[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
I hope all is well in the Holy Land. Things are not too bad here in Turkey. Yet one thing that certainly does not look great is relations between our countries, which hit an ugly low this week.
In fact, since the beginning of your government’s “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza, which happened a year ago, a continual war of words has been going on between your leaders and ours.
But no war of words has ever helped anybody. So, as a humble commentator on Turkish affairs who would be happy to see better Israeli-Turkish relations, let me offer a few honest thoughts.
The New Turkish Republic
First, we all should see something: The Turkish Republic of today is more democratic and more Muslim-minded than it ever used to be. And these two things are not contradictory at all. In the last decade, the power of the democratically elected government has steadily increased vis-à-vis the secularist bureaucratic elite that had dominated the country since the late ’20s. As a result, the cultural sensibilities of the majority of Turkish society, in which Muslimhood plays a great role, have become more influential in policymaking.
The practical result of this is that Turkey is ruled by people such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has a greater emotional connection with the Muslim Palestinians, and not by the ultra-secular generals who look at the Islamic world with distaste. (I know that some of you think Turkey was doing much better under those generals, but I strongly suggest consulting with our liberals or Kurds, who tasted torture in military prisons or who saw their friends assassinated by the gendarme.)
This is not to say that everything that comes out of this more democratic Turkey is sensible – no, not at all. Some of the harsh rhetoric against Israel that we see in our media is indeed fueled by anti-Semitism, which exists within various political camps. The recent TV series that depicted the Israeli military as a bunch of sadists were indeed childish and silly. Turks are a highly emotional people and their anger against the carnage in Gaza, which I share, can easily lead to the vilification of Israel, which I criticize.
However, what I or you would prefer to see does not matter much here. What matters is that this New Turkish Republic, as political analyst Graham Fuller wisely calls it, is here to stay.
But is this bad news for Israel?
Well, it depends. If you are willing to achieve a fair two-state solution, which will bring security to you and a viable homeland to the Palestinians, the rising popularity of Turkey on the “Arab street” might actually be an asset. People say that Erdoğan is the new hero of the Middle East, and please note that he has achieved this by calling for not a “world without Zionism,” but a Gaza with happy children. If you really want peace, a just peace, this New Turkish Republic can help you by reaching out to some of your toughest enemies, such as Hamas.
But if you are willing instead to keep and even expand your illegitimate settlements in “the territories,” and continue to rely on an Iron Wall to defend yourself from an angry nation to whom you have done wrong, then, sorry. The New Turkish Republic will not be of any help. Because, believe me, it will never, ever forsake the Palestinian people.
The lesson we learned
When we Turks raise the issue of the plight of the Palestinians, though, you Israelis often remind us of our own sins, such as the plight of the Kurds. You have a point. But I have a point too. So please listen.
Yes, we Turks have been oppressive to our Kurdish citizens since the ’20s, banning even their very right to speak their own language. Yet we are not occupiers in southeastern Turkey, and the place that we really occupied, northern Cyprus, is at least safe and sound.
But I want to tell you something else that the saner among us have understood over our decades-long “war against terrorism” directed at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Our powerful generals repeatedly told us that this was a military problem and they would “solve” it swiftly by “killing all terrorists, one by one.” Some also believed that “the Kurds only understand brute force,” and showed a great deal of it by burning thousands of villages.
Only now are we realizing that the PKK stemmed not only from its fanatical ideology, but also from the original sins of our state and its arrogant suppression of the Kurds. One thing I really like about the New Turkish Republic is that it gets this fundamental truth, and embraces a much less militarist and much more reconciliatory paradigm.
I think you should take the hint. You should see that there is no military solution to terrorism rooted in an angry people. The real solution is to admit the wrongs you have done to those people, give them back what they deserve, and, by doing all this, empower the moderates on their side.
If you keep on rejecting this and relying on militarism, then, my friends, the future does not look bright for you. The end of this road is to become something like the apartheid regime in South Africa. Look, even now your soldiers cannot enter the U.K. — the U.K., for God’s sake! — fearing that they might be arrested for their assault on Gaza, which a U.N. report said included war crimes.
I really don’t want you to go down that way; hence my prayers go to the peaceniks on your side. And, unlike some others here, I am not hopeless. For I know that the Jewish people, with all their admirable history, faith and culture, have the potential to be a light unto nations, rather than bring death unto the children of Palestine.