In this week’s episode of “Our Middle East,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dan Diker hosts Suzan Quitaz, a Kurdish-Swedish journalist based in London.
Quitaz’s family was deported from Iraqi Kurdistan when it was under the control of Saddam Hussein, and she grew up in Sweden.
The Kurds, an ethnicity numbering 40 million people, live divided between four states: Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Kurds have long struggled for a fully autonomous region in the Middle East, and Israel has backed Kurdish independence since before the establishment of the Jewish state.
Kurds, Iraq and Israel
A 2009 poll found that over 71% of Iraqi Kurds welcomed normalization with Israel. Iraq’s former President Jalal Talabani openly called for normalization with Israel in 2005, as did Kurdish leaders.
In 2008, Iraqi Kurdish Region President Masoud Barzani embraced Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a move that drew criticism from Iraqis, who have accused the Kurds of being Zionists for decades. In 1966, the Iraqi defense minister said that the Kurds want to create the new Jewish state, “Yahudistan.”
Quitaz says she feels like Israel is a second home.
“Honestly, in Israel, I feel I’m at home, you know, people don’t judge me. I am myself, it’s very close to my culture, the language, the food, the music, everything about it. I actually see Israel as my second home,” she says.
Normalization with Israel
According to Quitaz, many Iraqis would welcome normalization with Israel despite Iraqi law—a 2017 act made it illegal for Kurds to wave Israeli flags, on pain of imprisonment, and a 2021 law made normalization with Israelis, even on social media, punishable by death.
“I could confidently say to you that the majority of Iraqis do not support this law. People don’t care. Because they’ve been brainwashed for decades that Israel is the enemy, they know Israel is not the enemy,” she says.
Saudi Arabia’s vision of the Middle East
Diker asked about the vision of Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for transforming the Middle East.
“He’s a realist, and he wants to transform Saudi Arabia, he wants to give the young people a chance,” says Quitaz, who sees Saudi-Israeli normalization in the works, and a new, younger attitude of business cooperation in the region, combined with skepticism about the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian leadership, she explains, is widely viewed as having missed opportunities by rejecting successive peace calls.
“People, people in the region, especially the young people, they want to live, they want to enjoy life, they want to have, you know, financial prosperity, so definitely things are changing, especially with youth from the Gulf region,” she says.
Regional attitudes towards the US
Quitaz says that Westerners misunderstand these developments in the Middle East, as they do the intricacies of Iraqi and Kurdish politics. Sunni Iraqi Arabs, she says, believe America “handed Iraq to Iran on a golden plate.”
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is developing a diplomatic—and national security—communication center, to bring Israeli, Arab, Farsi and Kurdish voices, including Quitaz, to change the narrative throughout the region in regional languages on social media and beyond.
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