My Saudi Pen-Pal

By Stefan Sharkansky

April 20, 2002

 

I exchanged a number of e-mails recently with an official from the Saudi embassy in Washington.  I was left with the distinct impression that the Saudi leadership actively condones suicide bombing as a “courageous” strategy for “oppressed” people to use in order to advance their goals. Given that the Saudi royal family seems to approve of murder of innocents by suicide as a legitimate political act, it only makes sense that so many of the September 11 hijackers were Saudi.  I was also impressed by the official’s willingness to make outrageously false statements that are easy to disprove.  

 

My pen-pal also made the point that Saudi Arabia wants peace and that the crown prince recently put forth a peace proposal. Fair enough. On the other hand, the proposal also included a recognition of the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which is unacceptable to Israel for it would cause the Jews in Israel to be outnumbered by Arabs. So much for peace.

 

I started my correspondence the weekend of April 13. I read news reports about a Saudi telethon that was raising money for Palestine. The money would go to all Palestinian victims of the conflict with Israel, including gunmen and families of suicide bombers. The Saudi King Fahd apparently ordered the telethon as a way to help channel mounting public anger over Israel’s military action in the West Bank. (The messy street demonstrations were starting to get out of hand and threatening his long unpopular regime). In addition to raising over $100 million for aiding the Palestinians, many Saudis used the opportunity to express support for suicide bombings.  A 6-year-old boy with a plastic gun slung over his shoulder and fake explosives strapped around his waist walked into a donation center and made a symbolic donation of plastic explosives.  Another Saudi offered his car, saying he hoped that  “a Palestinian fighter could use it to blow up a military barracks and kill (Israeli) soldiers.” In a fit of outrage I wrote the following email to the official contact address posted on the web site of the Saudi embassy in Washington DC. I didn’t expect a reply.

 

From: Stefan Sharkansky

To: info@saudiembassy.net

Date: Saturday, April 13, 2002

Subject: Yahoo! News - Saudi Telethon for Palestinians

 

how do you explain this?

 

telethons with little children dressed in fake explosive belts? people

donating cars to kill Israelis?

 

does this have the blessing of your government?

 

link to news story

 

I got this reply on Monday morning.

From: Hisham Allagany <hga@saudiembassy.net>

To: Stefan Sharkansky

Date: Monday, April 15, 2002

Subject: RE: Yahoo! News - Saudi Telethon for Palestinians

 

Hello,

Thank you for your e-mail.

 

If you read the article YOU attached, our government does not condone violence and protests. We ask that people send money to help Palestinians who are in need. The Israelis are knocking down homes of Palestinians, cutting off food and water supplies to Palestinian towns, and killing innocent people. We are trying to gather money to feed everyone that needs food. We are gathering money to help get shelter for everyone that needs shelter. We do not support terrorism, but you must admit that both sides are using terrorist methods.

 

The Palestinians have rights too and we support them just as Jews from around the world support the state of Israel. I have plenty of news articles from around Europe that show Israeli army officers doing terrible things, so a kid pretending to do something that causes no harm is not that bad at all to me.

 

Saudi Arabia wants peace in the region. We have put forth a peace proposal that all Arab nations have accepted. They are based on UN resolutions accepted by the world and which Israel is in violation of (in fact Israel is in violation of seventy UN resolutions). The only hope for the region and for ALL innocent people is peace. We hope Israel accepts our proposal and peace can be attained for once and for all.

 

Regards,

Hisham

 

It is true that Saudi officials quoted in the article criticize violence and protests (in the Arab street). There is no indication in the article that any Saudi official does not condone violence against Israel.

 

The next day I read reports that a member of the unelected Saudi “Consultative Council” (presumably the closest thing the absolute monarchy has to a parliament) had apparently written to President Bush and Congress stating that Palestinian suicide bombers are not terrorists and are instead sacrificing “their souls for freedom.” A few days earlier the Saudi ambassador to Great Britain had published a poem praising the teenage girl who blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket, killing 2 Israelis. “The Doors of Heaven are open to her”, he wrote, according to one report. I wrote back to my new pen-pal.

 

From: Stefan Sharkansky

To: Hisham Allagany

Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Subject: (no subject)

 

Hisham,

 

Thank you for your explanation.  Now how do you explain the facts in the following article. (1) the member of your Consultative Council claims that suicide bombing is not terrorism and (2) your ambassador to Great Britain published a poem praising a suicide bomber. Do these individuals express the views of the Saudi government? What is the position of the Saudi government? Is suicide bombing terrorism? Should suicide bombers be praised in the media? Does your government plan to censure and replace its ambassador to Britain?

 

link to news story

 

I got the following response, which diplomatically answered my questions by changing the subject and asking me a few questions.

From: Hisham Allagany <hga@saudiembassy.net>

To: Stefan Sharkansky

Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Subject: RE: (no subject)

 

1. According to the Geneva Convention an occupied people can use whatever means necessary to liberate their land.

 

2. United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 call for an immediate withdawl by Israel of Palestinian territories.

 

3. That mans poem is wrong, but in Israel a stamp was issued in praise of the Israeli terrorist that massacred Arabs as they prayed. Why does no one speak out about that. It was never in the media here in the US. Why?

 

4. We praise the courage of people that have been oppressed for a long time. Living like dogs without water, food and proper shelter will make people do terrible things.

 

5. If Israel is such a good friend of the US, why dont they listen to the US and get out of the re-occupied territories? Do you believe that Israel knows best?

 

6. Sharon is the biggest terrorist in the Middle East, on a par with Osama bin Laden in my view. They have overseen the deaths of an equal number of people.

 

My immediate follow-up, with his earlier statements repeated in bold.

From: Stefan Sharkansky

To: hga@saudiembassy.net

Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Subject: [Fwd: RE: (no subject)]

 

Hisham,

 

I appreciate the opportunity to engage in a mutually respectful dialogue with you.  Although we come from different perspectives, it is helpful to me, as an American who wants peace for both Palestinians and Israelis, to understand the views of the people of Saudi Arabia. Would you be kind enough to answer my follow-up questions to your remarks –

 

1. According to the Geneva Convention an occupied people can use whatever means necessary to liberate their land.I was not aware of this.  But if this were true, the implications would be astonishing not only for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but for many other conflicts. Can you kindly refer me to the specific document and section that states this?

 

2. United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 call for an immediate withdawl by Israel of Palestinian territories I hope that Israel will one day adopt Prince Abdullah's plan or another plan that will permit withdrawal from Palestinian territories in exchange for peace.

 

3. That mans poem is wrong, but in Israel a stamp was issued in praise of the Israeli terrorist that massacred Arabs as they prayed. Why does no one speak out about that. It was never in the media here in the US. Why? Really? If you're speaking about the 1994 Baruch Goldstein incident, you should know that Goldstein was rightly condemned by the Israeli authorities and by the vast majority of Jewish leaders in Israeli and around the world. I cannot find any way to justify what this man did. It would surprise me if the Israeli government issued a stamp to praise him. The following is a link to the catalogue of all Israeli postage stamps issued since the founding of the state. Please tell me which stamp you are referring to.
http://www.israelphilately.org.il/catalog/

 

4. We praise the courage of people that have been oppressed for a long time. Living like dogs without water, food and proper shelter will make people do terrible things. First of all, the suicide bombings started long before the current military operation that temporarily cut off food and water supplies to some people. The fact is that here are many responses to oppression and there are any number of excuses for doing horrible things. In the grand sweep of human history you find relatively well-off people who do terrible things and oppressed people who choose (successfully) to fight their oppression using constructive non-violent means. There is simply no way to explain the suicide bombings as simply the spontaneous acts of desperate people.  These acts are deliberately organized, financed and then promoted in the media. Suicide bombings are not only morally reprehensible, but also a failure. Has this strategy helped the Palestinians win a state? no.  On the other hand, look at successful national liberation movements: India in the 1940s, South Africa in the 1980s, black Americans in the 1950s and 1960s for example. Did any of these people send suicide bombers into their enemy's restaurants? I don't think they did.  On the other hand, I can almost guarantee you that if there were a Palestinian statesman like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King who fought for his people using non-violence and who aspired for peaceful co-existence with the other side, then the Palestinians would win a state and would win peace with the Israelis.

It is up to the responsible Arab states to help ensure such an outcome. If Saudi Arabia wants to be perceived here in the US as a responsible and constructive force in the region, then it is up to your government to behave responsibly and to condemn WITHOUT QUALIFICATION suicide bombings and other forms of violence against Israeli civilians.

 

5. If Israel is such a good friend of the US, why dont they listen to the US and get out of the re-occupied territories? Do you believe that Israel knows best? Israel is a sovereign country. I believe that Israel must make its own choices on the best way to defend itself, just as Portugal, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and other sovereign countries have to choose how defend themselves and might not always agree with the U.S.

 

6. Sharon is the biggest terrorist in the Middle East, on a par with Osama bin Laden in my view. They have overseen the deaths of an equal number of people.

How do you keep score? How many deaths do you believe has each one overseen?  What about other people in the Middle East? How many deaths have, say, Saddam Hussein, the Moslem regime in Sudan, the rulers of Algeria, the various factions in Lebanon, Yassir Arafat and the late Hafez Assad each overseen?

 

His riposte

From: Hisham Allagany <hga@saudiembassy.net>

To: Stefan Sharkansky

Date: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Subject: RE: [Fwd: RE: (no subject)]

 

 

Hello again,

 

FYI I am sending you a list of massacres carried out by the Israelis upon Palestinians. Included at the end of the list are the sources from where the information was obtained. Please go through these one by one and let me know your opinion. Although the image that Israel distributes about herself is that of an oppressed nation, it is with a heavy heart that I present these crimes that stand for themselves for the brutality of the Israeli Army and the heartlessness of its soldiers who seem to have a thirst for blood.

 

It is for the hope that you may see a clearer picture that I present these painful facts. It is interesting to notice that today's media does not dwell on these crimes as they do on the "suicide bombers".

 

attached document

 

Allagany’s document was 1,300-lines describing 58 incidents where Arabs were allegedly massacred by Israelis.  Many of the described events took place in the 1940s during Israeli’s war of independence. There was no discussion of the overall context in which these events took place, no indication of whether these were deliberately planned attacks, accidental casualties during military campaigns, defensive actions during battles or riots. One of the incidents, the 1994 mosque attack by Baruch Goldstein, which was roundly condemned by the Israeli government and mainstream leaders as an outrageous crime by a mentally unstable extremist acting alone, was blamed in the document on “Zionist occupation soldiers”.

 

The document did not contain any mention of Arab attacks on Israelis during the same time period. The referenced sources were almost entirely in Arabic and included works of dubious objectivity, such as “The Palestinian Encyclopedia”, and books with titles like “The Roots and Dimensions of the Crime in Zionist Thought” or “The Palestinian People: Victim of Zionist Massacres and Terrorism”.  Typical of Arab propaganda that cannot bring itself to use the word “Israel”, many passages use phrases like “Zionist policy”, “Zionist’s glee at the sight of Palestinian blood”, or “terrorist Yizhak Shamir, Prime Minister of the Zionist entity”.  The document also included quotes from the Old Testament that would supposedly prove that Israeli soldiers “have a thirst for blood”.

 

My response, later that day

 

From: Stefan Sharkansky

To: Hisham Allagany hga@saudiembassy.net

Date: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Subject:  Re: [Fwd: RE: (no subject)]

 

 

Hisham,

 

It shouldn't surprise anyone that there have been many instances during the last several decades where Jews killed Arabs, Arabs killed Jews or Arabs killed other Arabs. There are also, of course, many passages in the Torah, New Testament and Quran that seem irrelevant or unacceptable in today's world. It's not my place to confirm or dispute any of these claims, so I'll accept that you believe these to be true. But reciting these lists does not help anybody find a solution out of the current situation which is tragic for everyone.

 

In any event, you changed the subject on me.  My question to you was to please document the statements you made earlier and presented as fact. Particularly your statements 1, 3 and 6. I would also hope to hear a statement on behalf of the Saudi government condemning suicide bombings without qualification and encouraging the Palestinians to find a more constructive strategy for advancing their goals, but obviously you can make that statement only if it represents your government's position.

 

thank you,

Stefan

 

I’m still waiting for his reply.

 

Update: In my subsequent correspondence with Hisham, on May 28, 2002, we learn that Saudi Arabia condemns all forms of terrorism, but not suicide bombings against Israelis, which it does not consider to be terrorism.

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