Alan Dershowitz has said that Israel is expected to be the most Christian of nations, perpetually turning the other cheek despite the severity of provocation. During the Gaza war of 2014, media commentators frequently opined that Israelis weren’t “doing enough” to protect Gaza’s civilian population. No one reflected upon the absurdity of Gaza’s outsourcing such a fundamental duty to Israel. No one commented on the absurdity of expecting Israelis to protect the very people trying to kill them. Such comments persisted even as Israel, in action unprecedented in human history, warned Gaza of impending attacks. And while no reciprocal warnings issued from Hamas during its relentless shelling of Israel, no journalist’s finger pointed to Gaza asking why it wasn’t “doing more” to protect Israel’s civilian population.
The double standard of high expectations for Israel and low ones for Palestinians is part of the David and Goliath myth used by journalists to oversimplify an extremely complex situation. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs generally are presented by the media as victims of circumstance. Too often their murderous assaults are considered an inevitable response to the Israeli “occupation.”And, if actions are “inevitable,” it means the actors lack moral agency. Israel, on the other hand, is presented as an oppressive bully who bears ultimate blame, not only for its own actions, but also for those of Palestinian terrorists. For example, according to a reporter writing about the murder of Jews praying in a synagogue, the Palestinian murderer was “pushed…to attack Jews [by despair and anger]…” as if the killer had no other possible choice. The New York Times discussion of this event similarly attributed it to a “population teeming with outrage.” Closer examination of these views reveals the racism lurking beneath. Exempting Arabs from the same moral responsibility for their behavior as Israelis is tantamount to assuming a priori that Arabs are less humane.
These stereotypes are frequently reinforced. Major news sources often fail to provide adequate coverage of situations that fall outside the rigid parameters of standard Arab and Israeli representations. For example, a Palestinian teenager stabbed a Jewish Israeli in a supermarket. The perpetrator was brought down by a quick thinking security guard. But another person who reacted quickly, rushing to aid the victim, was an Arab employee, Mahmoud Abu Khdeir. Abu Khdeir tended to the injured man despite the fact that his own cousin had been murdered by Israeli Jews in a grisly act of revenge for the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teens. Explaining his responses toward the supermarket victim, Abu Khdeir said, “That’s how I was taught to behave by my family…When someone is wounded, you help them…It’s a matter of education: I believe that tomorrow the wounded man will see someone else and go help him…”
This story, which did not feature angry rock wielding Arabs facing down Israeli soldiers, received no media attention outside Israel. Abu Khdeir’s comments as well as his conduct fall outside the prevailing notions of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. He holds himself accountable for helping other human beings and attributes that to his education. He doesn’t see himself as a puppet whose choices are predetermined by the “occupation.” Perhaps he simply sees himself as an Arab citizen of Israel with the same responsibility to his fellow man as every other citizen.
The idea that terrorism is a natural response –sometimes the only response–to Israel’s presence in the Middle East is belied by history as well as current events. Arab Muslim persecution of both Jews and Christians in the Holy Land has been on-going for many centuries before the founding of the modern state of Israel or the occupation. Sadly, even now systematic slaughter of Christian communities, rape and beheading of children, by rampaging Islamists continues throughout the world. It is barely receiving media attention. Intra-Muslim wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are evidence that occupation is hardly a necessary condition for terror. One wonders why the media, observing a world exploding with religious wars has been unable to draw the conclusion that none of it has anything to do with Israel.