Monday, June 02, 2008

No room for Israel in Egyptian hearts or maps

CAIRO (Middle East Online) - Israel, which recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its creation, does not exist on maps and atlases in Egypt where the history of the Jewish State is taught only as a painful reality.
Maps sold in Cairo's main bookshops omit Israel, with the area comprising Israel and the occupied territories simply labelled "Palestine" in Arabic.
Sixty years after its creation, and 30 years after the Camp David accords paved the way for a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel exists only virtually as far as its neighbour to the west is concerned.
Breaking ranks with other Arab nations, Egypt was the first to recognise the state of Israel, followed by Jordan and Mauritania. The other 18 member states of the Arab League do not officially recognise Israel.
Maps of the region sold in Egypt are often produced in other countries such as Syria or Lebanon.
"No, there are no maps with the name Israel. We follow the rest of the Arab world in this, peace treaty or not," snapped Ibrahim Mahmud, who works in a bookshop in downtown Fagalla Street.
A widespread boycott of "normalisation" with Israel means there are no Israeli books in libraries and no Israeli films shown on Egyptian screens for fear of lodging Israel into people's consciousness, some observers say.
"It's a type of schizophrenia, a regrettable denial of reality," said Emad Gad, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, who edits a monthly publication of Arabic translations of Israeli texts.
"A cold peace does exist. At the top of the social ladder there is dialogue and business, but at the bottom there is a void," Gad told AFP.
Last week Culture Minister Faruq Hosni came under fire from Israel's ambassador in Cairo Shalom Cohen and from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for saying that he was prepared to burn Israeli books.
He said the comments were meant only as an expression to prove that something does not exist -- in this case Israeli books in Egyptian libraries -- defending the position prevalent among Egyptian intellectual and artistic circles on boycotting Israel.
Hosni stressed that he opposed normalising cultural ties with Israel before it has made peace with the Palestinians.
Egyptians view the events of 1948 as the "Naqba" or catastrophe in Arabic -- the exodus of some 700,000 Palestinians during the first of several wars between Israel and neigbouring Arab states.
In a reflection of predominant opinion, widely read journalist Salam Ahmed Salama described Israel as a "dangerous cancer" in a column headlined "60 terrible years" in the state-owned daily Al-Ahram.
Textbooks, approved and stamped by the ministry of education, do not skip over the birth of Israel but rather they present an Arab version of that country's controversial history.
"The facts are clear -- the Palestinians were kicked out of their land, and Israel has never applied the peace treaty," said Magdi Qassem, head of the National Textbooks Committee.
The fact that maps in geography textbooks for 13-year-olds do not mention Israel is for him "Israel's fault because it refuses to fix the borders."
Its borders, as defined by the UN Security Council, are those of before the 1967 war which ended in a dramatic victory for Israel.
In just six days Israel captured huge swathes of territory -- the Sinai from Egypt, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Arab east Jerusalem and Syria's Golan Heights.
In high-school textbooks, used by all 50,000 public and private educational establishments, several pages are devoted to Egypt and Israel's common history.
"But never will the Egyptian people accept the peace treaty as long as Israel continues to massacre Palestinians," Qassem said.
For Kamal Mougith, a former professor and now at the National Centre of Educational Research, teaching material which affects the neutrality of events is a problem.
"The conservative and Islamist currents are strong in the academic hierarchy... influencing even Arabic and religion textbooks," he said. "And Israel and the Jews are caught in the middle of this axis of evil."


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