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Peace in the neighborhood

In Photo: Matityau

column-Rodel Alzona-a differen viewAS I type this column, I am still trying to get over the flu that hit me really hard late last week.  But when you are part of a newspaper, there are no excuses.  Deadlines have to be met.

Having the flu is no help at all. I had this column delayed for a couple of weeks as I mulled over the various ways I was going to approach it.  It is one of those things that I know has to come out right to everyone who will read it.

I even asked our Editor in Chief Jun Vallecera if I should make this column with a serious approach or maybe try to be funny and witty.  All he told me was to do it the way I see fit.

So, with everything considered, including me forgetting already much of my history classes, I will do this column from Israel Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau perspective with much respect to what is happening now in the Middle East.

Matityau told me with a sheepish smile that you do not call it the Middle East.  He said it is the Muddle East.  That made me smile.

I grew up watching the news.  It was the time when local television news programs had the likes of Harry Gasser, Frankie Evangelista and Bon Vibar.  I can say, and a lot would agree with me, that this was probably the golden age of prime-time television news.

Anyway, during those times, it was hard to miss news from the Middle East, especially from what were happening then in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The visual imagery of the news then was vivid. There were always tanks, rockets, fighter planes, soldiers, along with grief and deaths all around.  I do not understand it then.  I do not understand it now either.

As a kid, I once loved playing with guns and going on imaginary missions to save soldiers who have become prisoners of war. I quickly went over that phase and started to avoid all types of games that had to do with guns.  I have associated guns with violence.  It is the same message I am telling our kids now.

Matityau said that there are more than 1,400 journalists in their country, the biggest number in the world in terms media men per square mile.  He said they are the epicenter for many of the things that are happening in the world.  He kidded that good news is no news in the region.

Matityau said that, in general, what we see in the news, you do not see on the ground.  However, he added that you can feel the diversity and there is tension.    

Geographically, Israel has Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in east, West Bank and Gaza Strip being claimed by the Palestinian in the east and west, and Egypt in the southwest.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the country has been to a lot of wars and conflicts with its neighbors. Along the way, peace accords with Egypt and Jordan has been signed. But turmoil still very much exists.

You could say that the Israelis were a prosecuted lot.  In recent history, Matityau said that even in 1937, the Israelis were targeted by the Germans.

He described the era as the moral collapse of enlightened people and a quest for racial supremacy.  He said that what happened then was turned into a religion that quickly swept the western world.

He added that during that time when western countries were shutting their doors on the Jews, the Philippines, under the term of President Manuel L. Quezon, opened the door to Jewish people even when the United States government objected.

Matityau said Quezon saw it as a moral obligation and it eventually led to 1,300 Jews finding a home in the Philippines.

Matityau also added that the Philippines was the only Asian country in the United Nations to vote and recognize Israel. 

He said it was a moral victory and that Israel has a long memory and it will never forget such actions done by the Philippines.  There is now a statue of Quezon in Israel.

Ambassador Matityau said Israel wants to work toward peace and the international community gives them hope.  He said there is a need to correctly identify the issues and remedies needed.

He said that as a region, the Middle East should be a nation-building process as many of them are failed nations created by the United Kingdom and France.

Matityau said human development in the Middle East is the lowest in the world.  He said that it is not modern, free and inclusive societies.

He added that issue is not about Islam, but the political interpretation of religion.  He said there are now old illusions of glorious empires. 

He said that negative powers will take the region back into the dark days while also alluding to new theocracies and religious kingdoms.

Matityau said that, while the situation is somewhat similar to Germany before and during World War II, he said that part of history was 10 times worst when 60 million died, including 1 million Filipinos.

He is optimistic that good things will happen in the Middle East once everyone marches to modernity, become tolerant to others, when there is less political religion, and more personal freedom.

If you look at where Israel is now, they are the world’s 37th largest economy in terms of nominal gross domestic product.  It has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and among the most educated countries in the world.  It is also among the top countries in terms of innovation.

The ambassador gave me his perspective of the Middle East. I would definitely love to hear another side of it sometime soon.

For comments, suggestions, and reactions, I can be reached at raalzona@yahoo.com.

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