In 1855, publisher Henry G. Bohns published in A Handbook of Proverbs, “The Road to Hell is Paved with good intentions”. We have seen examples of this throughout history, such as the rise of communism in Europe in the 20th Century that lead to death and starvation, and the British decision to divide India into India and Pakistan, leading to the bloodiest mass exodus of people in history. In the modern age, one of the best, yet woefully undiscussed examples of killing with kindness, is the Free Palestine movement.
Unless you have been completely isolated from the world, you will have seen people advocating for a “Free Palestine”. With Yasser Arafat scarves, wristbands in the colours of the Palestinian Flag, and chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free!” echoing in public demonstrations, ‘Free Palestine’ activists advocate for a return of Israel to the Palestinians. What these undeniably well intentioned activists don’t realise, is how rather than supporting the Palestinian people, they are doing the opposite by allowing for and legitimising a dangerous culture of death and despair advocated by the Palestinian authorities.
There are many debates to be had about the formation of the state of Israel, and many arguments to be made on the best way to move forward, such as the proposed two state solution (which, incidentally, is what I personally support). Whilst that is a discussion that needs to be had, it is a very in-depth debate that is beyond the scope of this article, and which I would like to address in a future opinion piece. For now, I want to discuss how the Palestinian authorities are able to oppress their citizens, all with the help of well-meaning western activists.
Walk around any refugee camp in and around the Palestinian territories, and you will be surrounded by posters of young men, usually in their mid-twenties, with some accompanying Arabic script. Young men whose only worries should be about what career they would like to pursue, wooing the young lady across the street, and whether or not there will be another Ed Sheeran album released (I sincerely hope not, his music is terrible, but that’s another story). Instead, what these young boys all have in common is that they are all martyrs. Whilst it may seem that these are all boys that have been killed by the IDF, a closer look suggests otherwise. Google translate on modern smartphones now has a function where you can translate signs by an image scan of your phone, and the direct translations of these Arabic words and sentences tell a different story: a story of wilful martyrdom for the cause.
Unfortunately, the image of 8- or 9-year-olds playing under such posters, isn’t shown in the media, but it is indeed a reality. I saw this first hand when I visited the Al Aida camp, and it was a poignant image that shall stay with me forever, one that actually made me physically sick.
It is hard to know who to condemn when it comes to western ‘Free Palestine’ activists. Some have the best of intentions, whilst others have more sinister antisemitic motives. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two, but, from Banksy’s Walled off Hotel, to public demonstrations, we need to take a long hard look at who the ‘Free Palestine’ movement is actually lending it’s support to and in the process legitimising.
The culture of Martyrdom
You will see above, that I touched on the martyr posters in the refugee camps. Like posters advertising the latest boyband, young boys in their 20’s who have gone on suicide missions for the dream of reclaiming a Palestinian state are idolised in the same fashion. A British World War I poem entitled “Dulce Et Docorum Est Pro Patria Mori” (It is sweet and Proper to die for one’s country) explores the myth of dying for the cause of the motherland, and nothing could exemplify how much of a myth this is except for the culture of martyrdom in Palestine.
Of course, I can understand that it is expensive to go out to the Middle East and see this living reality, but a quick search around the internet can shed some light on this culture of death. For example, you could google Marian Farhat, also known as the Mother of Martyrs, and a Hamas politician, who celebrated the death of at least one of her sons, killed in attacks against Israelis by passing around chocolate and halva (a sweet dessert) to her neighbours. During her time as a legislator in the Palestinian parliament, she is quoted as saying; “jihad comes ahead of everything, including my feelings as a mother”. Following the death of her son Mohammed who, armed with grenades and automatic rifles, opened fire in a study hall in Israel killing five seminary students, she declared in a video; “I wish I had 100 boys like Mohammad. I’d sacrifice them for the sake of God. When I see all the Jews in Palestine killed, that will be enough for me. I wish he will kill as many as he can, so they will be scared”. She and her family then took a piece of the wire-fence her son had cut in order to access the study hall and hung it on the wall of the family home as a souvenir.
If that isn’t enough to shake you to the core, then go on over to Youtube, and take a look at some of the many videos from children’s TV in Palestine encouraging impressionable young children to prepare for martyrdom and die for the cause of freeing Palestine. Here, you can see a range of clips compiled by Palestinian Media Watch from children’s TV shows, school pageants, summer camps, and political speeches, reiterating the importance of martyrdom against the Jews of Israel, and the nobility of dying for the Palestinian cause. The culture of martyrdom isn’t just seen on film either. In February of this year, the British Newspaper The Daily Mail, discovered that foreign aid to Palestine was being used to fund educational materials that encourage children to die for the cause. There were Mathematics exercises involving “adding the number of martyrs in Palestinian uprisings”, material that “praise[d] children who were martyred while fighting ‘Zionist enemies’”, and history lessons in which “pupils learn[ed] that the PLO 1973 hijacking of Pan Am and Lufthansa planes that killed 32 passengers were ‘operations against Zionist targets’”.
This means that rather than giving children a proper education, the Palestinian authorities were encouraging children to kill and die in the name of their deadly cause. Rather than investing in their future, they were paying for propaganda encouraging them to aspire for death.
Pay for Slay
As well as selling the prospect of martyrdom through its state television, the Palestinian authorities offer rewards for violent acts against Israel and Jews. Palestinian families are paid a financial sum if a family member dies during an attack on Israeli citizens, especially if a citizen is killed. Palestinian Media Watch discovered “that the PA [Palestinian Authorities] admitted to spending no less than NIS 517.4 million on salaries to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners in 2019, representing an increase of NIS 15.4m. from 2018”.
In addition to this, “PMW was able to show that the PA increased payments to wounded terrorists and the families of dead terrorists in 2019 by NIS 1.6m. to more than NIS 150m”. With financial incentives added to the already powerful social pressures encouraging martyrdom, young Palestinians become entrapped in a culture of hatred and death.
For the Palestinian Authorities to gain support, funding, and legitimacy for their cause, they need to be present themselves and be seen as the underdog. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of a body count. The Palestinian authorities will often use civilian and public buildings in order to store weapons, which means that when the Israeli Defence Force open fire on buildings suspected of weapon storage, there will often be innocent civilians inside. In spite of repeated warnings by the IDF that they will be launching an attack on specific building, and advising evacuations, Palestinian Authorities will often ensure that there are people, and worst of all, children, in the buildings at the time of the attack. When martyrdom is celebrated, Palestinian citizens see nothing wrong with being slaughtered indirectly by their own authorities for the cause, and so often do not object. This allows for a high death count, which the Palestinian Authorities can then use to garner sympathy from the UN, and the western “Free Palestine” movement.
If we are to find an amicable solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict, we need to take a good honest look at what the Palestinian authorities are subjecting their citizens to, especially in raising young impressionable children for martyrdom, and leading them to their death like lambs to slaughter. By unquestioningly supporting the ‘Free Palestine’ cause, we are offering legitimacy to the oppression of the Palestinian people from their own government. As long as our tears continue to flow for the need and want of support for an underdog, so shall flow the blood of innocent Israelis and brainwashed Palestinians. Rather than lending blanket support to the ‘Free Palestine’ movement, we need to objectively scrutinise the workings of the Palestinian authorities. We must do this before our kindness inadvertently leads to the deaths of any more innocent people. Only once we reject the cult of death and martyrdom that has festered will we be getting one step closer to actually helping the Palestinians.