A common blueprint of Israeli hasbara, or official propaganda, is to deflect criticism of its actions in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by stressing that within the 1948 boundaries, it is a model of democracy incomparable to other societies in the Middle East. The reality however is far from this. In fact, Israel is in the grip of a wave of unchecked racism and incitement, both from a societal and an institutional point of view. It therefore does not come as a surprise that last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Israel is going to officially monitor “incitement” within the Palestinian Authority (PA), and periodically issue reports on it.
Toward this end, Netanyahu appointed Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the former senior intelligence officer of the IDF Central Command, as government coordinator for incitement in the PA. “The incitement index” will be produced by monitoring broadcasts in the official PA media, statements and actions by senior PA officials and textbooks, senior Israeli official spokesmen stated. Yossi aims to monitor all acts which “encourage terrorist acts”, which demonize Israel and which create an atmosphere of hostility. This “index” will allow the Israeli government to “set parameters by which to measure the level of incitement,” and which encourage a supposed atmosphere of violence and alleged anti-Semitic manifestations.
Not only is it hard to understand how the collection of non-numerical data can be “quantified”, there also seem to be various flaws in the thrust underpinning this proposal.
The debate started with Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to name a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mugrhabi, a Palestinian woman who took part in the coastal road operation three decades ago, in which 38 Israelis were killed. It seems however that the granting of “martyrdom” status is not confined to the Palestinian Authority only. Let us not forget the 1994 massacre, in the city of Hebron, when Baruch Goldstein entered a mosque and opened fire, killing 29 Muslims during prayer. Subsequently, a shrine was erected in Goldstein’s memory in the Meir Kahane Memorial Park, a Jewish settlement adjacent to Hebron. Until 1999, when legislation and a Supreme Court ruling prohibited monuments to terrorists, this shrine was a pilgrimage site visited by over 10,000 people. Its plaque read: “To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel.” In any case, the inauguration ceremony in the Ramallah square was cancelled. Netanyahu stated that naming a square after Mughrabi was “problematic in the extreme” and that “this was not how peace was made”. Well, let us look back a couple of decades, and see how, if anything, Israel can enlighten us on how peace is not made.
Israel’s argument is that, under the “1993 Oslo Agreements”, the Palestinians committed themselves to eliminating violence and “incitement” against Israel. In fact, the Oslo Agreements required a commitment from both sides to refrain from incitement and an agreement to amend the educational systems to reflect the peaceful coexistencei. Under the 2003 Quartet-backed “Road Map for peace” proposal, the Palestinians committed to end violence and incitement against Israelis, and Israel was required to halt all settlement construction, amongst other things. There is no point for Israel to point the finger at Palestinians for “inciting” violence against Israel, when a plan to build 1,600 settler homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement was officially approved last week. Not only are these settlements unlawful under international humanitarian law, which prohibits population transfers by an Occupying Power into lands that it occupies, but they are severely depriving the Palestinians from their basic human rights. Therefore, by reducing the argument to whether or not the Palestinians have abided by their agreement and stopped “incitement” against Israel, simply misses the point.
We can easily turn the coin and examine how Israel uses misleading language and terminology in the media on the events occurring in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For example, Zvi Bar’el explains in his article, Israel is demanding peace from the Palestinians as its own racism spreads. The West Bank is referred to as “Judea and Samarae”, we are often presented with a decorated illegal annexation of East Jerusalem which is termed a “defensive operation” and settlements which are deemed illegal under international law commonly referred to as mere “towns”. So who is inciting violence against whom?
Israeli settler violence against civilians is a theme which is also often overlooked. When Palestinians attack Israelis, the Israeli authorities use all means at their disposal (including non legal means such as administrative detention and arbitrary arrests, which are incompatible with international law and international humanitarian law) to arrest suspects and bring them to trial. Settlers on the contrary enjoy the support of the government, and when they attack Palestinians, the Israeli authorities employ leniency and fail to enforce the law against them. The discrimination undermining this difference of treatment is a clear example of how Israel flouts the well known principle of “equality before the law.” One is probably not bewildered by this attitude, since the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, has himself lived since 1988 in Nokdim, a settlement in the West Bank.
Before moving to racism within the 1948 boundaries, it is worth mentioning how Palestinian children are often used as tools to support Israel’s “incitement” campaign. Israel claims that these children are “full of hate” against Israel. What else is to be expected from children, when up to 300 are being held in Israeli prisons in administrative detention for throwing stones, or not even that? These children are forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, forcing them to admit to crimes they did not commit. Some of these are as young as 12, who according to a recent Guardian article, when held behind bars are treated like “terrorists”. What other means of protesting do they have when the checkpoints and Jewish only roads prevent them from going to school? Israel state officials also complain about the Palestinian educational system, whose textbooks apparently do not portray history accurately and do not refer to Israel. It is interesting that they touch on the issue of geography textbooks, because not too long ago the Northern Line on the London Underground advertised an “Experience Israel” tourism campaign which wiped out the West Bank and Gaza Strip off the map (and Lebanon, for that matter).
Finally, it is important to mention the spread of racism within Israel. A recent poll conducted by the Maagar Mochot research institution and presented at a Tel Aviv University Conference show that 56% of Israeli high school students believe that the country’s Arab citizens should be prohibited from being elected to the Knesset and should not be allowed to vote, and that the figure rises to 82 percent among religious youths. Israel lacks a written constitution unlike Britain, which has no written constitution either but contains the Habeas Corpus act of 1679, the Human Rights Act of 1998 and many other quasi-constitutional documents and constitutional conventions which guarantee individual rights. Israel is yet to enact a constitution or laws which guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. The Israeli Supreme Court is flooded with employment or land dispute cases, and is simply not equipped to guarantee equality between Israeli Jews and their Arab counterparts. If the Israeli government wants to condemn “incitement”, shouldn’t they start by first cleaning up their act and redress this discriminatory imbalance?
This article does not aim to justify any alleged Palestinian incitement, since two wrongs do not make a right. It is evident however that the position of both parties is substantially different, and the context of the occupation should always be taken into account. Officially monitoring Palestinian levels of incitement distorts the reality and demeans the suffering of the 1,5 million Palestinians under siege in the Gaza Strip, of the hundreds of innocent Palestinians who are administratively detained and of the hundreds of families who are left homeless when their houses are demolished by bulldozers. It also silences the voice of brave young Israelis who refuse to serve in the IDF army and are jailed for this, and of human rights activists like Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a bulldozer operated by the IDF forces whilst attempting to prevent them from demolishing the home of a Palestinian family.
This initiative aims to portray Israel as angelic. It aims to transform its status of “Occupier” to that of “victim”. It is a hoax and I did not fall for it.
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