Palestinian Violence Bred by Incitement? You Mean the Occupation?

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Palestinians at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in 2012.
Palestinians at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in 2012.Credit: Michal Fattal

“Palestinian incitement.” Sometimes I wonder what we would do without that pair of words, or without expressions such as “a tailwind for terrorism,” “defensive democracy” and “What would you have done?”

In January, Dafna Meir was murdered at the entrance to her home in Otniel. Most of the media outlets in Israel highlighted the fact that the young Palestinian who murdered her was influenced by inciteful statements broadcast on Palestinian television. On visiting the site of the killing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “Palestinian incitement is what is causing terrorism.”

That same month, Shlomit Kriegman was murdered at a grocery store in Beit Horon. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the causes of the murder, like those spawning the current entire wave of violence, are “the harsh incitement and the flagrant lies to which young Palestinians are exposed on the social networks, in the media and in the educational system.”

Members of the Israeli leadership have similar reasons to explain the wave of terrorist attacks in the area around Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate and the involvement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem in these attacks. In response to one of the stabbings in recent months, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said, “The terrorist attack is the result of continuing Palestinian incitement.”

Likud MK Anat Berko, an expert on the subject of terrorism, found a similar explanation for the terrorist attacks in the Jerusalem area. Berko said it is incitement in the Palestinian educational system that leads young people to set out to commit the attacks. “I have internal information on incitement running rampant in the Sakhnin educational network of schools in East Jerusalem, from which there have been four terrorist youth recently,” she said.

This Pavlovian response, which has led public figures to pull out a reference to “Palestinian incitement” after each attack, is very disturbing. There is no denying that there have indeed been those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip calling for the use of violence, but things must be stated accurately: These are secondary tremors. The main temblor is the reality that between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River there is only one state, Israel; only one army, the Israel Defense Forces; only one people that enjoys independence; only one Law of Return; only one hope; and also only one occupation, which will soon be 50 years old.

Try for a moment to imagine a world without “Palestinian incitement.” Try to imagine that the person who carried out the terrorist attack in Otniel, 16-year-old Murad Adais from Beit Amra in the southern West Bank, had not watched television in the days prior to the attack. What insight could be drawn from that? What would he have seen from the window of his home? Which Israelis would he have met? Soldiers at a roadblock? Settlers going around with weapons whose communities were built on Palestinian land? Imagine that the Palestinian who murdered Shlomit Kriegman had not been exposed to Facebook. What political insight would have occurred to Ibrahim Allan, 23, from the Qalandiya refugee camp?

Would Allan have really needed a Twitter account to know that his life was in the dumps and that the refugee problem is alive and kicking? Would he have needed someone to “brainwash” him about the occupation? After all, he was living next to the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem, which has become a symbol of Israeli control over the lives of the Palestinians.

One could say similar things about the Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Is it incitement in the schools that brought about their deep despair? Would the daily home demolitions have not sufficed? Or the shortage of 1,000 classrooms in East Jerusalem? The call by Israeli decision makers to change the status quo on the Temple Mount? The wall separating Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem from other Palestinian neighborhoods in the same city?

It is as if the pair of words “Palestinian incitement” had become another pain reliever to which Israel has become addicted. Like “the need to strengthen hasbara (public diplomacy),” Palestinian incitement has distracted our attention from the main issues. It is liable to lead us to the mistaken conclusion that a Palestinian mother who has lost a daughter is less aggrieved than a Jewish mother who has lost a daughter. It causes us to focus on Palestinian incitement rather than the conditions in the lives of the Palestinians themselves: the lack of a Palestinian state, the military occupation, the millions of refugees whose problem is our problem, the poverty, the roadblocks, the walls, the despair. What would we have done without Palestinian incitement? Who knows. Maybe we would have dared look inward.

The writer is the director of the Center for Jewish-Arab Relations at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thought.

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