The Aftermath Of The Iran Deal: What Can We Expect From Iran?

The Iran deal has caused quite a stir amongst regional Arab states and Israel. As much as we would like to think that the deal has been done and dusted, many debate the place and behaviour of a reemerging, sanction free Iran. Politicians from Saudi Arabia to Israel and to the shrills of the Congress and the White House, all echo the dim and gloomy warnings of a stronger Iranian rise of terror now that the deal has been struck.

International Relations theories have time after time tried to explain the rise of regional hegemony and the tactics in a multipolar world. Walt, Mearsheimer and Morgenthau amongst many have predicted how states would react to a new rising power or why a state would want to be as threatening as a 1930s’/40s’ Germany. In a nutshell, the theories explain that if a state would feel threatened by other regional powers it will seek to obtain its own force of influence. However, if you appease such a rising power it will refuse to obey and be contained, such as Hitler in the 1930s’. Enter Iran, a case that is no longer fixated on because of the deal, centrifuges, uranium or transparency but rather because of the fact that the deal took on a life of its own. What if Obama is appeasing Iran? What if Iran is a rising regional power that is best contained by sanctions? What if its new-found influence will inflict terror on minority groups and will allow it to extend its arm into other regional chaos as it does with the Houthis in Yemen?

Predictions offer a great deal of insight and understanding but they can also just be false promises. Yes, Iran’s aggressive attitude might worsen and its regional meddling might not stop. But then again, it also might. How many deals such as the Iran deal have been made in the Middle East or even in history? Not as many as we would like to assume. Wars on the other hand are common and to some a daily recurrence of a harsh, cold reality. As much as we would like to believe that the Iran deal is but a fairy tale script that would unravel as soon as sanctions are lifted, it could also force Iran to face a reality in which it does not exist in a vacuum. If it hopes to get its economy back on its feet and strike oil deals with states like India (Iran used to be its second largest oil supplier and now seventh) then it has to get its act together. If anything, the deal creates the necessary breathing space to monitor the actions of a nuclear-free Iran and to open up possibilities for cohesion and negotiations on other issues. It could quite possibly foster cooperation that other regional states should take an advantage of. It would also set an example of the consequences of obtaining a bomb or participating in a nuclear arms race to other regional countries that seek nuclear power.

The Middle East is no stranger to chaos and conflict and it is home to many terror cells and organisations. Therefore, to expect that that chaos will tone down, regardless of whether or not the deal was made, is also an illusion that many politicians in the region have. Crippling the Iranian economy or as Israel would have it, go to war over the summer with Iran will not solve the Palestinians’ problems, the refugee issues, the child soldiers recruited by ISIS or the lack of human rights. It doesn’t stop the Houthis in Yemen or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria either, nor will it prevent the bloodshed spilled on the borders of Lebanon or stop the Syrian death toll. Even if Iran vanishes into thin air, it does not stabilise the region. It is because Iran is not the source of all the terrible issues that burden this region. It is plagued with a series of unstable bloodthirsty dictators that toppled down one government after another and created a power vacuum up for grabs after they have long gone.

Israel was once, and still is thought of, as a pariah state that conveniently sits in the Middle East, squeezed between Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. Many Arab states seek its demise and think that if it pulled a disappearing act it would stabilise the region. However, as much as we would like to laugh that idea off, it is an existing perception, the same haunting perception that others have on Iran. It does not solve anything. As a result, the deal will not worsen or better this situation. We are forgetting that in this day and age of nuclear weapons, complex challenges in every region and the global war on terror, working with adversaries is the way forward. We should at least foster dialogue and cooperation while seeking to contain their actions and, as Jonathan Powell suggests, to ‘talk to terrorists’.

We need to challenge the assumption that the deal will somehow magically transform Iran. The deal is not meant to transform the Islamic regime, nor is it meant to turn Iran from a theocracy to a democracy. We should stop fixating on such transformations and focus on what it is: a nuclear deal. It is meant to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear bomb and as a result lift the sanctions that have been destroying Iran’s economy and victimising its people. It is not meant to bend the arm of the current supreme leader of Iran, Khamenei or creep western morals and habits into Iran. Instead of thinking of everything we cannot gain from the deal (a democratic or a “moderate” Iran), we should focus on the fact that it is a deal that avoided an unnecessary war or preemptive strike and achieved justice for the people of Iran through effective diplomacy. In this case, I do not think of terms such as containment, punishment and hegemony. At the end of the day, it’s easy to sum up that diplomacy won.


Breaking The Silence Of The Cold War: Should There Be A Western Military Support And Assistance In Ukraine?

Dobry den” is the first word that I can recall from my Russian Foreign Policy class when I was twenty years old. From as long as I can remember Russian foreign affairs and history are topics I enjoyed delving into.

Tzar Nicholas II, The Russian Revolution, The Soviet Union and all the Russian tactics that make absolutely no sense to Americans, such as: out suffering the enemy with harsh cold conditions, the pride that still remains left over after the USSR has long crumbled, the fear of NATO and US troops in Russia’s former satellite countries and the habit of showing off the purchase of new weaponry in public ceremonies. These make Russian tactics fascinating.

The partnership between the United States and Russia has never been easy. After the Cold War, there was not much else to say: America:1, Russia: 0. It seemed that this competition and the obsession over the defeat of the Cold War was never going to be over no matter how many summits the US share with the Russians. It seemed that the former KGB Putin was still harbouring ill-will and was determined to let America know that the Cold War is far from over.You can hear the shrill rhetoric of the Kremlin about the idea that Ukraine would be a member of the European Union and NATO or that South Ossetia and Abkhazia would ever claim independence without Russian support.

Russia was never here nor there, it was never clear if it is a European country that sought to never join the EU or it was comfortably placed in Asia amongst its other Asian allies. It is no secret that Russia keeps a close eye on European politics, desperately trying to play nice with the big powerful countries club: America, UK, Germany and France. Russia was determined to be thought of as a superpower and its quest for this status never stopped when at the same time, it partnered with a regional rising superpower, China. Understanding Putin’s head is like trying to take a stroll in the Kremlin, dangerous and impossible. Time after time, Putin managed to resist staying out of Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine. Meddling in the affairs of the Middle East, which had been the playground for the Americans and the Russians in the Cold War, and even having a say about the Iran Nuclear Deal proved that Russia is not easy to ward off.

Moscow’s latest dealings with Crimea and Ukraine have put a strain on Russia’s economy through western sanctions. Merkel has constantly warned Russia against its Ukrainian involvement and Washington has given Moscow the cold shoulder with its no show at Russia’s propaganda filled Veteran Day parade in May this year. Russia is willing to endure this to get what it wants despite the sanctions taking a toll on its economy, the Russian oligarchs’ pocket money as well as its oil prices. So what do you do with a Putin controlled Russia?

It is not clear whether or not Putin’s sought after control of Crimea and Ukraine will show that Russia is still in charge of its former states or whether it will prove to Obama and the leaders of the western world that Russia is too a superpower and that their involvement is unwelcome. Perhaps it will be a combination of both. What is clear however, is that the economic sanctions are not working and an end to Kyiv’s battle with Moscow is far from over.

Sanctions do constrain capacity, they do not constrain behaviour” said James Sherr when sharing his opinions about whether or not the west should go beyond sanctions in order to provide assistance to the Ukraine’s dealings with the Russian military force. Perhaps, the Russians did not see the possibility of the attack escalating in Ukraine the way it did and assumed it’s a sure win that would turn the state of Ukraine to a 2008 Georgia. However, the Ukrainians are fighting back and their morale seems to only grow with war. Up until now the Russians are controlling less than five per cent territory in Ukraine. However, Ukraine’s capacity to fight in the long run will lack the means to combat well-armed Russian troops. It seems that the current western approach to halt Russia’s actions in Ukraine is to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons. Although this request was denied before by Obama, many now believe that NATO’s contribution and Ukraine’s military force are not enough to handle the current escalated situation.

I, on the other hand belong to another group that believes in resisting lethal military support to Kyiv. Ukraine is with out a doubt unequipped to handle the lethal weaponry that they are asking for. Ukraine’s military defence is worn out, underfunded and over time Ukraine has struggled to employ capable defence minsters.

Ukraine is also endemic to chaos and political, economic and social problems. The idea that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands is a bigger possibility than the lethal weapons actually contributing to the war against the separatists. As Scott Sagan once warned, the repercussions of giving weapons to an already unstable government and risking these weapons ending up in the wrong hands are far more dangerous than not being involved. An example of this is Taliban in Afghanistan that got a hold of US weaponry.

If Ukraine obtains lethal weapons, the war would escalate even further, causing more bloodshed. What remains a viable option is further efforts to take a dab at diplomacy with Russia and perhaps, helping Ukrainian forces with better guidance from the United States and NATO.

The Clash Of The Titans: Who Is Islamic State And Al-Qaeda And What Should We Do To Counter Them?

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Guerrilla warfare has been used as a tactic by rebels in Latin America and Africa. There are quite possibly many theories as to why a collective group of people would decide to launch an attack on another. Whether the attack derives from a minority that seeks to bring down the rule of the majority or a strategy used by the majority to control the minority. Each and every case is single handedly reviewed differently.

In the Middle East, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are placed under the umbrella of terrorism.

The power vacuum, Arab Spring and extreme Islamist ideologies are among the many reasons given to explain the rise of such a phenomenon.

To many, 9/11 has been the starting point to explain why and how such a catastrophe took place. Bush’s war on terrorism swept Iraq and Afghanistan to rubble with no solution in sight. What was supposed to be a temporary war ended up being a permanent aching backbone to every Western politician that has no clue on how to deal with one terror group’s rise after another.

What was once a region of authoritarian dictators has sweepingly become a breeding ground for terrorist groups once the dictators have been toppled down.

9/11 and other horrific tragic terrorist events have made a mark on the 21st century. Statistics, election results and a shift to the right-wing bloc in the Western democratic countries only provide evidence of the instigated fear and suspicion the Western public now has towards Arab-speaking immigrants. Leaving a chilling and indifferent feeling over how the Muslim population at large may feel from this prosecution and unwelcome treatment in the West and the senseless, endless debates about veils. It became everyone’s mission to the save the Middle East with no real understanding of the diverse ethnic minorities that exist in the Middle East or the wide range of dialects that differ from one place to the next. Many are quick to blame Islam, or even worse, do not even understand the vital difference between these terrorist groups and why a comparison between them and every Muslim should not be made.

Who is Islamic State and Why they are not Al-Qaeda?

There was an incomprehensible understanding amongst Western leaders on the word ‘terrorism’ and how to define it or let alone how to battle against it. American missions to Iraq and Afghanistan left hundreds dead for no clear cause. No Western country could understand if they were losing or winning. It was even worse explaining these missions to the media and the public back home who could not understand why some of their soldiers never came back, who it is they are fighting against and why they should be involved in wars in a chaotic region in the first place.

Many assumed that traveling to the Middle East to defeat Al-Qaeda would put an end to terrorism. The Arab Spring brought hope to many that finally a change was happening in the region: no more Qadafi in Libya or Hussein in Iraq and next would be Asad in Syria. However, the Syrian civil war dragged on, Islamic State exploited the situation in Iraq and Syria to make its debut and Iran-backed Houtis popped up in Yemen. It seemed that the term terrorism was not getting any simpler. Many began making the mistake that Al-Qaeda is Islamic State and vice versa, labeling every terrorist group under one banner.

In order to understand this phenomenon that has gripped the modern century, one must understand the difference between Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. With no careful explanation as to why and in what ways both groups differ, we will not be able to understand how to counter them.

The Clash of the Titans:

Many are unaware that Islamic State and Al-Qaeda do not just differ in strategy and ideology, but are in fact each other’s nemesis.

A large number of scholarly work went into explaining the rise of Al-Qaeda. Such explanations include the terrorist group’s hatred for Western interference in the Middle East, modernisation that might interfere with their perception of Islam and their yearning for a return to the days of the Islamic empire.

Al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal is to overthrow the dictatorship regimes that are an indignant part of the Middle East and establish Islamic governments instead. They value a more far off strategy rather than a regional one. Al-Qaeda believes that the core support for the Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes comes from the United States. By targeting America, they believe they can cut off American support to the Middle Eastern dictatorship regimes and will allow them to gain momentum in the region, making the United States their number one enemy.

Al-Qaeda seeks to unite all Muslims together in attack or jihad against the West. The primary differences between Sunni and Shi’ites does not really concern them. 9/11 was an example of a tragic and horrific event to punish the United States and to convince it to back out of Middle Eastern soil. Al-Qaeda targeted symbolic and meaningful sites in order to dramatise their attacks. Al-Qaeda has never shown ambition to conquering land. Rather, it sought Muslim support from the region first, and the control in the territory because it believed those were the initial steps to establish an Islamic state.

Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) is headed by Baghdadi who was originally part of Al-Qaeda. His collusion course with the group resulted in a split and the formation of Islamic State. Baghdadi had a different ideology and strategy for Al-Qaeda which is now the basis of Islamic State. The Islamic State believes in a regional strategy. They want to build an Islamic State in which they can create one government in the region for all Muslims to abide by its same laws.

Islamic State believes that in order to spread worldwide they must first abolish or ‘beat clean’ the authoritarian or Islamic regimes in the Middle East. Their primary enemies are regimes such as in Abadi’s Iraq and Asad’s Syria and not the the United States. This purification of the regional Middle Eastern regimes is not exclusively devoted to Iraq and Syria but rather a plethora of other minorities and regimes that the Islamic State disapproves of. This could be seen in their ruthless acts of beheading and killing not only Christian minorities in the region but also Muslims that are identified as not following what they believe as the ‘true’ religion of Islam. These include Shi’ites, Kurds, Hizbollah and rival oppositions in Syria.

Islamic State uses methods of extreme violence to terrorise and get attention to their group and also includes destroying ancient ruins in Syria and Iraq and anyone that dares to fight back.

Let the Titans Clash:

The different ideologies have made both terrorist groups enemies. Of course, the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media has given Islamic State a stronger grip than the days of the rise of Al-Qaeda when there were no forms of social media.

Islamic State is moving at a pace that is outmatching Al-Qaeda. Social media have given Islamic State a bigger platform to appeal to the younger generation as opposed to Zwahari’s outdated methods with Al-Qaeda.

If the United States and other Western countries play their cards right, they could exploit the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda feud to their advantage in order to diminish them for good. As support for Al-Qaeda has been dwindling and the same has probably happened to the Islamic State (the more they produce disgusting images of beheading and rape), now is the time to take advantage of their rivalry and allow both groups to play off against each other to finally pull the brakes on their operations.

Western countries will need to cooperate with regional allies in order to ensure their security against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda as well.

The British Election Results: What Can We Expect Of A Tory Led Britain?

The morning of the British election results in my house was equivalent to that of rushing down the stairs on Christmas Day to open presents under the tree. In my household I was the only one who was nearly as excited as a school kid’s last day before the summer holiday.

The British elections had been on people’s minds a few months in advance. I remember sitting next to a man on a big red 91 bus on the way back from Trafalgar Square. He was a middle aged man from Barbados who had lived in London for eight years, holding a newspaper, discussing his frustrations with the country with his wife out loud.

I couldn’t help but overhear and interrupt him with a simple question: “who would you vote for then in the upcoming elections?” The man had no clue, jumping from a topic about Labour to Conservatives to UKIP.

I can say I lived in London for almost two years and if I had to go to that polling station I would probably have no clue either. I would have no clue because I would have had a major dilemma: is there a proper leader fit to run Britain? In my opinion, absolutely not. It is a similar dilemma I had when I had to go cast my vote at the Israeli elections.

Still, when it came down to election day, there was a lot of buzz about Miliband and Cameron being neck in neck in votes. The were was a lot of talk about the fear of the SNP holding Miliband down, Miliband’s face getting splattered all over the tabloids in the most unflattering way and the struggle of the Tories to secure votes and UKIP gaining momentum now more than ever. But let’s face it does anyone really like Farage and UKIP?

The buzz and the hype made it all seem that there was bound to be something different, that something big was going to happen. In my mind I could already see people protesting to get Cameron out of Downing if he considered the coalition between the SNP and Labour as illegitimate. However, Britain woke up to…Cameron again. Nothing had changed, Cameron was back at No. 10 and we were left heartbroken. Why? Because it was all the same when it seemed it was going to be different. Is Sturgeon really the bogyman? I wondered, even though I didn’t really think so. It seemed that Britain woke up believing Cameron was the bogeyman holding all the reigns. This time there will be no Lib Dems, this time it’s the Tories full on, Labour minus Miliband and 56 angry Scots ready to take on the Tories and a shot at independence one more time.

Where Is Britain Headed?

In the aftermath of the Tory victory, the secure overall majority and new line policies include: constituency boundary changes which will make it harder to get the Tories out of office, scrapping the Human Rights Act, less employment rights, a referendum on Europe, austerity, less privacy which means basically monitoring your citizens and what they are up to, welfare cuts etc. No wonder people are mad enough to riot, probably wishing the Lib Dems’ return.

Tory supporters are most likely to claim that when the Conservatives are in office there will be a better economy, a better funded NHS, talks of taxes and more taxes and welfare and more visible blonde hair. I am talking to you, Boris Johnson.

A Tory Britain And The Middle East

Opinions might be gloomy over Cameron’s return to Downing but what about the rest of us? What can a region like the Middle East expect of a Tory led Britain?

Probably not a great deal of support for Syrian refugees, Britain prefers financial aid rather than taking in more refugees like Germany.

Backing America up to a point on its ambitious adventures in the Middle East (the UK will probably not consider another mission like Afghanistan in a while). The British government has “little appetite for sending soldiers abroad” as The Guardian once mentioned.

And finally, an unsettling abundance of support to Mr. Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.It is no secret that Cameron supports Israel, he is a close ally to Netanyahu. I don’t have a problem with Cameron supporting Israel, I have problem with Cameron’s support for Netanyahu.

In Israel, talks of the UK elections were a “hot topic”. Israelis gushed with pride that Cameron used similar tactics in securing results as Netanyahu did: using fear to drive people to the polls to vote Conservatives. Comparing the British fear of: ‘the Scots are coming!’ to the Israelis and Netanyahu’s fear: the Arabs were “moving in droves to the polls”. Let’s not forget both are credited for being great with the economy and yet I couldn’t find a cheap studio flat in London so I had to stand somewhere between the kitchen and my bed if I needed space which seems pretty similar to flat hunting in Tel-Aviv: annoying and expensive.

As funny as it is to compare the fear of Scots to the fear of Arabs in Israel (because Israelis will jump at an opportunity to showcase that racism exists everywhere), the Scots/Arab analogy is not what really bothers me. The fact that Cameron supports an extreme right wing government of Israel is a concern for me. Cameron certainly has shown a lack of consideration for the Palestinians and the lack of support to press on the matter of a two-state solution. Despite Cameron’s statements in the past about Gaza and how it should not continue to be a prison camp, he does support Israeli’s right to defend itself, claiming that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. I wonder if that is still the case with a newly formed extreme right-wing religious government of Israel especially after toying with the promises of a Jewish nation-state bill that puts Judaism as a priority and above democracy in Israel. It did not stop Cameron however, from gaining support among Jewish communities that were more favorable to the Tories than a Jewish Labour (Ed Miliband) opponent who is well known for condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.

The Palestinians can therefore, certainly expect minimal support beyond financial aid from the Tory party which does not really go a long way in helping the Palestinians.

Cameron can navigate Britain to be an ally to Israel but also push Israel to negotiations with Palestinians. He can steer Britain to be less harsh to its British Muslim citizens and can still know where to push his hard line terrorism policies (that doesn’t border on racism). He can help both the Israelis and the Palestinians if he is a firm believer in human rights, but he cannot be a leader of a country that stands for democracy and freedom and remain as supportive of a Netanyahu government at the same time. But really, what can I expect of a man that wants to scrap the Human Rights Act? Absolutely nothing, good luck Britain!

Luckily, the only remaining optimism that I am clinging onto is one that is enabling every feminist and woman to be overjoyed by the fact that Westminster is admitting more women than ever before and the thought that every party except the conservatives is led by a female. Maybe the only thing I do look forward to with the Tories is Boris Johnson flapping his hair and his blunt jokes which I find amusing.

Crisis In U.S.-Israeli Relationship: Has It Really Come To This?

11163591_799928160090639_179906450_oThe apocalypse is coming! No, its not the Iran deal, its not Islamic State (IS), nor is it the Houthis in Yemen or Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is the fact that for the first time in history the relationship between Israel and the United States has reached an egregious state, perhaps its nadir.

The affair between Israel and the United States has been one of the perhaps lasting alliances in history. It was a relationship built on trust and plenty of financial support.

The United States has always looked after Israel’s interest and acted like an iron curtain, shielding it from the corrupt and chaotic region it inhabits.

From its infancy, Israel as a young democratic state in an authoritarian Middle East, was seen as the only possible ally for the United States. Both countries shared similar values, principles, common ground on democracy and a robust stance and presence in the Middle East. Although the United States had a string of other alliances in the Middle East, Israel was a consistent relationship.

A Camp David, Oslo Accords, Road Map and peace initiatives later, America’s relationship with Israel was going strong. America was there during peace talks with Arafat over the Palestinians and was there to defend Israel against a Soviet backed, Nasser’s Egypt when the Middle East turned into a playground between the Soviet Union and the United States. America was also there to reassure Israel of the toppling Arab Spring domino effect that was and still is taking place in the region.

One can quickly understand that this is not just a relationship and an alliance but a genuine friendship of trust that has secured Israel’s safety and reassured it its place in the international scene when the Arab states refused to make a place for it in the region. Therefore, running the risk of losing this friendship could be fatal.

Israel has made its sentiments over the Iran deal very clear. It has pointed out the flaws and concerns over bargaining for a better deal and perhaps lobbying Congress to condemn the recent talks and put a halt on diplomacy.

The Obama administration has issued numerous statements reassuring Israel that no harm will be bestowed on Israel through this deal and that they are taking the necessary measures to achieve a nuclear bomb free Iran. John Kerry has even recently claimed that what America has achieved through diplomacy, Israel wanted to go to war over. What looks like a successful outcome to the Iran deal was met with a bitter disagreement by the Israeli government, especially Netanyahu.

However, in the midst of Netanyahu’s dogmatic approach to the Iran deal, what has began to surface was an even bigger concern that was never there: losing the friendship with the United States. Days after Netanyahu’s persistence, the White House issued a joke about Israel’s concern with the Iran nuclear deal by drawing a bomb that is similar to the bomb drawing Netanyahu flashed at the United Nations speech when he discussed Iran.

Israel is not only risking a simple ridicule or a late April fools joke from the White House but rather a worse outcome: being ignored or even the beginning of a suspicious relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Of course this was not something that festered over night but it did gain momentum with the speech Netanyahu stubbornly made at Congress after Obama and other members urged him not to do so. It was the fact that Netanyahu and Obama openly showcased their distrust and animosity to each other and the fact that Netanyahu won’t back down and allow diplomacy to take its course over the Iran nuclear deal.

We have long abandoned the idea that peace with Arab countries in the region will be reached overnight but the idea that we are isolating ourselves, pariah almost, from the rest of the international community especially America is alarming. This is not to say that the international community including America is anti-Israel, no, it is becoming anti-Netanyahu. If Israel plays its cards right and backs down it might salvage a relationship that took years to build.

How much do we know about the Christian Arabs in Israel?

DSCN0018Hopping into a cab and driving to your destined location, seems a normal task as any. In Israel however, in most cases, it is a chance to get a glimpse of what the average Joe thinks about politics. Every time I am in a cab I find myself engaged in a conversation about politics, not because it’s what I really want to get into with a complete stranger, but it is a topic that in Israel everyone has a say about.

Heading home from Tel-Aviv, passing by the Shuk Hapishpeshim in Jaffa on a cool Friday evening I was asked by the cab driver what my plans were for the Passover (Peseach) holiday. Slightly off -put, I looked him in the eyes through the rear-view mirror and said: “I’m not Jewish, I’m Christian Arab”. He glances back before he turns his head to traffic and says: “What does that mean? Aren’t all Arabs Muslim?”. For a moment I did not pass judgment; after all, he might be someone who has not lived here for a very long time and might be a new ‘Olah’ to the country, so I asked him this: “For how long have you lived here?”, “For forty years” he shoots back.

I am not one to judge. After all I am judged by the way I speak, by the way I look and constantly haunted by the question: “you don’t look Arab” insinuating that there has to be a special Arab factor that singles me out or the fact that I am not wearing a headscarf is alarming. We are pointing out the stereotypes, no?

However, at that moment I did judge, I judged this Israeli taxi driver who has lived in Israel for forty years, had the radio on a news channel, politically aware, hard working man, a voter and a citizen, for not being able to tell me that he knew that there is a Christian Arab minority in his own country and not being aware of what it means.

Christian Arabs comprise around two percent of the Israeli population. Faith? Christianity. Ethnicity? Arab.  Confused as I was, his response startled me. Christian Arabs vote, go to university, work in this country and get married in it. Simply visit Jerusalem, Jaffa and Nazareth amongst other areas and you will find all of those facts to be true. After all, isn’t a Holy Land for all three religions?

Christian Arabs are always mistaken for being the same as Muslim Arabs. Although they share the same ethnic identity and language, Christianity dates back earlier than the rise of Islam.

Christian Arabs don’t only have a religious history that separates them from their Arab Muslim counterparts but also have a separate struggle that came after the newly independent state of Israel in 1948. In 1948 there were 150,000 Arabs that remained in Israel and out of those 150,000, forty percent were Christian Arabs. However, all throughout the 1940s and 1960s the Christian Arab population went through a struggle because the population was almost entirely wiped out.

Fast forward years later, the Christian Arab community still holds up with a small, almost two percent in Israel. It is a thriving small population that takes pride in its tight-knit community and preservation of its customs and habits. It is this time of year that the largest denomination in Israel, the Greek Orthodox, step out and showcase their pride, wear their traditional scouts costume for everyone to see at the annual Easter parade in Jaffa. Inviting over ten other scouts to participate, that display of a Christian tradition in Jaffa is loud enough in itself to attract attention to the community and exert its willingness to triumph on with pride despite its ill -recognition in the media and even almost the entire Israeli society of its existence.

Why is this important to know?

The key feature of a democratic state is being aware of its minorities and engaging them in society. It is vital to Israel’s democratic character and stability to be mindful of its minorities. However, in Israel either a large group of people clump the minorities under one category or repel the idea that different minorities exist in the country, the Christian Arabs being an example of this behavior.

The Christian Arabs, I see, are a voice of a community that is neglected. A voice that is as much part of this country as the Muslim Arab minority and the Jewish majority. We should stress hearing it because at the end of the day the minorities that live in this country are just as part of the rest. They make this country diverse, authentic and different. They hold the key to its potential and change. We shouldn’t repel difference but embrace it because it might be the solution to the aged long question of whether there can ever be peace in the region and in this country. The minorities hold the key to that problem. Respect the minorities, embrace them, engage them in society and you will hear compelling voices that make up the core of a functioning civic society that can exist in Israel. Otherwise, we will run the risk of hearing the same old arguments.

The last elections might have just proved one thing: there is a large number of people in this country that still believe in its tremendous potential. What I have seen was not a Likud victory but people campaigning, running to the ballot box, protesting and standing at Kikar Rabin, Arabs voting like never before, all for the sake of change and embracing the minorities in the country should be part of that change.

As things have dwindled down and conversations shifted to talks about the future coalition and the impact of the Iran deal, one can’t help but still have a will to fight on for a better change.

Arriving at my destination in the taxi, it seemed that I learned a thing or two as well. As we talked about Yemenis traditional cooked dishes and culture, politics and religious holidays, the differences and confusion aired away. I looked out the window at this beautiful country that has so much potential. People from all walks of life, aged old stories, memories, the smell of cooking in the air and the sound of the Muslim call for prayer on a cool Friday afternoon and then I remembered why I left this place with such a heavy heart because I always wondered deep down: why can’t we all just talk like this?

What Does The Iran Nuclear Deal Actually Mean To Israel?

AP118756213566-1074x483 In 1977 the Egyptian leader, Anwar Sadat did the unthinkable, stepped off a plane in Israel and faced the Israeli leaders and public in the midst of war. “Everyone in Israel was glued to the television” my mother recalls. It was a historic moment. An unforgettable one because it was the first time a leader from the Arab world came demanding peace. At the time people could not imagine peace with Egypt. Sadat stood in front of Knesset and faced the most challenging task that Israel still faces today: trust. Sadat’s historic speech at Knesset was one that perhaps laid the foundations of why Israel is unable to reach peace in its region. He spoke of psychological barriers, barriers that still exist today. Among the listed barriers mentioned was the lack of trust, fear and suspicion, which are perhaps the characteristics that come to mind among most Israelis when asked about Iran, Palestinians or any other Arab state. It is those characteristics that hinder negotiation talks and prevent us from electing anyone other than Netanyahu. It is those traits that the Israeli government brings to the table and it is with such attitude that we addressed our conclusion on the Iranian nuclear deal and probably sealed our own fate in alienating ourselves from the rest of the region and, to a greater extent, the world. The Iranian nuclear deal is celebrated on the streets of Tehran. Waving Iranian flags and dancing was the end result to what seems to most European and American leaders as a successful end to a difficult dialogue. If Iran holds its end of the bargain it is unlikely that anything negative would stem out of this deal. Iran holding its end of the bargain is actually what makes up the deal. In a nutshell, the nuclear deal seems to be something along the lines of: ‘you can have a certain amount of nuclear enrichment to perform research but not enough to build a bomb. Cross the red line and sanctions will be the least of your worries’. However, what perhaps impressed me the most was not only the fact that such a deal came through diplomatic means but rather the speech made by the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammed Javad Zarif, in making a reassuring statement that Iran’s purpose with the nuclear energy is not to build a bomb and concluding his speech with the statement of the rare occasion that such a deal was reached through diplomatic means. What seemed like the perfect end to a deal, the world held its breath for the outcome, was tainted with the only pessimistic Prime Minister, Netanyahu, to state that the deal is a “historic mistake”. I am here to say that Netanyahu is wrong. This is not a deal that is bad for Israel. This deal could potentially pave the way to dialogue with Iran, peace in the region and to come to an understanding. I am not saying that this deal could transform Iran’s regime, that is not in Israel’s policies, what should be Israel’s policy however, is seeing such a deal that was resolved through diplomacy as a golden opportunity to resolve other issues in the region through diplomatic understanding. What we could learn from Iran and particularly its Foreign Minister is that we need to perpetuate more speeches that have solutions through diplomacy and negotiations instead of speeches that involve deadlock, pointing fingers and firmly standing in place without compromise. Many claim we do not need this region because we have the rest of the world, but I say why not? The Middle Eastern region is not the same as it used to be. Events such as the Arab spring, the rise of ISIS and the plucking of authoritarian dictators have been a catalyst for crucial change. We are not dealing with the same Middle East that once housed dictators such as Saddam Hussein but rather a region that needs collective action against regional threats such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. If Israel is worried about its survival then it needs to work with the rest of the region if it hopes to stay in place for generations to come. There was a time when Israelis never thought that peace with Jordan and Egypt was possible. There was a time when people would travel from Gaza to work in Jaffa and Tel-Aviv but there was also a time when Israelis did not think that all of that could happen, but it did. What this Iranian nuclear deal means to Israel is just that: possibilities. Not fear, but a gateway to begin to trust in diplomacy and regional partnership. If Iran is planning on building a bomb, it is highly unlikely to develop one with its first generation centrifuges and its low uranium enrichment. Only time will tell what the consequences of the deal might breed but for now I am optimistic in diplomacy and containment of Iran.