Daniel in Brookline — to whose excellent blog I warmly commend you — recently posed an interesting question in response to my post, Where Is Gary Cooper When You Need Him?. The post addressed the incident not long ago in which Palestinian drivers protesting a rise in gas prices were sprayed with gunfire by members of Fatah’s military wing. (Fatah is not a renegade splinter group; it is the party of the Palestinian chief executive.)
Daniel is curious: “Has anyone protested this brutal mistreatment of Palestinians?”
The short answer is no, not that I’m aware of. But the question had me thinking all weekend, and it’s prompted me to posit a thesis I’ve expressed before only in private. It is this. The blithe disregard by the otherwise opinion-happy observing international community for Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence reflects, above all factors, a fundamental racism. No, not a healthy respect for the differences among cultures and the need to allow those cultures to express themselves in their own unique ways in order to foster a world of tolerance and understanding. Racism.
Before we get to the outsiders looking in, let’s consider the locals. Daniel asks about Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), the Israeli peace movement founded in 1978 during the Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations. It is true that they have been as conspicuously silent as anyone else about the intra-Palestinian bloodshed that has prevailed since the disengagement from Gaza, but I think one can safely argue that the human rights of the individual Palestinian, while obviously of concern, were never a prime motivating factor for Shalom Achshav. As they state on their website,
The basic principles of the movement from the outset were the right of Israel to live within secure borders and the right of our neighbors to the same, including the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
While I don’t doubt that most members of the movement find the Palestinian version of self-determination disappointing up to this point, the championing of Palestinian civil rights when the Palestinians are ruling themselves was never the organization’s remit. Shalom Achshav is motivated by the desire to remove from Israel the role of oppressor (however accurately or otherwise that label might be applied). Shalom Achshav maintains, for example, a project called Settlement Watch, which “monitors – and protests – the building of settlements, including housing tenders, expropriation of lands, budget allocations, and the like” and also conducts studies on settler attitudes toward withdrawal. The notion of a “Palestinian Self-Rule Watch” by Israelis would, I imagine, strike most members of Shalom Achshav as the height of presumption (and would, no doubt, be met by a torrent of Palestinian righteous indignation. I’m sure Saeb Erekat would have some choice words for any Israelis who deigned to point out the Palestinians’ failings to them.)
I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but I would say that Shalom Achshav’s primary concern is the restoration of Israeli confidence in our own morality — an end to the discomfiting state of affairs in which we must, if we are honest with ourselves, question the fundamental rightness of our own actions toward others. Although I have certainly met Israeli members of the organization who despise their country at a very deep level, most of them are motivated not by self-loathing but by an abiding love for Israel. The Palestinians will need to get their own act together — and that was always the point.
But what about the rest of the world? All those activists on campuses in Britain, for example. And those editorial writers at the Guardian. Where is Sue Blackwell, champion of the anti-Israel academic boycott by the British Association of University Teachers? Where is Mona Baker, Egyptian-born editor of the British academic journal The Translator, who was so offended by the occupation that she forcibly removed two Israeli academics from the editorial boards of her publications (now that’ll teach ‘em)? Where is the International Solidarity Movement, sponsors of flag-burning “peace missions” to occupied Gaza? I could have sworn they all held some pretty strong views on the basic human right of Palestinians to live in safety and build their nation. Innocent Palestinians — little girls, taxi drivers, civilians of every stripe — have been dying in Gaza since disengagement was completed. Don’t these people have anything to say?
Well, no. The problem is not, and has never been, Palestinian suffering per se. The problem is Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis. And just as the Palestinians cannot be blamed for their acts of grotesque violence against Israelis, nor can they be blamed for their acts of grotesque violence against each other. Why not? Because unlike the Israelis, who, like “us”, should know better, they just can’t help it. This is how “they” behave. It is not for us to interfere, or even comment.
This cavalierly racist attitude sprang into full relief for me over an incident that occurred last Wednesday. A couple of dozen Fatah men (yes, them again) stormed Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. They burst into the office of university president Dr. Adnan al-Khaldi, beat him, and forced him to run for his life. Nor was this the first incident of its kind — al-Khaldi had escaped another Fatah lynch mob earlier in the year. The university, unable to function, has now closed down.
This is the test, I thought. Surely this story offends the delicate sensibilities of those high-minded, passionate observers abroad. Surely all those scholars, so willing to put themselves on the front lines for Palestinian human rights, will be stirred to rescue the disintegrating Palestinian academy.
The great irony, of course, is that these arbiters of righteousness — these staunch defenders of the moral high ground — class us, the contemptible Israelis, along with them. We are to be held to what (in a weak moment) they might define as a civilized standard of behavior, while the Palestinians do not warrant such an exacting standard. In the view of their advocates abroad, the Palestinians are simply not capable of meeting it. So for all their cringing at the sight of their own names next to Israeli ones on journal mastheads, the Sue Blackwells and Mona Bakers of the world believe we’re in their club.
Those Palestinians suffering in the streets of Gaza, meanwhile — those people being dragged from their offices and homes and beaten and shot, or having the doors of their university slammed shut in their faces by Fatah thugs, or being murdered for the crime of protesting gas prices — will have a long wait before they get any help, or even acknowledgement, from their friends abroad. But hey, it’s not so bad. They’ll be back in a flash if the Israelis start throwing their weight around. And remember — they have the greatest respect for the dignity of Palestinian culture.