Believe it or not, there are Arab internet commenters who want Israel to show Hamas what for.
Armed with internet access and enjoying anonymity, several Arab web surfers are revealing a different side of the Arab world, one which reveals sympathy and even admiration for Israel, as well as hatred for Hamas and a surprisingly pragmatic approach to the conflict • A look at the unofficial Arab world
For them, a kid is more important than all of Palestine from the (Gaza) Strip to the (West) Bank […] this is the value of the individual in Israeli society […] it’s stupid today to call Israel an enemy after the act of kidnapping and killing of their kids […] And what about the stupid criminal, who knows that Israel will repay killing with killing and in spite of that he did it […] and in the end […] [the Arabs] will ask America to help them and stop Israel!!!
The above quote was not written by a hasbara activist or a pro-Israel American. They were written on one of the largest and most prominent news sites in the Arab world, in a comment on news coverage of the finding of the three kidnapped hitchhikers. One can find many such comments strewn throughout major Arab networks.
These networks, such as Qatar-run al-Jazeera and Russian RT (in Arabic, of course), effectively dominate the framing of discussion and presentation of events in the Arab world. They were the first to report finding the bodies, long before the gag order in Israel was lifted. Most of the stations used negative terminology to describe events, defining the hitchhikers as “missing settlers” – settlers meaning people who have no legitimacy and whose blood can be spilled freely; missing, as opposed to kidnapped, to allow for charges that Israel invented the story to crack down on the Palestinian politicians.
But among all these was also a major article on the Saudi-run ‘al-Arabiya’ network, with the headline “Israel found the bodies of the kidnapped…and Netanyahu threatens Hamas,” which actually reported the story in a fairly moderate and objective manner compared to other networks. The article received a bevy of fascinating and surprising comments, which show a different light on the ostensible unanimous Arab hostility to Israel. It turns out that behind the wall of anonymity, people in the Arab world actually have a fairly wide range of opinions on the matter.
Jealous of Israel and Hostile to Hamas
“The three kidnapped (hitchhikers) are more important than the citizens of twenty three Arab states. Israel is a state that refers to its citizens in a maximal way. This as opposed to Arab leaders, who hate their own people, expel them and force them to emigrate.” Thus a commenter who calls himself an “immigrant to the past.” “Tarek” from Jordan wrote something similar: “Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of volunteers are searching for three kidnapped kids, while we Arabs, we have thousands of immigrants and hundreds of kidnap (cases) […]”
Other comments spoke in general about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A few even dared to express sympathy and admiration for the Israeli side. “Israel is a thousand times more merciful than the Arabs,” one commenter wrote. “Thank you to Israel […] if I could, I would go live with the Israelis.” Many others said what they thought of Hamas. Under the heading of “(It is) Your right, ya Netanyahu,” a user named “Fahd” urged the Israeli Prime Minister “to be quick [to hit Hamas], and to focus on Ismail Haniyeh.” “Hamed Rashid”, meanwhile called for a “strong Israeli response,” writing that “the identity of the murderer [Hamas] is known, and it will pay the price Inshallah.”
Some of the commenters came out strongly against the kidnapping itself purely from the perspective of the damage it caused Palestinians and Arabs in general. “Akirav” criticized the act under the heading “A fool remains a fool” because the Hamas killed “three settlers and took their lives, and didn’t think (of the fact) that the Palestinian people is the one who will pay the price.” “Muhammad” argued fiercely that the kidnapping was stupid and counterproductive:
These are stupid acts […] You (Hamas) kidnapped three Jewish kids and killed them!!! What is the benefit of this act for the Palestinians? What resulted is the prohibition on 700,000 Hebron residents to leave the city and a hard economic blow to the thousands of Palestinian families there […] This, alongside giving the army an excuse to go into the city, to abuse, arrest and kill Palestinians there […] to say nothing of declaring war on Gaza […] and I’ll end with a question […] until when will the Palestinian people pay the price for these stupid actions???
“A Pure Halabi” even beseeched Hamas to “convene a press conference […] and unequivocally deny all accusation attributed to them. They need to declare that they adhere to the solution of peace,” in order to prevent the possibility of the “army of occupation” attacking in Gaza, and “to protect the lives of the civilians.”
“More Zionist than the Zionists”
Like any comments section, these comments did not go without withering dispute. Some accused those who criticized the kidnapping as “aiding the enemy.” “Ahmed Razek” attacked, writing that “they are those who give the ‘Zionists’ the strength to destroy the Palestinian people, these comments enable it […] (The kidnapping) is one of the acts of resistance of the Palestinian people, it is our legal right and we will continue to resist […] we won’t listen to you commenters who criticize the matter.”
More than anything, the fascinating response of “the wasp” expresses the mixed feelings towards such comments:
I read the responses and see the “likes”, and conclude that there are two possibilities: in case these are real comments, this is a disaster! Anyone who is neutral when reading them can understand the reasons for the Palestinian problem and why it hasn’t been solved after 70 years. This, in addition to the problem of the destruction in Syria and Iraq and in other countries. Based on these comments one can say that more than half the Arabs have become Zionists, and they’re more “Zionist” than the Zionists themselves! It looks like we can sign on the possibility that Israel will be crowned as the sole ruler in the region and with the agreement and blessing of us Arabs.
But the second possibility is that Israeli agents and people pretending to be Arabs are active on the site in order to harm our morale and to create infighting among us, and I hope this is the real reason. If the commenters are really Arabs and Muslims I don’t know how to explain why we hate ourselves so much.
This variety of commenters provides us with a small window into the Arab-speaking part of the internet. It certainly is not representative of the whole; there are still many commenters than run the gamut from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism. However, they do prove that in spite of everything, the Arab world is not a monolith and that there are a variety of voices and opinions within it. The idea that every Arab walks in lockstep with the Palestinians on every occasion is thus proven to be baseless.
Those who survey the media in the Arab world will discover that Israel’s stock has increased tremendously in the past few years. This is due in large part to the penetration of Israeli voices in the Arabic language, both official and unofficial, into the Middle Eastern public sphere. Now we need to absorb that we have greater room for activity than in the past, and that the expressions of this or that Arab leader are not representative of everyone, but rather meant to try and force conformity that exists in spite of them.
Roni Bialer is the editor in chief of the web magazine ‘Israel in Arabic‘ and a specialist in Arab media. The author wishes to thank Sarit Shatz for the assistance in preparing the article.
English translation by Avi Woolf.