“Actually, most of the Palestinians are angry with and hate their Arab 'brothers' more than they are angry with or hate the Jews. I have never heard about a Palestinian woman dying of cancer and one of the neighboring Arab countries, Lebanon for example, helping her. But I’ve heard of plenty of cases where hospitals in Israel have offered help,” said Mudar Zahran, 39, a lecturer and publicist — and a Palestinian blogger — in an interview with Israel Hayom. Zahran participated in an international seminar on new media and public diplomacy given by the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry this week.
One might have expected such statements to come from a Jewish Israeli right-winger, not necessarily an extremist. But anyone who knows Zahran and attended the seminar, which was held in cooperation with the Ariel University Center of Samaria (which offers advanced studies in new media toward a bachelor's degree) was not at all surprised. This is not the first time Zahran has judged Israel favorably while speaking against the Arab states when it comes to the Palestinian question (just ask Jordan, which he accuses of practicing apartheid in one of his essays).
Zahran attended the seminar together with bloggers from all over the world: Israel, the United States, Denmark, Turkey, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France and other places. The bloggers included Muslims, Christians and Jews alongside Bedouin and Druze. Zahran himself, a citizen of the U.K. (along with other Palestinians from London), completed the picture, which is considered out of the ordinary, just like his opinions.
Zahran’s family is originally from east Jerusalem. His parents left after hearing on Egyptian radio that the Jews intended to slaughter all the Arabs remaining there. They reached Jordan, settled and raised their children there until they realized that their different, modern opinions were not suited to where they were living. They moved to the U.K., where they knew that their children would receive a better education.
Despite the distance, Zahran never stopped thinking about the Palestinian people. He explains why he expresses his unusual opinions.
“I don’t do it because I choose to, but rather because most of the people think this way and only I have the privilege of speaking out because I’m a British citizen. Most of my people think as I do, but they’re afraid to say so.” Zahran even went back to Jordan briefly to marry a Palestinian woman. He has also made sure to keep in contact with his cousins, some of whom work in Israel or are in prison here.
Nothing to worry about, Zahran found no freedom of expression in the Hashemite Kingdom, certainly not to the degree that he enjoys in the U.K. or at the seminar he attended. That the seminar was held at an Israeli academic institution across the Green Line, in Ariel, posed no problem for him.
“I have no problem with Ariel,” says Zahran. “It’s a university that Israel chose to build where it wished, like the Americans build in every state that belongs to them, and nobody says a word about it.”
Q. Does that find expression in a seminar with other Palestinians?
“People from various countries and all kinds of backgrounds attended the seminar, but I think that there should have been more Palestinians. Still, I understand why many of them didn’t attend. They’re not like me. I have nothing to worry about. I can come to Israel and attend a seminar at a university in the territories and nothing will happen to me because I’m going back to London.”
Q. In other words, many Palestinians will never dare to express similar opinions in public?
“True. Among other reasons, I came to Ariel to state clearly that the settlements are legitimate. The more Israelis delegitimize the settlements, the more they’ll complicate the situation and harm more Palestinians. You, the Israelis, need to wake up and realize that most of the Palestinians in east Jerusalem, for example, want you to stay. I know polls that show that 70 percent of the residents want that. I felt it was my duty as a Palestinian to speak the truth, to present the Palestinians and to represent them. I hope I’ll succeed in changing the situation.”
During the seminar in Ariel, Zahran listened with an open mind to both sides of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. He spoke about difficult moments at the checkpoints and the procedure that Palestinians must undergo to enter Israel. On the other hand, he says, “Every country on earth would do the same to protect its citizens if it were living under the threat of terrorism. The extremists within the Palestinian people are the ones who caused it.”
Zahran describes himself as a religious Muslim. Although his parents wanted to give him a different kind of education, he grew up in a community with an atmosphere of hatred toward Israelis and, of course, toward Jews. “My parents had different opinions,” says Zahran, setting them apart from other Palestinians and continuing in that direction.
“Usually, in reality, most of the Palestinians feel hatred toward Arabs more than they do toward Jews. We suffer because of our Arab brothers, but we are also dependent on them. It’s a bizarre situation because the Arab countries don’t really care what happens to the Palestinian people.”
He adds, “The only assistance that we have ever received from any country was from the ‘Zionist enemy.’ We really have no other options. It’s not that I’m a Zionist. I care about Israel for selfish reasons, but how long are we going to fight against the only nation that helps us?” Of course, he does not understand the Israelis who oppose the settlements, because in his words, “They’re just encouraging the terrorist groups indirectly. They’re giving legitimacy to Hamas.” Zahran, who deplores the lack of good education and good leadership among the Palestinians, is certain that only cooperation with Israel can help. “Nothing can be done without Israel’s assistance,” he says again.
Q. Earlier, you mentioned how you keep in constant contact with your family. How does that happen when you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as opinion goes?
“That they still call me speaks for itself. I got, and not only from them, emails and calls of support after I was interviewed on Al-Jazeera and said that I’d like the Arab countries to treat my people the way Israel does.”
Zahran is wrapped up in his desire to find a solution to the conflict and bring the truth, as he sees it, to light. “I want to change things and hope to succeed even if they call me crazy,” he says. “They once said that Ben-Gurion was crazy, too. Now that’s being said about me, a Palestinian who tells everybody, out loud, what everybody keeps secret and says only in private.”
Zahran says that he identifies with the Israelis and even says that the Palestinians are called “the Jews of the Middle East.” The comparison is not easy to take for Jew or Arab alike. “We’ve been feeling persecuted for 60 years and you’ve been persecuted for 2,000 years,” he says. Then he makes another statement that sounds strange coming from a Palestinian: “Your state is your own, and rightfully so. The two-state solution is already dead. There is no place for the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria. Any attempt to establish a state there will be bad for the Palestinians. Like I said, most of them don’t want that.”
Q. Can the situation be rectified?
“The current situation is a mistake that must be corrected, and Israel must annex all of Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian Authority has no good health-care system or policing system in all of Judea and Samaria. The whole idea of establishing a Palestinian state here is not realistic at all. It cannot sustain itself, and many of the Palestinian residents would like to leave the area. Their lives are terrible. There’s a lot of corruption here.”
Zahran says that the Palestinians will live well only under Israeli rule. Once again he says that it is time to stop harassing Israel about the settlements. “As long as it doesn’t build in another country or in territory that belongs to other people, Israel has every right to keep on building here, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s business,” he says, referring not only to Palestinians or Israeli pro-Palestinian organizations, but also to foreign countries.
Q. Is there a chance that the Arab Spring might affect this region?
“We still need to wait and see what it will bring. I believe that a tougher time than ever is in store for us. What’s happening in the Arab world is a wake-up call, a warning light for the whole region, because despite everything that’s happening, the Arabs want to fight against Israel.”
Q. And Israel shouldn’t give them an excuse to do that?
“Exactly. Stay away. Israel should observe what’s happening from the sidelines and keep out of any conflict with an Arab country.”
Q. Like Iran, for example?
“The Iranians constitute a threat to the whole world, not just to Israel. They can bomb without caring what happens to them as a result. They must be stopped in any way possible. I think that [U.S. President] Barack Obama is making a mistake by preventing Israel from attacking there. Also, although Iran is threatening them and the Palestinian people as well, the Arab states are looking on from the sidelines and not doing a thing. Iran must be stopped, and that has to be agreed on by everyone.”
Q. To conclude: you recently visited Jerusalem, the city where your parents were born. How did you feel?
“Just like I felt in Washington when I visited there for the first time, or in any other city, really. I saw happy Palestinians in Jerusalem. I didn’t feel anything special. I didn’t see any Israeli soldier hitting a child, like many people describe throughout the world. Everyone should come and see this image with their own eyes, and then decide what they think of Israel. I also visited Al-Aqsa mosque, and I must say that I don’t understand what all the uproar is about. We all venerate Mecca, and nobody thinks about, or seeks to take this place and annex it.”