You tend to find that Muslims support the Palestinian struggle, while Jews support Israel. Perhaps this is unsurprising because the human condition produces confirmation bias, a phenomenon which, in this context, causes people to elect their political allies and affiliations based on pre-existing knowledge, ideas and environment. However, confirmation bias is intellectually indefensible and is irrational for anybody who views themselves as intelligent or to anybody who claims to be searching for truth. Clearly, no informed supporter of either side can claim that its horse has consistently acted impeccably throughout this protracted conflict, nor can they completely dismiss the other side.
I concede that this condition affects Jews and Zionists too, as we are also guilty of overlooking Israel’s wrongdoings and dismissing the plight of a Palestinian people, who, for a wide variety of reasons, some of which can be attributed to Israel, but most which cannot be, do not experience the same quality of life as Israelis do. While this blind allegiance bothers me, both as a free thinker and a Jew, I take comfort from the fact that it is a positon, while taken up by many individuals, is not reflected by Jewish or Zionist community leaders, thinkers, politicians or organisations and confirmation bias tends to be far more prevalent amongst Muslims and Palestinian supporters.
Israeli and Jewish organisations are some of Israel’s most fierce critics, mostly quick to condemn any wrongdoing. For example, B’Tselem, the Jerusalem based Human Rights group, have consistently criticised Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians and Jewish groups around the diaspora, such as the Jewish Leadership Council in the United Kingdom, have labelled incidents in which innocent Palestinians have been killed, as acts of terrorism. Hundreds of Rabbis worldwide have even signed a petition objecting to the Israel’s house demolition policy. Where innocent Palestinians have been killed accidently in military operations, regret and sadness is expressed by most, even when it is clear that these deaths might have been avoided with a more responsible or vigilant Palestinian leadership.
By contrast, Muslims tend to be more hesitant to do the same, with many choosing to see the Palestinians as victims, thereby exonerating all Palestinian attacks against Israeli’s, including Israeli civilians. Many cling to the narrative that terrorism and the killing of innocent Israelis is a justified and legitimate reaction to an unjust occupation.
I object to this on the basis that Palestinian terrorism in Israel had been taking place long before Israel’s occupation following the 1967 war and also, more strongly, because these so called supporters of the Palestinian cause seem to be solely interested in attacking Israel and undermining its right to exist and live in peace, rather than to raise awareness and improve the Palestinian situation. This is on display at almost every Palestinian rally across the Western world, where protesters are unwilling to engage with their opposition or discuss solutions, opting instead to voice objections and hurl insults towards Israel’s ‘apartheid government’ and, and often towards Jews too.
While this highlights the larger amount of confirmation bias in the Muslim world, we cannot solely blame Palestinian supporters for displaying these tendencies, there is another contributing force at work.
One reason why Jews tend to be more comfortable criticising Israel than Muslims criticising Palestinians and why Jews are more willing to engage in constructive discussion is because of each sides’ respective government. Israel’s government has been willing to denounce attacks by its citizens against innocent Palestinians, while the record of the Palestinian Authority is, at best, inconsistent. Netanyahu has condemned each instance in which a Jewish terrorist has murdered a Palestinian, while Abbas has sometimes done so, but largely not done so. More than that, even in times of war, in which some states have invoked special protocols to legitimise civilian casualties, Israel has investigated its actions and those found to be in breach are subjected to Israel’s judicial system.
Yes, Abbas condemned the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli teenagers in July 2014 for and yes he has recognised Israel’s right to exist, however, he has incited violence time and time again. During Operation Protective Edge, Abbas said ‘With these rocket we will liberate our Jerusalem. With these rockets we will crush the Zionist enemy’. Moreover, not only has he failed to condemn the latest wave of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, but he has actively promoted the violence through his inflammatory statements regarding the Temple Mount.
Israel’s admission of its shortcomings and its legal framework, which is not conducive to terror and the killing innocent civilians has created a normative backdrop for Jewish people to hold Israel’s government accountable. As I said at the start, this is clearly not always the case, and perhaps the reason why it isn’t is precisely because Israel’s government could improve further in this area, however its record is far superior to that of the Palestinian Authority, whose failure to admit its wrongdoings, or to condemn Palestinian terror with no exceptions, has not allowed a similar normative framework to develop amongst its supporters.
If we want to start having an honest debate about the conflict, which is not overshadowed by prejudice and historical inaccuracies, then Israel’s supporters, but particularly Palestinian supporters, must be prepared to condemn terror, wherever it occurs and be willing to openly engage with the other side. The situation could be vastly improved if the Palestinian authority took a tougher stance against Palestinian terrorism and became the responsible peace partner that it claims it can be. If this can be achieved and a normative framework for Palestinian supporters to criticise the Palestinian leadership can be established, then we can make strides towards resolving, or least alleviating some of the damage caused by this conflict, as well as increasing interfaith dialogue and social cohesion between Muslims and Jews.