Barbaric violence and the Palestinian failure of leadership

I am disheartened and worried about the violence being perpetrated in Israel by some of my fellow Palestinians. This latest wave of violence started at the Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. It has extended to the rest of East Jerusalem, then to the West Bank, and then to all of Israel.  My biggest worry is that we Palestinians appear to have no responsible leaders, neither in the Palestinian territories nor at the Knesset.  These leaders, instead of calming the violence, are fanning its flames.

This wave of violence will not help the Palestinians’ economic situation.  It will not help our ability to convince anyone, let alone Israelis, that we deserve a state. And it will not help grow our civil society which we badly need to do if we are to ever be taken seriously as a peace partner.  All that this achieves is to push us further back.  Yet our leaders are content to preach hate then sit back and enjoy their financial perks while Palestinian society is crashing and burning.

Not surprisingly, Hamas is engaged in inciting violence.  The IDF reported that Hassan Yousef, a co-founder of Hamas, is “actively instigating and inciting terrorism and publicly encouraging and praising the execution of attacks against Israelis.”  This is expected from Hamas unfortunately, but the problem does not stop at Hamas.

At the start of this wave of violence, Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas said “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. […] We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing”.  What kind of responsible leader would make such anti-Semitic and violent statements?  The only conclusion one can draw from this is that Abbas is out of control and undeserving of the title he holds.  Americans have denounced his rhetoric and so has the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who is not exactly known for his pro-Israel bias.

What can one expect from Abbas when his own party, the Fatah, claimed responsibility for one of the early attacks in this wave of violence?  The Abdel Qader al-Husseini Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades stated, “With Allah’s help and in keeping with our right for resistance and our duty to sacred jihad, our forces on Thursday night carried out a necessary action in which they fired on a car of occupying settlers that left the settlement of Itamar.”  How can Palestinians hope for peace when their leading party is associated with such despicable violence?

Sadly the incitement does not stop in the Palestinian territories.  Even our Arab representatives at the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) are inciting Palestinians to engage in violence.  These Arab representatives who are paid by the taxpayers, both Jews and Arabs, are doing the work of foreign extremists, not the work that is needed to help the Arabs who elected them. Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem, an Israeli Arab, denounced them by saying, “I blame the leaders; they are destroying our future, they are destroying coexistence. […] We need to find a way to live together. We cannot fight like this. We are damaging ourselves.”

Our leaders are supposed to have a vision for the future.  They are supposed to lead us towards the actions that will help our whole society.  They are not supposed to be the ones who encourage us to engage in revenge actions that hurt us in the long term.

Do our leaders not understand that only cooperation and peaceful coexistence will help our goal of economic prosperity and self-determination?  Or are they so invested in doing the work of foreign Islamists, such as the Iranian regime, that they have totally lost any sense of what is good for the Palestinians?

But now is not the time to be discouraged. Despite our total failure of leadership at all levels, I call on individual Palestinians to rise above the short-sightedness and pettiness of our leaders and to call for calm among their families, neighborhoods, and communities.  When there is failure at the top, it is time for the people to lead the way.

By Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, with editing by Fred Maroun

About the Author
Bassem Eid is the founder and former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG). He is an advocate for peace with Israel, and a critic of terrorism.
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