SINCE 1759

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Mutually Assured Delusions
Where Palestinian and Israeli Bigotry Meet

If there is such a thing as a conventional narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the way that there’s a conventional narrative of, say, the Vietnam War or the War of the Roses — a skull-and-bones-ridden if, if there ever was one — it’s this: Israel has been an occupation power since 1967, denying Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza civil and human rights, and indeed denying Israeli Arabs in Israel proper their civil rights, if not quite their human rights: Israeli Arabs may, for instance, join the Israeli military but cannot become officers or air force pilots (Israeli soldiers would bristle at the possibility that an Arab would command them, the inference being that Arabs are inferior, fifth columnists or worse), they cannot become government officials except to represent Arab issues, and they may not even buy any of land owned by the state. That is, 91 percent of Israel is off limits to Israeli Arab buyers. (Strict constructionists or original-intenders will say that Israel has been an occupation power since 1948. But in history there are no such things as strict constructionism or original intent, both of which are intellectually dishonest ways of subjugating history to ideology .)

The conventional narrative paints Israel as the oppressor, self-entrapped by the criminal behavior that attaches to virtually any occupying force. It’s the nature of occupation, whether the occupier is otherwise virtuous or not. To occupy is to subjugate, to subjugate is to assume right off that the person being subjugated is less than you, less than human, less worthy—if worthy at all—of respect, dignity, justice. The American occupation of Iraq is such a case in point that it’s made a cliché of the formula. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians puts the formula in odious practice daily in the occupied territories and wherever Israeli authority transgresses its usual boundaries, as it tends to do greedily and often behind the eternally cynical mask of self-defense, whether in Lebanon or in regions of Gaza and the West Bank that Israel no longer controls as iron-fistedly as it once did.

Exclusively to American ears would any of these observations be considered more incendiary than factual, because writing critically about Israel in the United States is still an intellectual misdemeanor that for the writer carries risk of being censured as an anti-Semite or some other show-stopper of a charge. None of this sounds shocking to Israeli ears, where the debate is rich in self-criticism and, on occasion, rich in revulsion for Israeli practices against Palestinians: The Jewish intellectual tradition’s distaste for all things oppressive is necessarily of long, if not millennial, date.

But let’s not fool ourselves. As much as Israel has been honing its skills at barbarism and atrocity at Palestinian and Lebanese expense, the barbarism and atrocities have been anything but one-sided. Rationalize them all one wants as the weapon of the rabble, suicide bombings against civilians are indefensible acts of terrorism in any circumstance. (The same can’t be said of suicide bombings against military targets, which are neither terrorist in nature nor indefensible. They’re a weapon of war, no more and no less insane than any other.)

Rationalize him all you want, but Yasser Arafat and his tradition of corrupt and corruptible leadership, as well as his intimacies with atrocities of his own in Lebanon, Jordan and various stops along the terror trail of the 1970s, hasn’t done the Palestinian cause any favors. Nor have Arab nations done their “brother” Palestinians any favors—any Arab nation, where Palestinian “refugees” are treated like dogs and denied plenty more than land ownership. Compared to them, Israeli Arabs are a privileged caste, although such an analogy is all poison. It’s the sort of analogy Israelis would want you to make to justify their treatment of Israeli Arabs or their mistrust of other Arabs, but it doesn’t improve anyone’s lot. It only legitimizes the indefensible.

Finally, there’s the matter of Palestinians’ continued bigotry against Israel as a matter of popular policy, as a matter of educational fact. The bigotry can be overstated. There are growing legions of Palestinians who see Israel as a legitimate state and a two-state solution as the only solution, not only for practical reasons, but for purely justified reasons: Israelis are owed a country, as are Palestinians. The rest is details. But there’s also the old line, now revived to murderous excess by the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and other Ebolas of opportunism: Israel is an illegitimate state that must be wiped out, not just in the name of the Palestinian cause, but in the name of god. At least the grab for god reveals the ideology for the irrational cult of death that it is. Any policy, any popular “cause,” that needs god as justification automatically declares itself illegitimate in the realm of purely human affairs.

Whether Palestinian bigots make their claims illegitimate or not is irrelevant for now. They’re making their claims. They’re influencing another generation of Palestinians. The consequence of their bigotry has to be confronted.

This is the first of two parts. Next: Truths and fallacies of Palestinian textbooks.

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