Last week, many Israelis moved about restlessly in their American Comfort sofas after hearing that three tweens aged 11-13 were arrested under suspicion that they had thrown a Molotov cocktail at a Palestinian taxi cab earlier this month. The assault on the taxi cab, which took place near the Bat Ain settlement in Gush Etzion, resulted in the injury of six passengers, two of whom sustained major injuries.
The arrest of the young settlers came but a week after nine teenagers were arrested following an attempted lynch of three Palestinians in Jerusalem. According to the police, a lynch mob comprised of some 30 Israeli youngsters assembled in downtown Jerusalem with the intent of assaulting young Palestinians in Zion square. As they chanted “Mohamed is dead” and “A Jew is a soul, an Arab is a whore”, the Israeli teenagers brutally attacked the Palestinians beating one of them, Jamal Julani, within an inch of his life.
The images of Israeli teenagers being ushered into court by the police raised concerns amongst many that there is something rotten in the Holy Land. Jews forming a lynch mob and beating a man to a pulp? 11 year olds nearly killing an entire Palestinian family? Where did we go wrong?
Where did all this hatred come from?
The answer is simple. They learned to hate in our schools and communities. It was preached to them from the pulpits by hawkish Israeli politicians using poisons racist rhetoric. It was taught to them throughout their childhood and adolescents. These children weren’t born with a desire to hate or harm others; they acquired it from their surroundings.
The ongoing occupation of the West Bank necessitates that we instill our children with a degree of fear and loathing towards the Palestinians. The strength of the IDF relies on our ability to dehumanize the Palestinian and maintain his image as a zealot enemy. How else will 18 year old boys face the emotional hardships that arise from detaining mothers and children in checkpoints throughout the territories on a daily basis? How else will they fire tank shells into houses or drop bombs on top of entire neighborhoods?
The instrument to achieve all this is the Israeli education system.
Most Israelis would agree that a major barrier to a peace agreement with the Palestinians is their education system which includes schoolbooks that still teach to hate and resist Israel. Unlike Israeli children, who are raised on liberal and democratic values, the Palestinians are still are a product of systematic indoctrination.
Yet Israeli school children are exposed to similar indoctrination. Mandatory school excursions to Hebron and Eastern Jerusalem don’t include “pastoral” walks in the Palestinian neighborhoods. There are no two sides to the Zionist narrative in grades K-12 and no critical thinking-only revision.
Children learn to recite the fact that the Palestinians are to blame for their predicament after refusing the UN partition plan of 1947, they memorize the results of the Khartoum conference and its refusal to acknowledge the state of Israel and are tested on their ability to arrive at the one and only conclusion from the Holocaust-that we Jews were, and forever will be, persecuted and must therefore never lower our sword. From a young age Israeli children understand that the reality they live in is one of “us” against “them”. And since “they” are no longer our partners for peace, “they” must be our enemy.
Israelis don’t feel that they live in a racist society. And while they are all familiar with popular myths, such as “the Arab understands only force” or “give an Arab a finger and he will take the entire hand”, they believe them to be a result of the ongoing conflict and not a deeply rooted hatred towards the Arabs. On the contrary, even while referring to a lousy job as an “Arab job”, they continue to feel that they live in a great society.
But the arrest of the Israeli youngsters is an indictment against our society, its beliefs, norms and values. It should serve as a wakeup call to help us realize the devastating cost of the occupation, not just the economic or military one, but the social one. For you cannot occupy a people without degrading that people. These children serve to demonstrate the true crisis of Zionism.
The time has come for us to look in the mirror and admit that we have turned into a racist state, one that is fueled by fear and hatred of the “other”. Lynch mobs and Molotov cocktails? Is this really the best we can do?