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Israel’s strategic ally in the Arab world is oppression

By fostering ties with Israel as Palestinians continue to suffer, Gulf Arab regimes are failing in their humanitarian and religious duties

Last Friday, as Gaza's soil was coloured with the blood of five martyrs and scores more peaceful protesters were wounded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Omani capital Muscat - the first such visit by an Israeli leader in two decades.

Days later, Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, wore the hijab during a visit to an Abu Dhabi mosque and preached about peace. In the not so distant past, Regev made controversial comments such as describing the Muslim call to prayer as the "crying dogs of Muhammad".

There is a clear relationship between the regression of democracy in the Arab world and the progression of normalisation with the Israeli occupation

On the same day, the Israeli army killed three children who were reportedly attempting to catch birds east of Gaza.

These events show the distance between the suffering of the Palestinian people and the official positions of Arab regimes. Beyond their meagre political and material support of Palestinians, these governments have embraced the apartheid Israeli occupation, which maintains its policies of settlement-building, racist persecution and mass killings. 

Diplomatic relations

These actions by the Gulf states are not one-offs. In addition to Netanyahu's trip to Oman and Regev's visit to the UAE, an Israeli gymnastics team recently participated in a championship event in the Qatari capital Doha, and an Israeli judo team participated in an event in the UAE. 

The Israeli national anthem played in Abu Dhabi when Israel’s Sagi Muki won gold, bringing tears to Regev's eyes, while Netanyahu noted: “It is not only your personal achievement and the Jewish achievement of Israeli sports, but also the fact that the anthem was being played in Abu Dhabi.”

This normalisation corresponds with aggressive Israeli occupation policies towards Palestinians through the annexation of Arab land in the West Bank and the passing of laws that enshrine apartheid

At the same time, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth revealed that Bahrain has been secretly holding talks with Israel in preparation for establishing diplomatic relations, with a planned visit by Netanyahu to Manama in the near future. 

The leader of the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, doesn't seem far from this fever towards normalisation with the Israeli occupation. Tzvia Greenfield wrote an article in Haaretz about "why we should go easy" on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, rationalising that he was the leader Israel had been waiting for "for 50 years".

Aggressive occupation

This normalisation corresponds with aggressive Israeli occupation policies towards Palestinians through the annexation of Arab land in the West Bank, the passing of laws that enshrine apartheid, and the killing of hundreds of people since protests broke out in Gaza seven months ago.

It also corresponds with a growing international boycott of the Israeli occupation by pro-Palestinian rights activists worldwide. The Israeli government has described this boycott movement as a strategic threat that contributes significantly towards increasing Israel's isolation worldwide.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev kisses the International Judo Federation’s president during a tournament in Abu Dhabi on 27 October 2018 (AFP)
Since its establishment in 2005, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has applied significant pressure on Israel by advocating various forms of boycott against the state until it complies with international law. Israeli officials have expressed concerns over the growing scope of BDS, and the country has imposed sanctions against BDS activists, including banning them from entry.

Israel’s concerns over the movement are not limited to economic losses, but also focus on the movement’s work to de-legitimise Israel in the global sphere by affirming its apartheid nature and exposing its violations of international law.

The sword of fear

By fostering ties with Israel, Gulf Arabs who believe in the Palestinian cause are failing in their national, humanitarian and religious duties. They are legitimising the occupation through diplomacy, economics and sports, all while international activists fight to isolate the occupation politically, economically and culturally.

Arabs are partners with Palestinians when it comes to ethnicity, geography and history. However, the Arab regimes normalising relations with Israel are not democracies. They rule through monarchy and the sword of fear. They have no public mandate. Thus, their positions do not reflect the true identity of the Arab populace.

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There is a clear relationship between the regression of democracy in the Arab world and the progression of normalisation with the israeli occupation.

When the people raised their voices in the popular uprisings that swept over the region in 2011, the solidarity with Palestine increased. But when oppression wins over freedom and despotic regimes are encouraged to publicise their dealings with the Israeli occupation, it becomes clear that Israel’s strategic ally in the Arab world is oppression, not democracy. 

- Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian journalist and peace activist. Born in Rafah in 1984, he is a refugee from Al Ramla village. He authored the book Organized Chaos.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Oman’s Sultan Qaboos on 26 October 2018 (AFP)

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