Sunday, February 01, 2009

Kill a Turk and rest a while

You are killing people
~Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

There is an old Jewish tale. A Jewish mother bids farewell to her son, who has been drafted into the Czar's army to fight against Turkey in 1877 [Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878]. The mother is reluctant, as all mothers are, at the prospect of her son going to the war. On the morning of her son’s departure, she says to him: ‘When you get to the front sonny, kill a Turk, and rest’. After you rest go in there again and kill a Turk but don't forget to take a rest. Remember, kill a Turk, and rest a while. ‘But Mother,’ replies the son, ‘what happens if while I'm resting, the Turk kills me?’ ‘Good God,’ says the mother, horrified, ‘why should a Turk kill you? What did you do?’

I was reminded of the Jewish joke when the Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan stalked off the stage this week at Davos, not before reminding the old warhorse Peres [President of Israel] that Israel is killing innocent people in Palestine. A packed power audience that included the likes of UN boss Ban Ki Moon appeared stunned as Erdogan put all niceties aside to tell the old Jewish soldier on his face: ‘There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian’. The penny dropped. The Zionist media screamed in disgust. Someone had the moral courage to tell the emperor that he was stark naked.

[Thank you, I am off]

[PM Erdogan storms out of the discussion]

It is a very strange globe we inhabit. If you talk menacingly about people, you are perceived to be tough. The Israeli’s have always denied the existence of Palestine [a land they grabbed in the first place]. The first Israeli government to talk passingly about a Palestinian state was the ultra right-wing government of Benyamin Netanyahu in 1996. When asked ‘Could Palestinians have a state?’ Peres -- who preceded them – plainly said, ‘No, never.’ And Netanyahu's spokesman was more clear, ‘Yeah, the fragments of territory that we leave to them, they can call it a state if they want. Or they can call it fried chicken’. Prof Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology minces no words in a recent interview: ‘Well, that's basically the Israeli attitude’.

Therefore it is paramount that people with a conscience speak up against this attitude. Turkey is especially strategically placed in this respect. It was the first Muslim country to have a full diplomatic relationship with Israel. For years now both countries have shared steady ties, which have been mostly based on a quid pro quo: Turkey had access to Israel’s advance weaponry while Israel got a foot hold in the Muslim world. That is the reason US values the Israeli-Turkish relationship above everything else. There are commonalities betwixt the two countries – in the middle of the Arab world; neither Muslim Turkey nor Jewish Israel is Arab.

Turkey and Israel also find common ground in their western cultural values and political standards. For decades, Turkish governments stayed out of the Arab-Israel conflict. But that was changed in 2002. The arrival in power of the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi [Justice & Development Party / AKP] spelled the beginning of a dramatic change in Turkey's historic stance toward the region. At a much fundamental level the Turks have always had an emotional attachment to the Palestinians [deriving from intermingled histories and religious connections].

There could well be other aspects to Turkey’s pro-active stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. Turkey has a seat in the United Nations Security Council – from January 2009 -- for a two-year period. And since the country has close ties with both parties to the middle-east conflict, the world will sit up to watch how Turkey takes up this century’s single most important challenge.

There had to be a start. President Obama looks sincere. George J Mitchell has started doing the rounds in the troubled region. Someone had to tell the regional bully that it is behaving ugly.
I’d say Erdogan has begun on a right note.