It’s time to stop infantilising the Palestinians
Reprinted from The Telegraph
The jubilant reaction of many Palestinians to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenage boys has been met in the West with a bit of a shrug. The official daily PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida has published cartoons mocking the three students and celebrating their capture. The Fatah Facebook page featured a cartoon of three rats dangling from a line. Sweets have been handed out on the streets (a traditional gesture of joy and celebration). Many children have been photographed by their parents, holding up three fingers and smiling. An internet campaign gathers pace and “popular support for the abduction has continued to proliferate on Palestinian social media” according to the journalist Elhanan Miller. Hamas, of course, is exultant. Yes, Abu Mazen has condemned the kidnap and there have been some brave Palestinian voices raised in defence of the three youngsters, but their voices are isolated; Palestinians calling for the return of the three students have been threatened.
And yet, despite all this whooping and cheering about the trauma and possible death of Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, the Palestinians will likely pay a very small price in the international community or global public opinion. Why?
In part, because an anti-Zionist mindset that has taken root in the West, and at its heart is unexamined assumption – that Israelis and Palestinians are different kinds of people. Israelis have agency, responsibility and choice, Palestinians do not. In short, the world treats the Palestinians as children – ‘the pathology of paternalism’ it has been called
The unarticulated assumption of anti-Zionism is that Palestinians are a driven people, dominated by circumstances and moved by emotions; qualities associated with the world of nature. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating; qualities associated with the world of culture.
This dichotomous thinking has three bad consequences.
First, by granting only one side to the conflict agency and responsibility, the dichotomy distorts key events of the conflict (e.g. the war of 1948, the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, Gaza after the 2005 disengagement). The Palestinians are cast as passive victims; a compelled people (Haaretz writer Yitkhak Laor claims the second intifada was “instigated” by … Israeli policy); a duped people (activist Tikva Honig-Parnass writes of “Barak’s pre-planned collapse of the Camp David talks in October 2000”); and a people beyond the reach of judgement. Academic Jacqueline Rose views Palestinian suicide bombers as “people driven to extremes” and argues that Israel has “the responsibility for [the] dilemma” of the suicide bomber.
Second, the dichotomous understanding of Palestinians and Israelis distorts our understanding of Israel’s security. The threats Israel faces are discounted and the security measures taken by Israel reframed as motiveless and cruel acts. For example, the writer Shlomo Sand argues that Israel falsely “portray[s] itself as a persecuted innocent” and he claims that this portrayal, not real threats, has given Israeli society “a well of deep-seated collective anxieties.” Ilan Pappe, an Israeli academic now teaching in the UK, claims that “Zionists” are “[c]ompelling a nation to be constantly at arms” by stimulating “continual angst” through the abuse of Holocaust memory. He dismisses “useful fabrications about Israelis suffering under intense rocketing” as a “fantasy of apologists.” For the anti-Zionists, then, Israel’s concern with security is either a pathology (an unconscious psychological condition Israelis cannot break out of) or – this a contradiction, note – a case of manipulation (a conscious political ploy).
The third consequence of this dichotomous thinking about the nature of the two peoples is the infantalisation of the Palestinians: they remain perpetually below the age of responsibility; the source of their behaviour always external to themselves, always located in Israel’s actions.
For example, when the Israeli novelist and Left-wing Zionist Amos Oz complained that incitement by Palestinian intellectuals is one reason so many Palestinians are “suffocated and poisoned by blind hate,” Yitzhak Laor responded by accusing Oz of “incitement” against the Palestinians. Oz’s temerity in seeking to hold the Palestinians to account condemned him in Laor’s eyes.
The academic Jacqueline Rose has argued that Palestinian suicide bomber is a person compelled, before admonishing Israel a few lines later for failing to take note of Freud’s warning that “the forcefulness with which a group builds and defends and defends its identity was the central question of modern times.” (That’s just something for the cultured Israelis to worry about, it seems.)
Of course, Israel has to compromise and divide the land, making possible a Palestinian state. But if the Palestinians are treated as children, never held accountable for cultivating a culture of hate, then they will never make their own excruciating compromises for peace. And without those compromises – in a Middle East departing further from the norms of human behaviour by the day – Israel will not take risks for peace. Nor should it.