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No More Westplaining – It’s Time to Take Palestinians at Their Words

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As a parent, I recall my frustration when my toddlers made unintelligible sounds and I struggled to guess what they wanted. Yet they inevitably learned to form words. So, if they wanted water, they could say “water.” And I would know they wanted water and not juice. This essential step in child development set the stage for the give-and-take relationship I have with my kids today. I take them at their word. After all, they’re adults.

In this context, it’s puzzling to me as an Israeli that so many in the US and Europe are not listening to my Palestinian neighbors. They’re just not taking them at their words. As the war in Gaza winds down, and the hot potato of what happens next is tossed around in Washington, I think it’s time we start taking Palestinians seriously. After all, these are not toddlers – they are adults who know exactly what they’re saying.

For example, we need to listen very carefully when we hear that:

  • They laud the October 7 massacres – A poll released in December 2023 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 72% of Palestinians surveyed fully supported Hamas’ October 7th attacks. This bears repeating: nearly three-quarters of Palestinians thought that raping and maiming Jewish women, killing Jewish babies and taking Jewish grandparents hostage was OK.
  • They support Hamas – In the last Palestinian Authority election (2006), Hamas won nearly 45% of the vote. This is a political party whose platform states that “…there is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.” Everyone knows and understands this. A recent poll confirmed that nearly half of the voting population still supports Hamas and thus agrees with this statement.
  • They teach hate of Jews – A study conducted by the European Union found that educational materials used in all Palestinian schools “…include anti-Semitic components, deny the existence of the State of Israel, and glorify violence as a method of resolving the conflict.” More recent findings in UN-run schools in Gaza bear this out.
  • They reject coexistence – Research conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development in November 2023 found that 86% of Palestinians reject coexistence with Israel and 74% support the creation of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea”.

“Yes, yes,” detractors will say. “That’s what they say. But that’s not what they actually mean. You see…”

Nope, sorry. Palestinians, like all adult populations on the planet, anywhere – are just that: adults. There is a patronizing tendency in the West to put words into the mouths of Palestinians (and not just Palestinians). Political scientists call this Westplaining (kind of like ‘mansplaining’). We do it with a lot of non-Westerners to explain their positions in terms more aligned with our own cultural preconceptions, experiences and biases.

But we really need to stop this. We need to give the Palestinians the respect they deserve and simply listen to what they’re saying!

When Palestinian demonstrators call for a “free” Palestine that extends “from the river to the sea,” – don’t Westplain that they mean this in some vaguely figurative sense. They mean that there should literally be no Israel between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. They mean that the Jews living here now should be either killed October 7-style, deported, or subjugated.

It’s that simple. Believe them.

When citizens of the Palestinian Authority vote for Hamas, don’t Westplain that it’s actually because the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and they have no better choice. They vote for Hamas because they support the vision and platform of Hamas – the same way you vote Republican or Democrat because you believe in either platform and vision.

It’s that simple. Believe them.

And when Palestinian demonstrators in London or New York call to “Globalize the Intifada”, they are not calling for 1960’s-style civil disobedience, general strikes, or nonviolent protests. They are calling for (and already perpetrating) physical violence against Israelis, Jews and Jewish institutions and businesses around the world.

It’s that simple. Believe them.

Recognizing all this does not mean there should not nor will never be a Palestinian state. It does not mean that the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank should not nor will not end. It does not mean diminish the horrendous civilian casualties among Palestinians in Gaza as a result of the Hamas-initiated war against Israel, or the egregious violations of Palestinian civil liberties in the West Bank.  But in order for progress to be made in any dispute, both sides need to truly see and hear the other side. It’s time to stop Westplaining for the Palestinians, hear what they’re really saying, internalize that they mean it because they are responsible adults, and respond accordingly.

This article was first published by the author in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on Thursday, February 22, 2024

About the Author
Steven Greenberg is an award-winning novelist (see https://amzn.to/3oJLA8g) , a professional writer (see http://sdg.co.il), and a full-time cook, cleaner, chauffeur and single dad for three young adults (see his dishpan hands). Born in Texas, Steven grew up in Indiana and emigrated to Israel just months before the first Gulf War in 1990. He's a former combat medic in the Israel Defense Forces, who never learned to properly salute despite his rank of Sergeant. And he's a career marketer, who's run a home-grown marketing boutique since 2002.
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