The Pathology of Paternalism: Demanding Palestinian Accountability

In the past few weeks, a Palestinian university professor, Mohammed Dajani, was fired from Al Quds University for coordinating a Holocaust education trip to Poland for his students; a diplomat, Manuel Hassassian, was recalled to Ramallah for publicly recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Most recently, news of abducted Jewish teens received elated celebrations in major cities such as Gaza and Chevron; photos of regular people – among them many children – making three-fingered hand gestures (representing the 3 teens) went viral, as did a Fatah newspaper publication depicting the 3 abducted teens as Jewish rats.

Many individuals and organizations have strongly protested these latest examples of anti-Israel hate – symptomatic of a more widespread, legitimized and unquestioned reality in Palestinian society. They have subsequently again questioned the viability of the Palestinian people as a future peace partner; they have bemoaned the apparent indifference to these events of major international players such as President Obama and the European Union; and they have questioned whether the above is indicative of an international complacency so severe, that the Jewish people can trust nobody but themselves to ensure their ongoing security and self-determination.

It has been commonplace for anti-Israel and left-wing groups to downplay the importance of such observations. “How trivial,” the argument seems to go, “that we’re talking about such inconsequential things as street celebrations and comics.” Think-tanks, NGOs, research papers, raw statistics, academics, historians and other far more professional sources apparently deem saying “Look at the way that they celebrate when we die” comparatively unprofessional.

We’ve also seen in the past, not only the downplaying of such Palestinian societal behavior but moreover the justification of it: Consider for example, Gideon Levy and Haneen Zoabi’s defenses of the kidnappings – Or in the past, Haaretz’s Amira Hass’ and Zeev Sternhell’s respective condoning of rock-throwing and terrorism against settlers. Typically, according to these thinkers, Israeli policies are blamed for all forms of Palestinian behavior.

Such arguments leave me feeling uneasy to say the least, but also tend to have a gnawing persuasiveness about them. “Why do I care so much” I start to ask myself, “about the fact that there were public celebrations in Arab East Jerusalem on September 11? Yes, disturbing, but does this really have any bearing on the conflict at large?” Indeed, at face value, a mere singular Palestinian professor’s battle against holocaust-denial, seems utterly trivial.

But then come along moments, and indeed months, like these last few. It is these moments in which all that second-guessing vanishes almost instantaneously. I at once realize the utter twistedness of it all – how those who bemoan Israel’s alleged humanitarian abuses can simultaneously, utterly dehumanize the Palestinians themselves. I ask myself who is more guilty of dehumanization? Those who trivialize an entire population’s ability to exercise free will and choose good? Or those who expect it from them as a pre-condition for meaningful peace? Humans have free choice, animals do not.

It’s ironic that the same voices supposedly calling for Palestinian autonomy, undermine this autonomy by perpetually absolving them of their responsibility to act morally. Does one’s hindered ability to move freely automatically dissolve his ability to condemn suicide bombers? Does occupation justify anything and everything? Are Palestinians so barbaric that we can’t, at the very least, expect them to withhold their public relishing in the brutal bloodshed of innocent civilians? Or should we instead paternalise them by placing every inch of their moral accountability on Israeli shoulders?

Farfur the mouse, the Jihad-inciting children’s TV character, for example, can be viewed merely as a comical children’s character – Alternatively, we can view him as a highly telling indicator of a potential Palestinian state to come.

In moments like these, I realize that unchallenged public celebrations are not trivial – they are in fact more telling than statistics could ever be. More than just depicting the hateful, unchallenged  norms of mainstream Palestinian society, they tell a story about the Israelis who react to them: Israelis who consider their Palestinian neighbors to be humans with free choice – as opposed to objectified, infantile statistics who have no alternative but an inevitable trajectory towards savagery.

Despite the grief that they have caused, the Israeli children whom they have killed, their children whom they have educated to kill and taught to celebrate when this end is achieved; despite the Holocaust that they deny… despite all of this, the mainstream Israeli reaction over time has been a  defiantly human one: An acknowledgement of intrinsic Palestinian humanity.Most Israelis don’t believe, as do the Gideon Levys of the world, that the adversity that they face entirely dissolves their ability to choose good. Viktor Frankl said that attitudes are chosen, not dictated: not even by the hells of Auschwitz – which incidentally, he survived.

The peripheral Middle East conflict (for hearts and minds) has manifested largely as a battle over the moral character of the State of Israel. Times like these, with just a bit of below-the-surface thinking, should reveal to the world the great moral resolve of the Jewish state: where three children out of a population of a few million are considered organs so vital that thousands of troops are mobilized to get them back; Israelis cry and pray for them; buses are painted with their faces; they are utterly consumed by the need to find out about the teens’ well-being. They are sometimes even painfully forced to deliberate whether or not to release killers, so that captives can be reunited with their families.

You can tell a lot about people by the way they conduct themselves in crises. And indeed it’s times like this when I couldn’t be prouder of Israel. May the boys be returned safely as soon as possible.

About the Author
Josh is the former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) Cape Council; and Tikvah Fellow
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