In our stressful state of occupation, there is, among other ills, an essentialist view of Israeli and Palestinian characteristics. In the many public talks that I have given to Westerners about the violation of the rights of Palestinians, one question almost invariably comes up: “What about the fears of the Israelis?” Similarly, how many times have we heard Western media and even the President of the United States speak of “Palestinian hatred”? These words take for granted the guilt of those who “hate” and the innocence of those who “fear”. However, the reality is that we cannot understand concerns regarding the fears of the Israelis without dissecting the accusations of “Palestinian hatred”.
One problem in this dichotomy is its assumption of a fixed, static state, as if the fears of the Israelis and the hatred of the Palestinians are inborn, permanent traits with no variation among group members. The presumption of eternal and unanimous characteristics serves to maintain the oppressive relationship between the occupier and the occupied and to obstruct political change. To find a way out, the essentialism must be contextualised and deconstructed.
Let us begin by clarifying the disproportionality of the fears of the Israelis with regard to the realistic harm that Palestinians have brought upon them. Israel has long had one of the most powerful armies in the world; it gives “lessons in security” to other nations and exports arms to them for the purpose of oppressing others. Moreover, in order to foster its violent occupation and suppress the natural reflexive resistance on the part of the natives of Palestine, Israel has caged unarmed Palestinians behind walls and appointed colluding Palestinians to maintain order and silence within these cages. By means of long-term and sophisticated strategies to damage Palestinian collective identity, Israel has infiltrated every Palestinian neighbourhood with spies and collaborators. In every previous confrontation, the number of Palestinian casualties has been 100 times the number of Israeli casualties. Thousands of Palestinians are in Israeli prisons, not the other way around; thousands of Palestinian, not Israeli, homes have been demolished by Israeli bulldozers; and yet it is the unarmed and stateless Palestinians who are asked to be considerate of Israeli fears.
In view of these facts, it is unjust and insulting when the question of “Israeli fears” is addressed to a Palestinian, insofar as the question itself reveals deep denial of the longstanding history of Israeli violence. The plea for empathy and understanding, when addressed to the victims of Israeli occupation, is absurd, yet the expectation is that Palestinians must demonstrate understanding and offer reassurance for their oppressors’ fears. The failure to do so is taken as further evidence of “Palestinian hatred” and confirmation that the Israelis are right to fear them.
I understand very well the traumatic fears caused by the history of the Jews in Europe during the 20th and previous centuries, but why should I, a Palestinian, be called upon to soothe these past fears when I am busy with the traumatic present of occupied Palestine? How can I experience deep empathy for this historical European tragedy when the Israeli threats to my existence and security continue to upstage past events in demanding my urgent attention?
Furthermore, the fear of the Israelis is not simply innocent traumatic heritage; it is a suspect political instrument; a wicked manipulation justifying their cruel treatment of the Palestinians. The invocation of Israeli fears silences protest against the occupation, insisting that all Israelis are implicated in the occupation regardless of their individual hesitations about it. And more evil yet is the fact that this manipulated fear cannot be soothed until the Palestinians disappear completely.
The pretence of fear provides an excuse for crime and absolves “frightened” criminals of responsibility; it falsely attributes the responsibility to the “frightening” victims of the crime instead. Is this not what is implied by the misnomer “Islamophobia?” Why is prejudice and crime directed at Jews called anti-Semitism when prejudice and crime against Muslims — many of whom are also Semites — is not called anti-Muslim hate and a crime? It is called instead the minimising term “Islamophobia”, implying that the hate, racism and criminality of the perpetrator is justified because he or she suffers from anxiety and irrational fears about Islam.
To be fair, a degree of fear on the part of Israelis is appropriate; it’s the fear that a tiny proportion of their violence might come back to haunt them, rarely as rockets or a bombing, more often as a Palestinian youth may attempt to punish the Israelis by throwing a stone or pursuing an Israeli soldier with a screwdriver. These things may happen as long as the United Nations and the Palestinian leadership fail to hold the Israelis to account for their crimes.
Attributing fear to the Israelis recruits empathic identification with them, whereas attributing the degrading trait of hatred to the Palestinians provokes repulsion and aversion to them. While there is hatred for the state of Israel among Palestinians, this does not go beyond the adaptive and inevitable hatred that any oppressed and colonised group holds for the collective group that has perpetrated endless crimes against them. Palestinians do not hate Israelis as Jews but as participants in the system responsible for their political oppression. Palestinians are not born with hate in their hearts; hate develops as an appropriate reaction to the totality of the heinous experiences of life under occupation. The people of Palestine are not known for their anti-Semitism; they have welcomed pilgrims from Africa and refugees from Armenia. Many Muslim and Christian Palestinians were married to Jews living in Palestine before the occupation. Like any nation, though, the people of Palestine hate the theft of their land, the pain and the humiliation that the occupation has inflicted upon them. This is, surely, legitimate hate, serving the function of distinguishing harm from safety and motivating resistance to oppression rather than submission to despair.
To expect Palestinians to be free of hate or other negative feelings towards Israel is like expecting a raped woman to have empathy towards her rapist. This would be an example of Stockholm syndrome — a dissociation at best — and more psychologically dangerous than hate itself. This syndrome will eventually result in an internalisation of that hate which would then express itself destructively within the oppressed community.
What Israel actually fears is its own dark “Shadow,” its enormous but disowned and projected violence and hatred for the Palestinians.
It was not fear, but hatred that permitted Israel to commit massacres which evacuated Palestinian villages and towns by force, and which motivates soldiers to kill handcuffed prisoners and unconscious, wounded Palestinians. It is hatred that incites Jewish settlers to burn Palestinians alive and uproot the ancient olive trees of Palestine. Hate speech is articulated by Israeli soldiers who call Palestinians, “beasts on two legs”, “drugged cockroaches” and “crocodiles who want more meat.” This is hate speech which not only encourages hateful acts committed in the name of the occupation but also legitimises ethnic cleansing. Isn’t that what we must do with cockroaches; get rid of them?
Instead of blaming the Palestinians for their hatred and excusing the Israelis for their fear, a constructive move forward would be to help Israel to distinguish reality from fantasy. This would mean admitting Israeli’s own hatred, as well as its greed, and acknowledging that ending the heinous occupation is the only remedy for its fears.