There’s a small group of New Hampshire residents, male, white and intellectually well into their dotage, who often amuse themselves by sending me links to racist, Islamophobic and anti-Arab articles, and, in spite of my spam filter, some of such garbage escapes to my Inbox.
A recent escapee was a Wall Street Journal column by Bret Stephens, titled “Palestine: The Psychotic Rage / The truth about why Palestinians have been seized by their present blood lust.” Stephens’s headline, intimating that Palestinians are a deranged, demented and psychopathic people, was followed by a column distinguished by racially tinged commentary including: “The significant question is why so many Palestinians have been seized by their present blood lust – by a communal psychosis in which plunging knives into the necks of Jewish women, children, soldiers and civilians is seen as a religious and patriotic duty, a moral fulfillment.” Two paragraphs later, Stephens concludes, “Today in Israel, Palestinians are in the midst of a campaign to knife Jews to death, one at a time. This is psychotic. It is evil. To call it anything less is to serve as an apologist, and an accomplice.”
These are trying times. Today, there are few observers of the land called Holy who are unmoved by images of bodies and blood flooding ancient streets built on land where prophets once trod – aged mothers, teenagers, babies and children at once being victims, witnesses and instruments of violence.
There’s no excuse for attacks on the innocent. On streets that lead to the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary, on streets where Christian pilgrims follow the Stations of the Cross, the Holy Land is being defiled. There’s no excuse for firebombing Joseph’s tomb complex in Nablus.
No excuses. No buts.
There are no “buts” to excuse the violence, the death, the mayhem that stains Palestine and Israel today. There are no “buts” for the tragedy and mourning that flows. There are no “buts” for rage and irrationality.
Palestinians are attacking and stabbing Israeli soldiers, police, settlers and civilians in seemingly random acts of violence. In response, Israeli soldiers, police, settlers and civilians, both protecting and provoking, respond to Palestinian violence with more lethal violence. Body counts escalate.
In Bret Stephens’s apologetic world, the words occupation, settlements and justice never ink the page, context has no meaning, and no distinction is ever made between the State of Israel and the occupied Palestinian lands of East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.
In such a world, a Jewish teen who tried to kill four Arabs in Dimona is described as suffering from “psychiatric problems” while all Arab criminals are immediately labeled “terrorists.” On the Arab side, the “usual suspects” are always rounded up and detained, while to this day the perpetrators of the murderous terror attack that firebombed a Palestinian home in July are still at large.
In Stephens’s world, the “hoary ‘cycle of violence’” that consumes Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories holds only Palestinians accountable. In Stephens’s dystopian world, the choices for Palestinians are limited to submission, emigration or expulsion – or death.
Yet I sense, within the spaces between Stephens’s words, an unarticulated truth: He – and Israel – do not fear violence. They don’t fear knife-wielding teenagers. For violence there is always a solution – greater violence.
They fear a just peace.
Netanyahu and Stephens’s fear of a just peace compels them to try to portray Palestinians as some subhuman race seemingly threatening the civilized world with unquenchable “blood lust.” If that meme sells, if Israel can dehumanize Palestinians, if Stephens can induce readers to ignore legitimate Palestinian political aspirations, Israel may be able to survive as occupiers. Netanyahu has built his government, his legacy, on an exceptionalist vision of an Israeli state, sustained by violence and ruled through intimidation.
It’s daily violence waged against Palestinians, their land and their institutions, all in clear violation of international and humanitarian law. From increased settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the destruction of Gaza, from Israeli-only roads crossing the West Bank to unequal justice under the law for Palestinians to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of olive trees, violence is everywhere, every day.
And there’s little respite, even when Palestinians use nonviolence in towns like Bil’in and Nabi Saleh. Witness that in a Wikileaks cable released in 2011, marked confidential, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad is said to have told U.S. government officials, “We don’t do Gandhi very well.” The cable confirmed that the IDF is willing to risk escalating violence against demonstrators “even (if the) demonstrations appear peaceful.” Yet, in spite of such oppression, Palestinians have refused to yield.
In spite of their aged, often unresponsive and corrupt leadership, in spite of radicalized youth who carry out stabbings and acts of terror inimical to Palestinian interests, they refuse still to yield.
Meanwhile, Palestine gains in increased international stature. It’s a U.N. nonmember observer state, and its flag flies in front of United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. The Vatican recognizes the State of Palestine, and other nations are considering similar action. Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movements are slowly spreading globally, and on American university campuses, groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace and Open Hillel are finding young audiences responsive to calls for justice and peace.
If I were an Israeli, I’d worry: Would I want to be engaged in the Palestinian legitimization process, or would I fear being left behind?
If I were an Israeli, I’d worry that if there’s “Psychotic Rage” to be confronted it might be internal – the rage in the heart of the occupier and its apologists who refuse to accept that their violence-based colonial settler-state expansion experiment will fail.
It’s time for Israel, as the dominant power, to recognize that violence does not beget peace – it begets violence. After innumerable wars, military actions without measure and repressive governance of an occupied people, it’s time to recognize that violence will not bring Israel the security and stability it needs and deserves.
It’s time for both Israelis and Palestinians to understand they are forever bound together. What’s left to decide is whether the ties will be silk or steel, whether as partners or as enemies.
“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land,” Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, “The land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”
Above all, dignity.