Arab Accountability is Missing. But What About the Israeli One?

Arab scholars from the Paris-based think tank Arab Reform Initiative lamented the fact that the term "accountability" does not have a clear single equivalent in Arabic.
February 6, 2024
Protesters take part in a demonstration against Israeli government and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 3, 2024 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The farce at the International Court of Justice in Hague, where Israel, defending itself against a murderous jihadist massacre, is being accused of genocide, turns the term accountability on its head. However, while I don’t expect much from South Africa and its Israel-bashing partners, I am more worried about the impact this shameful spectacle might have on our Arab neighbors, with whom we are destined to live, hopefully in peace. If they are encouraged to never take responsibility for their actions, then the future is bleak indeed.

Last November, BBC correspondent Frank Gardner reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the Joint Arab Islamic Extraordinary Summit. Among the attendees was Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, no longer a pariah in this crowd, although he had managed to kill some half a million of his own people. The Arab leaders were unanimous in blaming Israel and its Western allies for the current plight of the Gazans, and to Gardner’s surprise, “(n)o-one criticised Hamas for its 7 October raid into southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 240 taken hostage, triggering the massive military retaliation.” It was Israel, according to the Secretary General of the Arab League, who had committed criminal acts.

For an Israeli with a long memory like myself, the Secretary General of the Arab League rings a bell. I was only one year old then, but later I found out that in October 1947, the first Secretary General, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, in an interview to a Lebanese newspaper, promised the Jews of Palestine genocide: “This will be a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacre or the Crusader wars.” Azzan visited Amman in May 1948, just days before the regular Arab armies invaded the newborn State of Israel, and was asked by British diplomat Alec Kirkbride whether the Arabs were not concerned about the strength of the Jewish forces. “He waved his hands,” wrote Kirkbride in his memoirs, “and said: ‘It does not matter how many there are. We will sweep them into the sea’.” We know what happened instead: The Arabs were defeated, they lost a big chunk of the land allocated to them by the UN and 650,000 of them had to leave Palestine forever.

On that meeting in Amman, by the way, Azzam proposed that the British General John Bagot Glubb, who commanded the Jordanian Arab Legion, would be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the invading Arab armies, but “we suspected that the hidden idea behind the proposal was to provide a ready-made scapegoat for any future failures,” wrote the wise Brit. Which reminds me of that little anecdote from the First Gulf War, when Saudi General Khalid bin Sultan, after being kicked out by the Iraqi forces from Khafji in northeast Saudi Arabia, requested a letter from General Norman Schwarzkopf, stating it was the U.S. general who had ordered an evacuation from the Saudi town.

Arab scholars from the Paris-based think tank Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), lamented the factthat “(t)he term ‘accountability’ does not have a clear single equivalent in Arabic.” Others, on the other hand, might invoke the famous case of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who, on June 9, 1967, took responsibility for Egypt’s humiliating defeat in the Six Day War and resigned. Masses of protestors who took to the streets, calling upon him to stay, made him change his mind. With a grain of nastiness, though, one may quote Arab scholars who analyzed Nasser’s resignation speech and remarked that he had meticulously called a stunning defeat “Naksa” (setback) only, and that he had devoted much of his speech to put the blame on the United States and others, because allegedly, Israel couldn’t have done it alone.

Pointing fingers at others only, though, is wrong. Let’s not forget that Nasser’s knee-jerk reaction was to take responsibility and resign, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t even thinking about, although under his watch Israel suffered the worst disaster ever. Like Nasser, he might probably try to lean on his rhetoric to save him, and like Nasser again, when the war will be over, or even earlier, hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets, calling his name. Except that in the Israeli case, they will be demanding his resignation, and they will not give up until he finally goes home.

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments (1992-96).

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