Scribblings: “Powerless victims”
Mar 27, 2023 | Tzvi Fleischer
Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa’s visit to Australia for the Adelaide Writers’ Week was a useful reminder not only of how extreme and ugly Palestinian discourse about Israel, Zionists and Jews can get – but also how unapologetic some Palestinian advocates can be about even blatant racism, open support for violence against civilians, clear dehumanisation, and deliberate disregard for the truth.
On radio, Abulhawa defended her racism and extremism by saying that Palestinians are “quite literally a colonised, exiled people who live under a brutal military occupation” and that it was “shocking… that after 75 years of this, we are still being tone policed.” In other words, no one has a right to object to anything Palestinians say or do in their total, no holds barred, war against Israel because they are powerless victims. Abulhawa even explicitly used the excuse “we are powerless” in that interview.
A few other recent Palestinian quotes further illustrate this phenomenon.
One was another colleague invited to the Adelaide Writers’ Week, Mohammed El-Kurd, who at a panel discussion on March 5 admitted calling Israel “Apartheid” might be a misuse of the term, but said he didn’t care, as long it meant “the villain [Israel] is portrayed clearly”:
I think what the word itself as a word — I’m not even talking about the legal definition of the word ‘apartheid’… — but the negative word that is ‘apartheid’ and the negative connotation it carries in the psyche of the public. I think… it has been, engineering and establishing a cultural shift in the way people approach and talk about Palestine.
But I’m less concerned with the accuracy of the word… I don’t care. As long as there is a conversation happening in which the villain is portrayed clearly, I think that’s good.
El-Kurd also defended saying Jews are thirsty for Palestinian blood as poetic licence.
Another Palestinian who illustrates the extent to which the Palestinian sense of total victimhood can lead to utter disregard for basic human morality is Rasha Abdullah Salameh, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent who visited a Holocaust museum in the US. She wrote about her anger at that visit in a Jordanian newspaper, Al-Ghad (March 13, translation by MEMRI):
My fury was growing every minute… The Jews in charge of the museum… do not mention that they emerged from their darkness, thirsting for blood, and inflicting more than the Holocaust, suffocation in gas chambers, and execution by firing squad, on the Palestinians, until this moment… The ornate Jewish tales have been greatly exaggerated. They claim a number of victims exceeding 6 million Jews, with an almost complete absence of historical sources… with an absolute absence of the complementary narrative, which is the occupation of Palestine… the massacres of its inhabitants, and the infliction of torture on them that exceeds what the Nazis did.
Yes, she was furious that Jews commemorate the Holocaust – not only because she insists it was exaggerated, but because what happened to Palestinians is so much worse!
Such extremism, hate without limits and disregard for historical truth – among Palestinian intellectuals, not gun-toting militants – and insistence that it’s okay because Palestinians are “powerless victims” go a long way toward explaining why peace has proven so elusive. More than this, they must also be terribly destructive of efforts to develop a healthy and life-affirming Palestinian culture and civil society.
Settler violence is real and indefensible, but…
The world witnessed a horrific and indefensible attack on the town of Huwara by a few hundred Jewish radicals on Feb. 26. The Huwara attack led to 30 homes being burned or damaged, numerous injuries, and one death in unclear circumstances. It was the worst example of such violence against Palestinians by Jewish civilians since the Duma attack in 2015, when a firebombing of a Palestinian home killed three members of the Dawabsheh family, including an 18-month-old baby.
The Huwara attack can be contextualised to some extent by the anger in local communities over the cold-blooded murder of two young Jewish motorists travelling through the village earlier that same day. This absolutely does not make it excusable or defensible.
Nonetheless, the phenomenon of settler violence does need to be put into a larger context.
The UN says that there were 621 settler attacks leading to damage to Palestinian property in 2022, and 228 attacks that led to injury to Palestinian persons – a sharp increase from the previous year.
Obviously, that is 849 attacks too many (let’s set aside reservations that these numbers come mainly from politicised Palestinian NGOs, and are thus questionable).
Yet that same year, there were well over 9,000 Palestinian terror attacks emanating from the West Bank – including 7,589 rock-throwing incidents, 1,268 Molotov cocktail incidents, 285 shooting incidents, at least 350 pipe bomb attacks, as well as dozens of stabbing and car-ramming attacks.
Aside from the magnitude of difference in numbers, there is also a clear difference in lethality. The vast majority of the settler attacks were incidents like spray-painting graffiti, or damaging cars or crops. Attacks on people often involved physical beatings or violent altercations, or stone-throwing. Clearly criminal, but most not really murderous.
The same cannot be said of the Palestinian attacks, which were mostly intended to kill – and they did, leading to 31 Israeli deaths. (More Palestinians were killed in 2022, but almost all were armed militants or active terrorist attackers, as documented in the last two “Scribblings” columns.)
Residents of settler communities bore the brunt of the 25 or so Palestinian attacks per day last year. This is the context in which the violence by a tiny fringe of the settler movement takes place.
That context absolutely does not excuse it. Israeli security forces should almost certainly have been doing more about this violence against Palestinians before Huwara, and the need for tougher measures today, after Huwara, appears overwhelming.
Nonetheless, those – like the UN and pro-Palestinian NGOs – who downplay or ignore the issue of murderous Palestinian violence against Israelis, while denouncing settler violence in the most vehement terms, are ignoring the elephant in the room.