I am sitting with a group of young adults from Ireland in our home in Efrat. They are on a tour of Israel and Palestinian Authority territories. As Westerners concerned about peace in this region their purpose in coming, they say, is to listen closely to the voices on both sides of the conflict.
Hatred and fear are important talking points in our dialogue. One member of the group, a woman in her 30s, argues that pervasive hatred in the region is really a cover for fear and frustration. I disagree with her, but I think to myself, even if she is right, does this render hatred any less immoral, any less dangerous?
Attempting to go deeper, I shift the conversation to explore the source of hatred that we witness among so many young Palestinians, a malice that motivates them to throw rocks at our cars, stab us in the streets, and use their vehicles to plow down women, babies and old men with canes.
I inform the group that the Palestinian Authority’s state-sponsored educational curriculum incites Palestinian children to hate Israel and Jews. Its textbooks, television shows, websites and literature refers to Jews as the descendants of pigs and monkeys. It encourages the notion of Islamic jihad. It specifically defines such jihad as suicidal martyrdom achieved by murdering Jews.
I further inform them that shocking samples of this inciteful material are easily accessed with English translation at www.palwatch.org. There they will find evidence that much of this hate-filled material is produced, budgeted and distributed under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In other words, the same Palestinian Authority whose moderation is lauded by governments around the world openly sanctions and underwrites the cost of racist educational materials that teach Muslim children hatred of Jews. Is it any wonder that so many Palestinian children in the last few decades have grown up hating Israel and Jews, with some seeking to kill us?
The initial reaction I receive from this woman after sharing this information is, as I have come to learn, a classic example of the response of peace and reconciliation groups. She categorically condemns the materials I have just described.
This is quickly followed by a less-than empathetic comment: Israeli children, she says, naturally pick up their hatred and fear of Arabs in the street, a hatred that permeates Israeli society so that “the hatred is equal.”
In support of this “equal hatred” theory another member of this delegation quickly contributes the following anecdote. That very morning, he says, upon leaving the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem, this group witnessed two religious Israeli boys sneering at a young Muslim boy they were passing. Case made.
This is one of countless examples used to justify a search for parity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It reveals a broken moral compass justified by empty mantras that are divorced from reality.
According to the well-worn “Peace and Reconciliation Playbook,” both sides in a conflict must be seen equally at fault so that the honor of both is upheld. This is necessary so that negotiations toward a settlement can commence. One dare not overly assign blame to one side.
This viewpoint is not merely deluded, it is also immoral and dysfunctional. Ignoring or denying reality justifies criminal belligerence and penalizes its victims. This end result is always whitewashed by calls to reconsider: Which side is truly the aggressor? Which side resorts to violence only in self-defense? Which side is only trying to prevent further aggression? It is a rhetorical rationale that whitewashes the slaughter of innocents, making their murderers’ behavior understandable, even tolerable.
On a practical level, it also impedes movement toward a true and viable settlement of the conflict. By ignoring or denying the aggressor’s belligerence, it demands that innocent victims bear responsibility for violent assaults against them.
Yes, racists, even terrorists, can be found in both Israeli and Palestinian societies. And yes, inside both there are voices that incite to violence.
But to equate the two cultures is both facetious and intellectually fraudulent. Surveys undertaken by Palestinian researchers since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 (and available on the Internet), regularly indicate that half or more Palestinians regard violence against Israelis, particularly “settlers,” as a legitimate expression of political “resistance.”
For the last quarter century, this cultural consensus has given birth to thousands of violent acts. Suicide bombers, axe wielding butchers, vehicular slaughterers, adolescent stabbers, assassination gun gangs, bloodthirsty killers with stones, and more, have emerged from a Palestinian culture that nurtured them, and in their bloody aftermaths, glorifies them. Parades, songs, music videos, public commemorations, and renamed public facilities, streets and square -- all of these, and more, redefine murderers as martyrs, hitmen as heroes, bloodlust as bravery.
Compare this with Israeli society.
Terror acts by Israelis against Palestinians are so rare, each instance makes headlines in stories expressing shock and condemnation. What’s more, perpetrators and their acts are so thoroughly denunciated by Israeli leaders and citizens that cynics can only draw attention to scattered extremists who condone them.
These obvious cultural differences are deliberately overlooked by self-defined peacemakers. Why? Because calling out the aggressors and describing their crimes violates their worldview. But by ignoring these realities, they not only deceive themselves, they contribute to a never ending status quo of violence and death.
If Western liberals are sincerely interested in contributing to a meaningful, long-lasting settlement of this conflict, they must quit their addiction to feel-good moral parity and finally, acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that Islamic Palestinian terrorism is evil.