the West won't show you that.  It doesn't sell toothpaste or luxury cars.  What does sell advertising, is images of powerful Jews painted as aggressors, holding sway over a benign Palestinian population that wants nothing but peace in their land, as long as it's "Judenrein."  Israelis can be kidnapped and murdered and it barely warrants a cable news crawl.  But when the reverse occurs, though horrific, and rare, it's flashed across networks as if a Hollywood star has gone on a drunken rant.  Mind you that 160,000 dead Syrians no longer blip on our media radars, and the slew of executions and beheadings across Iraq barely induces a shrug.  From my point of view that's a type of racist twist, where savages are expected to behave thusly, while the Jews are held to a much higher standard.  Maybe that's a good thing.

So, now we have a new Middle East, and although I miss my youthful self, I'm glad to no longer be a young Israeli paratrooper.  The odds, which were always shaky back then, would seem hopeless these days.  Those quaint Arab armies have been subsumed by a new movement of Islamic fanaticism, raging across the globe from Afghanistan to Africa, from Turkey to Iraq, and just beginning to pin prick the West.  The Israelis are now faced by Iranian-armed Hezbollah hordes to the north in Lebanon, Hamas rocketeers to the south in Gaza, a weakened and threatened Kingdom of Jordan to the West, and this new entity called ISIS that makes Ian Fleming's SMERSH seem like a cadre of old ladies.  There's nothing but open ocean to the East.  It could make one start thinking about building an Ark. 

Perhaps the latest round of fighting will at last end with a peace deal.  After all, hope springs eternal.  But if you think that by some miracle, the Israelis and Palestinians will suddenly beat their sub-guns into plowshares, arrive at some loving agreement, and it will all end there in hearts and flowers, take a look in your rear view mirror.  The Middle East doesn't work that way.  Never has. 

I just long for those days when we hated one another for simple, nationalistic reasons, and nobody insisted that his or her God was best.

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STEVEN HARTOV coaches select writing clients on manuscript development.  He can also be recruited for library appearances, writing seminars and presentations on a variety of topics from publishing to international terrorism.  

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