Saturday, January 2, 2010

The "Why Can't Everyone Just Be Friends" Narrative of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, Evenhandedness Gone Mad

By Barry Rubin

It’s a heartening story just made for this season and the Western media : two seriously injured children, one Israeli and one Palestinian, becoming friends together in a hospital, with an innocence that transcends the hatred of their peoples. The New York Times article is written precisely balanced, two families, two causes, absolutely identical. Oh how foolish is this unnecessary conflict. What folly drives humanity!

On one level, who can object to such a story, so fair, balanced, so humane and touching? Nowadays, to treat Israel on an equal footing with the Palestinians is rare enough and thus should be sufficient.

Yet something bothers me about this story, everything it leaves out and misleads about.

First, the basic tale. Orel was injured by a rocket fired from Gaza at Beersheva. Marya was injured in an Israeli missile which killed a terrorist leader. Both are eight.

The Times picks up the story:

“In a way, a friendship between two wounded children from opposing backgrounds is not that surprising. Neither understands the prolonged fight over land and identity that so divides people here. They are kids. They play.

“But for those who have spent time in their presence at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, it is almost more powerful to observe their parents, who do understand. They have developed a kinship that defies national struggle.”

Yet what does this leave out, at least in part? First, how they were injured isn’t precisely the same. Orel was hit in an unprovoked Hamas attack deliberately intended to kill Israeli civilians; Marya was hit as a regrettable accident by an Israeli attack against a terrorist who had murdered other Israeli civilians and who could only be stopped in that manner.

By the standards of the United Nations, the Hamas attack had no practical implication while the Israeli assassination of a terrorist sponsored by his local government (and hence immune from any arrest) was a war crime.

The article notes, regarding Marya and her father, that “the Israeli government, which brought him here for emergency help, wanted him and his children either to return to Gaza or to move to the West Bank.”

So is the reader being told to praise the Israeli government for bringing an entire family of what could be called “enemy citizens” to its country, supporting them financially, and giving their daughter free medical care, or criticize it for wanting them to go elsewhere? This is something remarkable, an astounding humanitarian gesture and a show of responsibility and apology, demonstrating a lack of hatred on the Israeli government’s part. Why is this passed over so lightly?
Clearly, Hamas would never so treat an Israeli. Indeed such a wounded Israeli would almost certainly be murdered or held hostage. The Palestinian Authority might turn over such an Israeli to the Israeli government but would not bother or dare to give treatment.

The article continues:

“But attention in the Israeli news media produced a bevy of volunteers to fight on his behalf. Marya would not survive in either Gaza or the West Bank. The government has backed off, supporting Mr. Aman on minimum wage and paying for Marya to go to a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school nearby.”

In other words, after more than a half-century of conflict, terrorism, and hatred from the Palestinian side, individual Israeli citizens and the Israeli media—far from preaching hatred—demanded that a Palestinian be given free treatment, supported with their tax money, and allowed to stay in Israel as long as the family pleased to do so. How does this compare with the international slander of Israelis as monsters, haters, and war criminals? Again, the article gives the necessary facts but no hint of what this means.

There’s more:

“Volunteers who help are often religious Jews performing national service. Some ask Mr. Aman how he can live among the people whose army destroyed his family.”

This shows that even national religious Jews (Datim) who are very nationalist and whose community furnished many (most?) of the settlements and settlers hold such humanitarian views. They are conscious of what their country has done and of how the Palestinians might feel about it. That’s also remarkable.

The father responds:

“I have never felt there was a difference among people—Jews, Muslims, Christians—we are all human beings. I worked in Israel for years and so did my father. We know that it is not about what you are but who you are. And that is what I have taught my children.”

And so, of course, Palestinians can share such sentiments. Yet according to polls, this is hardly typical and what would Mr. Aman say if he were in Gaza, either out of conviction or peer pressure? In Israel the equivalent point of view can be given every day; in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, hardly ever.

Then the article plays a bit of a trick:

“But Mr. Aman has no official status and is also raising a healthy and bright son in a hospital room. He wants residency or a ticket to a Western country where his children will be safe and Marya will get the care she needs.”

Why does he want a ticket to a Western country “where his children will be safe”? Obviously, most Palestinians would love a visa to live in Europe or America; clearly the children would be safe there from the kind of war that crippled one daughter.

Of course not. If the family were to return to the Gaza Strip, they would be made to pay for having accepted Israeli hospitality and treatment, especially since Mr. Aman made such a statement to the media. Either Hamas (and their own neighbors) would harm them or he would be forced to renounce Israel as a horrible country that never did a good deed. No hint of this is offered in the article.

But the article is intent on its “evenhandedness”:

”Asher Franco, an Israeli Jew from Beit Shemesh who has been coming to the hospital for six months for his daughter’s treatments, was a recent visitor. They greeted each other warmly. A manual worker and former combat soldier, he was asked about their friendship. `I was raised as a complete Zionist rightist,’ he said. `The Arabs, we were told, were out to kill us. But I was living in some fantasy. Here in the hospital, all my friends are Arabs.’”

Notice he didn’t say we were raised to hate Arabs but only that the Arabs wanted to kill Israelis. That statement of course is quite true. Note, too, that Mr. Aman does not say that he was taught to hate Jews, even though that is the central point of Palestinian political culture.

The last word is givein to:

“Ms. Elizarov, Orel’s mother, noted that in places like Alyn Hospital, political tensions do not exist. Then she said, `Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?’”

Israelis don’t need to suffer because they already know that there is no difference and all are human beings. After all, Israel brought the family into Israel, supplied free medical care, paid to support the family, gave free schooling to the children, while Israeli citizens demanded that all of this be continued supported by a free Israeli media.

It is, of course, the Palestinian side—regimes, media, people—that need to learn this, have not done so, are not about to do so, and sustain the conflict.

The problem is that I know if a Palestinian suicide bomber got into my son’s school and blew himself up, killing and maiming dozens of children, there would be celebrations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The terrorist would become a hero, his picture emblazoned on posters. Candy would be handed out; mosque sermons would celebrate his accomplishment; the media would cheer. Outside of a general formal condemnation of terrorism, no Palestinian politician would utter a sincere word of criticism; no citizenry would be horrified and speak publicly against such behavior. And all this would apply throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

I also know that every day the Palestinian media pours out hatred for Israelis, extols past terrorists and urges young people to become future ones, and rejects Israel’s right to exist. Nothing comparable occurs in Israel, not from any significant political figure, not in any media, not in any synagogue or in any school.

If you have any doubts, here is the head (“president”) of the Palestinian Authority leading the celebration just last week of the fiftieth birthday of a Palestinian terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 Israeli civilians, including ten children, in 1978. This event, and many more like it, receive no coverage in the Western mass media and it takes place, of course, in an atmosphere where glorifying past terrorists is encouraging future ones.

So is everything really so equal? Are both sides really teaching to hate? No, not at all. In this article, at least they are treated as being equal. In much of the media, especially outside the United States, Israel is being treated as the party responsible for all these problems. The truth, of course, is the exact opposite. When will the Western media have the courage and honesty to write that truth?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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