Where Talking to Israelis is Taboo
If you want to know why the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace are currently zero, consider Avi Issacharoff’s report in the Times of Israel last week about Fatah’s Seventh General Congress, which is slated to take place in Ramallah on Tuesday. The Congress is supposed to elect Fatah’s two main leadership organs, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council; one candidate for the latter is Nasser Abu Baker, a reporter for Radio Falastin. “Abu Baker, who used to maintain close ties with his Israeli colleagues, has boycotted Israeli journalists since he began nurturing his political career,” Issacharoff wrote matter-of-factly.
Fatah, of course, is Israel’s official peace partner, twice over. It is the main component of the PLO, the organization that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel, and also the party headed by the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and PLO chairman. Yet it turns out that the way to win votes among members of Israel’s “peace partner” is not by promoting peace, but by refusing even to talk to your Israeli colleagues–even if they are among the most pro-Palestinian Israelis you’re ever likely to find, as is true of most Israeli journalists.
Moreover, this practice of boycotting Israelis has actually gotten much worse under the “moderate” Abbas, as another Israeli journalist noted in an unrelated article last week. Interviewed by Haaretz about his new television series on the Arab world, Ohad Hamu, the Arab affairs reporter for Channel 2 television, recalled:
Not so long ago I could wander freely around Gaza and the West Bank and bring cultural and political stories, but today there are few places I can enter in the West Bank … The Israeli media doesn’t go into something like 70 percent of the West Bank, and even when I do go, it’ll be to film some 10-minute dialogue with someone and then we’re out of there right away, because it’s just become too dangerous. They don’t want to see us there … Israeli journalists used to serve as a bridge between Israeli and Palestinian society, but this bridge has been gradually cracking.
Nor is this problem exclusive to journalists. The “anti-normalization” campaign–a euphemism for refusing to talk to Israelis and intimidating others into doing the same–has also produced boycotts of Israeli cultural figures, businessmen, nongovernmental organizations and more.
Clearly, it’s difficult to imagine Israeli-Palestinian peace breaking out as long as even talking to Israelis is taboo, to the extent that even in the “moderate” Palestinian party, someone running for office feels obligated to start boycotting his Israeli colleagues. It’s hard to make peace with other people if you aren’t willing to talk to them.
But the fact that this problem has been getting worse rather than better over the past two decades shows that, far from advancing prospects for peace, the “peace process” has dealt them a blow from which it may take generations to recover. By creating and financing an autonomous Palestinian government without making peace education an integral part of the package, the Oslo process and its supporters–both Israeli and Western–have allowed the Palestinian Authority to spend the last two decades systematically teaching its people to hate Israel. The fact that even talking to Israelis is now seen as a major impediment to electoral office is the direct result of the way the Palestinian education system has poisoned the minds of its children, which I’ve described before:
This [PA] curriculum rejects the legitimacy of Israel’s existence (textbooks refer to “the so-called State of Israel”), justifies violence against it, defines such violence as a religious obligation and informs students that Jews and Zionists are irredeemably evil (one book, for instance, refers to “the robbing Jews”; another tells students that Israel “killed your children, split open your women’s bellies, held your revered elderly men by the beard, and led them to the death pits”). These messages are then reinforced by the “educational” programs broadcast on the PA’s official media, where Jews are described as “monkeys and pigs,” “enemies of Allah” and the “most evil of creations,” among other charming epithets.
The indoctrination effort is assisted by the fact that most Palestinians today have no firsthand knowledge to counteract the vicious incitement churned out daily by Palestinian schools and media. That’s a result of the escalating terror that followed the PA’s establishment in 1994 severely curtailed the daily interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that were commonplace until then. Those interactions made it easier for both sides to at least view the other as human beings.
Today, outside the construction industry, most Israelis never encounter a Palestinian unless they’re doing army duty, and most Palestinians never encounter any Israelis other than soldiers. In other words, the only Israeli-Palestinian interactions that take place today are the kind that reinforces each side’s view of the other as an enemy. That is precisely what the “anti-normalization” campaigners want, and why they castigate any other type of contact with Israelis as tantamount to treason.
It’s going to take a long, long time, and probably a lot of pressure from the PA’s Western donors, to reverse these decades of hate education. But until that happens, the chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace are considerably less than a snowball’s chance in hell.