Some journalists from the UAE and Bahrain have visited Israel and praised the occupation state and its people. Expressing their admiration, they claimed that the Israelis are peaceful and teach peace to their children from an early age.
They visited Tel Aviv with their Foreign Ministry minder, Lorena Khateeb, and apparently enjoyed the "beautiful" beaches. They also went to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights with the Spokesman of the Israel Defence Forces, Avichai Adree, and said how proud they are that Lebanon's Hezbollah, which they said is their enemy, is being attacked by Israel.
The head of the delegation was Amjad Taha, who has recently obtained Bahraini citizenship. He claimed that there is a great deal of "coexistence" among Israeli Jews, Arabs and others. The UAE's Majed Al-Sarrah looked at Israelis in a Tel Aviv park and said: "This is a live example for coexistence." Israeli children, he said, had received them with "love, smiles and peace."
"When we are talking about peace, it's people to people…" explained President Reuven Rivlin when they went to his home. "Let's look forward that you will be the bridge to bring a lot of understanding between all the people in the region. It's a real pleasure."
Masha'el Al-Shammari, a young Bahraini who defined herself as a cultural activist, said that she was surprised by "the cultural variety" in Israel and the "massive amount of peace" among its people. "They plant peace in their children," she gushed. "We were misinformed about Israel," she told Makan TV. "We had been taught that [the Israelis] hated us, however, when they knew that we were from Arab Islamic countries of Bahrain and UAE, they welcomed us."
In an online workshop with Israeli journalists two months ago, the head of the Society of UAE Journalists, Mohammad Al-Hammadi said: "We need to change the stereotypical image in the minds of Arabs that Israel kills Palestinians. This image was reflected specifically by Al Jazeera." The recent delegation seems to be part of that change. It was no coincidence, of course, that Qatar's Al Jazeera was named specifically, given that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been besieging their neighbouring state since 2017.
Amidst this normalisation and the whitewashing by Arab media of Israel's violence human rights abuses the reality is being ignored. I am a Palestinian, of course, so to avoid accusations of bias, let us look at what others say about Israel's treatment of the people of Palestine.
Avi Shlaim is an Israeli-British Professor of International Relations at Oxford University. On Britain's Channel 4 News last week, he said very clearly that Israel was responsible for the displacement and deportation of the Palestinians in 1948. He is not alone. Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappé's 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine details the crimes committed against the Palestinians when Israel was created in their land. Indeed, the ethnic cleansing has been ongoing ever since. Ignorant normalisers like these journalists from the UAE and Bahrain are lying.
They claim that Israel is all about "coexistence", whereas on Friday Lee Yaron wrote about the children of foreigners and workers being segregated from other children in Israeli schools. "A Haaretz investigation has found that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality is sending hundreds of children of asylum seekers and migrant workers to schools designated just for them, in which there are no Israeli children," she said.
The issue is not only about segregation, but also lower education standards. "The educational standards there are often different too," she noted. Indeed, a child of an asylum seeker, "Nahum", was accepted to enter a school for Israeli children but was then denied and is "now in third grade [and] still doesn't know how to read and write." While Israeli officials deny such segregation, Yaron found that, "Official figures from the municipality [of Tel Aviv], reported here for the first time, paint a clear picture: 2,228 out of 2,433 children of asylum seekers and migrants (91.5 per cent) in elementary school attend schools that are for foreigners only."
In its editorial on the same issue, Haaretz asked, "Why Is Pluralist, Liberal Tel Aviv Segregating Foreign Children at School?" This reflected the shock that the kind of segregation seen in other Israeli cities like Petah Tikva, Eilat and Netanya, is happening in the "enlightened, pluralist and liberal" Tel Aviv. Discrimination is widespread across Israeli society and enshrined in law. It is especially noticeable in education, healthcare, the judiciary and housing.
According to America's Human Rights Watch, the Jewish Nation-State Law adopted by Israel in 2018 i "makes it a national priority to build homes for Jews but not others, and revokes the status of Arabic as an official language of Israel." In the same report, it stated that Israeli occupation "approved [in 2019] plans for 5,995 housing units in West Bank settlements, excluding East Jerusalem, as compared to 5,618 in all of 2018." Meanwhile, it "destroyed 504 Palestinian homes and other structures in 2019 as of November 11… The demolitions displaced 642 people as of September 16, more than the total number of people displaced in 2018 (472)."
The same report pointed out that the Israeli government "continued to enforce severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians' human rights; restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip; and facilitate the transfer of Israeli citizens to settlements in the occupied West Bank, an illegal practice under international humanitarian law."
Moreover, "Israeli forces stationed on the Israeli side of fences separating Gaza and Israel continued to fire live ammunition at demonstrators inside Gaza who posed no imminent threat to life, pursuant to open-fire orders from senior officials that contravene international human rights standards. HRW cited informed sources that Israeli forces killed 34 Palestinians and injured 1,883 with live ammunition during the protests in 2019. To this must be added the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel between 2008 and 2014 during the occupation state's military offensives. Thousands more have received life-changing injuries and tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed.
Other organisations such as Amnesty International and Israel's own B'Tselem have documented Israeli violations against the Palestinians. And yet these fools from the UAE and Bahrain believe that the Israeli occupation is a blessing and the Palestinians are beasts. Are they blind as well as stupid?
Of course, telling lies in order to whitewash Israel's violations of international law and human rights is now official government policy in the UAE, Bahrain and, presumably, the other recent normalisers Sudan and Morocco. Their claims that normalisation has stopped Israeli violations are entirely false. Such "journalists" and "activists" do neither themselves nor their people any favours by peddling their lies. Do these unprincipled liars know or even care about Israel's crimes?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.