Massad Abu-Toameh (Image credit: Facebook Screenshot)
Few people can understand the high stakes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict better than someone who has suffered from it.
Massad Abu-Toameh, an expert on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs and now a respected public figure in the Arab community of Jerusalem, is one of those people. In 1988, he found himself imprisoned in Syria in solitary confinement 120 feet below the ground. He could not have known then that he would spend over a decade locked up in Assad’s black hole.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Herald, Abu-Toameh said that at that time, as a young and ambitious journalist, he had believed he could conduct an investigation that could not only make a difference in the situation but that could "save both the Palestinian and Israeli people." He believed Arab states were pushing Palestinians towards suicide attacks during the first Intifada and wanted to investigate the facts.
Thinking he could write freely on the ways in which Arab governments, including Assad's, used Palestinians and manufactured causes for political gain, he had naively journeyed to Syria. His miscalculation concerning the freedom of the press cost him his next 14 years of independence.
He arrived in Syria at the height of the first Intifada and talked with young Palestinians from Jerusalem, trying to convince them not to "sacrifice their lives just to be used by some Arab regimes as cannon fodder." The fallout of the conversations was perhaps predictable: the Syrians arrested him, claiming he was "an Israeli spy," imprisoned him and threw away the key.
Abu-Toameh did not know then that he had been kidnapped by a Palestinian faction operating under the auspices of the Syrian regime. He was held in an underground cell beneath a Damascus training base. His abduction was not disclosed and no demands were made; the Syrian government repeatedly denied he was in the country. Following years of efforts by his family, Abu-Toameh was finally released by the Syrian regime, returning to his family in Jerusalem in December of 2001.
Since his return to Israel, he has worked as a consultant on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs to governments, corporations and media, testifying at a Knesset briefing in July 2016, despite the permanent damage to his health caused by the 14-year ordeal of solitary confinement and torture.
From his unique vantage point, Abu-Toameh believes that the Arabs in Jerusalem, and the Palestinians as a whole, have “lost hope in anything and everything… The long-awaited dream of a day when a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital has disappeared from the hearts of most Palestinians. They no longer believe in any positive change happening, and that is strictly the outcome of what many Arab governments have done."
Abu-Toameh has advocated for an end to violence and worked to expose the political calculations of the region by which Palestinians are being used and Israelis are getting hurt. A similar concern was recently expressed by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in a speech vetoing the UN Security Council Resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, in which she said political leaders should consider the harm they cause to “the very Palestinian people they claim to speak for. What does it gain the Palestinian people for their leaders to throw up roadblocks.”
"This is all about common sense really,” Abu-Toameh explains, stating that if the Arabs are seeking to liberate Palestine, “as we Arabs have done for 70 years or so, what will be the outcome? Being ruled by a corrupt state? Having no running water and no electricity? ...Humans are humans, and all we have seen from those Arab countries being liberated with either the Arab Spring or areas in the West Bank being handed to the Palestinian Authority, is Arab people suffering."
In the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s historic decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Abu-Toameh continues, "If any Arab government is angry that the Palestinians are not taking to the street and launching a third Intifada against Jerusalem's decision by Trump, I say to them: Sorry, we won't be doing the fighting and the dying part on behalf of your wishes while you are sitting in your air-conditioned living room."
Abu-Toameh, who runs an organization called "DIWAN: The Jerusalem Center for Cultural Development and Equality," believes "most Arabs in Jerusalem have not been really concerned with Trump's decision. They know that Israel already has its Prime Minister's Office and its government in Jerusalem and it already treats it as its capital. The ones who seem angry are those who live far away and really have nothing to do with us.”
“Look at the European Union - suddenly they love Jerusalem and see it as the biggest problem in the world. Sorry, they are hypocrites and knowingly or unknowingly do not care for Arabs in Israel or the Palestinian people. If they did, they should see what is happening to our people in Lebanon, what is happening to them in Syria, or even in Ramallah!"
"EU and others simply don't care, because they are enjoying this profitable game called the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has given them political revenue at the expense of the blood of my people and the innocent Israeli people," adds Abu-Toameh.