The Palestine/Israel conflict is often portrayed as an eternal battle between two inherently mismatched sides. While the one is modern, western, and therefore rational, the other is untrustworthy, conniving, and primitive. Such a narrative, however, disfigures the true nature of Palestinian disputes, writes Omran Shroufi.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently tried – and badly failed – to expose Palestinian ruthlessness vis-à-vis the future of Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank, he inadvertently raised a question which still lingers over the age-old conflict: do Palestinians just hate Jews?
For Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister of Economy, the answer was clear. In his usual confrontational style, he told an audience that in any two-state solution, Palestinians couldn’t rule over Jews, “because they will kill them”. Opponents of the one-state solution also raise a similar point, insinuating that “[it] would be tantamount to offering your enemy your throat and a knife with which to cut it”. In both cases, the not-so-subtle implication is that a significant number of Palestinians, given the chance, would mindlessly butcher thousands of Jewish Israelis.
Regardless of the pointlessly inflammatory nature of such statements, it would be fair to say that such words still manage to strike an uncomfortable cord with many Western leaders. Though they may not be blind to the injustices facing Palestinians, there is a valid and deep felt anxiety about Jewish suffering. Admittedly such outbursts make us feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we should pay them heed.
Reality suggests otherwise
Anyone walking through a city such as Haifa or Jaffa, or driving through the West Bank, must be struck by the absurdity of such comments. Over one million Palestinians live and work in Israel and are in daily contact with Jewish Israelis. They literally could not be in a better position to commit all kinds of terrible atrocities. Even in the West Bank, which theoretically is cut off from Israel, in order for a Palestinian living in Ramallah to visit her family in Nablus, she will most probably be driving alongside countless Jewish Israeli settlers. The national Israeli bus company, Egged, also has numerous lines operating inside the West Bank. And the Haaretz journalist, who ‘ventured out’ and spent the night at Ramallah’s first youth hostel, (unsurprisingly) lived to tell the story.
Quite simply, on both sides of the 1967-borders, Palestinians are not involved in daily mass killings. It’s true, you won’t often catch Palestinians and Israelis sitting together for Sunday afternoon tea, and there are still isolated and tragic incidents – on both sides. But for the most part, there is little that resembles – let alone justifies – Bennett’s dark and sinister imagery. If a large number of Palestinians harboured an irrational and deep-rooted desire to kill, surely the current reality would be impossible.
Others will argue that such observations are naïve and claim this relatively ‘peaceful’ situation owes much to Israel’s highly sophisticated system of repression, checkpoints, targeted killings, and collaboration – as described in detail in the film “The Gatekeepers”. Naturally there is some truth in this and violent minorities have previously shown what they are capable of. However, without wishing to brush this under the carpet, as potential mediators, we need to be careful not to take every “security threat” or accusation of “Palestinian brutality” at face value.
The Security Barrier is a Separation Wall
Israel’s infamous Separation Wall, sorry, I mean Israel’s Anti-Terrorist-Fence, is an interesting example. Most people’s image of the wall is the overbearing concrete monstrosity surrounding towns such as Ramallah and Bethlehem, supposedly built with the sole function of protecting Israelis from a highly dangerous Palestinian population. Yet these images only tell half the picture.
It is an often-overlooked fact that the number of killings in Israel dropped significantly while the wall was still being built. According to Shin Bet, the Israeli Intelligence Service, this was largely because of the 2005 Hamas truce. Politics, not concrete, saved many lives. Which is quite lucky for Israel really as the wall has never been completed – around 28 per cent is yet to be constructed. Thus, in parts, Palestinians can simply cross over a non-existent barrier. And as the video below shows, sections of the finished ‘wall’ are nothing more than easily surmountable fencing. How else would up to 30,000 Palestinians be able to work illegally in Israel? So ask yourself the question, if a Palestinian terrorist was determined to kill Israelis, would he drive his car through the heavily armed Qalandia-checkpoint, or would he simply drive southwest of Jerusalem where no fence is to be found?
The Barrier/Wall/Fence has clearly a lot more to do with land and Israeli strategic interests. If ever completed, 85 per cent of the wall will have been built on Palestinian land, proving a relatively successful way of incorporating Israeli settlements blocks – which are illegal according to international law – into Israel proper, and in doing so, redefining Israel’s borders. Even during the current US-brokered peace talks, some Israeli negotiators stated that the barrier’s path should serve as the border of a future Palestinian state. This is important to bear in mind. A completely different type of wall would have been built if safety were its principal function, on Israeli land and therefore not subject to numerous lengthy judicial trials.
“You know what those lot are like”
Ultimately, Israeli politicians like Netanyahu und Bennett are playing on the West’s own orientalist imagery of Arab and Palestinian savagery. While not wishing to dismiss the awful killings, which sadly do still take place, these incidents are the exception, not the rule. Accordingly, it is not good politics, and also highly offensive, to paint all Palestinians with the same brush. A growing number of Palestinians reject violence and favour new forms of non-violent resistance. To put in quite bluntly, ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Suicide Bomber’ are not synonyms.
Palestinian disputes are based on the military occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the whitewashing of their historical claims to the land. Bennett and others like him may wish to dismiss these claims as a smokescreen, but Palestinians are as logical and rational as their Semitic cousins. Whilst Israelis have genuine security fears, so do Palestinians. Are theirs any less valid or human?
The next time an Israeli minister alludes to latent Palestinian savagery, this unhelpful myth needs to be quickly dispersed. Only then will it become easier to detach the real points of contention from the childlike “they just both hate each other and can’t live together” analysis of the conflict
Editor’s note:This article has been edited after publication, though nothing of the meaning has been changed.