By Gil Troy, National Post, March 07, 2008
Sometimes, for a brief moment, the clouds part and the moral issues surrounding the Middle East conflict become clear.
This week’s shooting at a Jerusalem school shined a harsh spotlight on the nihilistic violence that lies at the core of Palestinian nationalism. Building an entire ideology — eagerly fed by the rest of the Arab world — that focuses so much on attacking the Jewish state is perverse and self-destructive. In the wake of this week’s tragedy, the challenge now is for those forces able to trigger reforms within Palestinian society to recognize its self-destructive path, and demand change.
On Thursday, a Palestinian terrorist entered the library of a Jerusalem Yeshiva, Mercaz HaRav, and sprayed students with as many as 600 bullets. Moments later, eight students, ranging in age from 15 to 26, lay dead, and another 10 lay wounded. Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vaguely condemned “all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli,” this bloodbath triggered celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank. Gazans proudly shot rifles into the air and threw candy in delight. The murderer’s family claims his entire village is proud of him.
By contrast, earlier in the week, when Israel felt compelled to enter Gaza temporarily after over 7,000 rockets had rained down on the town of Sderot during seven trying years, and long-range rockets from Iran had ripped into the city of Ashkelon, Israel’s soldiers tried hitting surgically. Most of the Gazan dead were terrorists — and the civilian casualties that resulted triggered an anguished debate among Israelis. The bystanders’ deaths were mourned not celebrated; the difficult dilemma of how to fight an enemy embedded among civilians was dissected endlessly.
Imagine that after the Dawson College shootings in Montreal last year, the gunman Kimveer Gill had become a pop star to young Americans, and no American leaders specifically condemned worshiping this murderer. How would Canadians react? Imagine that Mexicans toasted Steven Kazmierczak on the streets of Tijuana after he slaughtered five students at Northern Illinois University last month. Would Americans forgive Mexicans for the gesture? Would they consider making political concessions to Mexico as a result? The celebration of this sort of slaughter entails a dehumanization of the victims so intense as to dehumanize the apologist. Such hatred is all-consuming.
This addiction to violence has been the Palestinian national movement’s central failing. The repeated embrace of violence over compromise, and the celebration of barbaric terrorist attacks, serve to blacken the soul, individually and collectively. Such mindless outward violence inevitably leads to a society that solves internal problems with similar brutality. The Fatah-Hamas blood feuds in the West Bank and Gaza reveal the legacy of decades of Jew-hatred. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s insight rings truer than ever: As long as Palestinians hate Israeli children more than they love their own kids, peace is unattainable. As long as organizations such as Hamas invest more in trying to destroy Israeli society than building a Palestinian state, the violence will only fester.
Not surprisingly, the United Nations Security Council refused to condemn the Mercaz HaRav attack. As long as phrases such as “cycle of violence” are used to rationalize pathological behaviour, the most violent nihilists in the Palestinian national movement will feel emboldened. The equivocators enable the terror, and share the blame — at least indirectly.
Another truism of unclear origin: If the Palestinians had produced a Gandhi, instead of a Yasser Arafat, if the Palestinians had relied on non-violence not terrorism, they would have had a strong, viable state long ago. To that insight, we must add a new truism: that if so many people in the world did not equivocate in the face of Palestinian terror, let alone justify it, peace would have been achieved long ago, too.
The enablers and perpetrators of terror are both guilty, not only of crimes against Israel, but of crimes against humanity.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University.