The other day, I went online for what was supposed to be a quick Internet search. Instead I ended up spending a couple of hours meandering from one website to another, led by links and Google hits, increasingly fascinated – and appalled – by what I was seeing. What I was looking at was the websites of organizations – mostly American, and mostly Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim, and also Swedish, Australian, English, Dutch, and so on – that claim to be concerned about the Palestinians and to be working toward a Middle East in which members of every religion can live together in peace and “mutual understanding.”
Some of the organizations, especially the Christian ones, describe themselves and their activities in consistently warm and fuzzy – and, not infrequently, vague – language, focusing on such values as respect and reconciliation, peace and empowerment, hope and healing, freedom and dignity. They seem eager to convey the impression that they have a deep regard for all human beings, including people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and an unshakable belief in nonviolence:
Through a commitment to the principles of nonviolence, Holy Land Trust aspires to strengthen and empower the peoples of the Holy Land to engage in spiritual, pragmatic and strategic paths that will end all forms of oppression. We create the space for the healing of the historic wounds in order to transform communities and build a future that makes the Holy Land a global model for understanding, respect, justice, equality and peace.
MEND works holistically towards peace, and more specifically towards empowering Palestinians, both individually and collectively, towards raising awareness of choice and towards rekindling hope.
Peace and security are rights not just for some of us, but for all the people of the world. Controlling another person’s life, possessions, future, and thoughts is a crime and a humiliation. We have dreams and hopes of freedom, so we are inviting all the people of the world to stand with us and share in our struggle for freedom. (Palestinian Solidarity Project)
B'Tselem has championed human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for over two decades, promoting a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity.
Following in Christ’s footsteps, Wi’am strives to build a culture of peace and acceptance in Bethlehem, Palestine, and for the world....We Hope that every people can exercise their right to self-determination without stunting the growth of other nations....We Hope for an end to fear and hatred that oppresses both victim and perpetrator, an end to the cycles of violence and trauma but a beginning for healing....We hope that our children will enjoy their childhood free from fear and trauma. We hope as well as for that precious fruit of determination and statehood: Freedom.
Other organizations employ rather more aggressive rhetoric. For instance, a group called Righteous Jews, which seeks “to commemorate the memory of those Palestinians who have been, and continue to be depopulated, dispossessed, humiliated, tortured, and murdered in the name of political Zionism,” does not disguise its ferocious anti-Israeli sentiments. The site's newest addition is an essay entitled “How I Became a Holocaust Denier.” What's interesting is that many of the groups that describe themselves in the most innocuous ways, and that place a huge emphasis on spirituality and nonviolence, routinely work with, link to, and support the groups that use the most vicious anti-Israeli language, and that give every indication of having no problem with violence. And some of the groups that represent themselves as thoroughly peaceful and spiritual also have calendars of events that, well, make one wonder about those self-characterizations: last July, for example, the public events at the Friends International Center in Ramallah included discussions of the books Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Indoctrination by Nurit Peled (there was no mention, needless to say, of any plans to discuss the representation of Jews in Muslim school books) and Arafat and his Dream: An Insider’s View, a hagiography by sometime Arafat henchman Bassah Abu Sharif.
One Christian site serves up a Ramallah-based British pastor's comment (it's from 1999, but the sentiment certainly hasn't gone out of date) that Israeli leaders come in two kinds: “Some of the leaders are foxes and some are wolves. The fox is sly about how he gets at you whereas the wolf attacks you right away, so there is no difference in the end result.” (For good measure, the pastor adds: “The White House is controlled by Zionists.”) Meanwhile, the website of the Badil Resource Center (which at least appears to have no spiritual pretensions) features a new article entitled “Calling a Spade a Spade: The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” There are, as it happens, plenty of references on these sites, Christian and otherwise, to Israel's “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine. Moreover, if Israel, for many secular Europeans, is the new Nazi Germany and Palestinians are the new Jews, not a few of the Christian humanitarians in Palestine enjoy comparing the Israelis to the Romans (or, sometimes, King Herod) and the Palestinians to the Holy Family.
Surfing from one of these websites to another, I was astonished by a number of things – first of all, by the sheer number of organizations that describe themselves as being dedicating to providing various types of aid, comfort, counsel, and support to the Palestinian people. One Swedish group's website mentions that it “has established partnerships with around 50 Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations that together cover five thematic areas: Democracy, human rights, social and economic justice, gender equality and peace and reconciliation” – and those fifty are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Not that I didn't already know there were plenty of such organizations – but when you just keep following links and finding more and more and more of them, each with its heartfelt mission statement and its firsthand accounts of activities and its heartwarming photographs of its staffers interacting with Palestinians, it makes quite an impact. Pictures start forming in your mind of West Bank and Gaza villages positively swarming with visiting do-gooders, bumping into and stumbling over one another in their eagerness to “make a difference for the Palestinian people.”
A young American who spent last summer in the Palestinian territories as a participant in one such initiative posted an online diary that is admirable for its candor about this absurd side of the whole business. Within the space of a few days, he witnessed a “music festival...sponsored by both Swedish and local companies” featuring “both Swedish and Palestinian bands”; “a children’s music festival” in which young Austrian and Palestinian musicians provided “entertainment and, ostensibly, hope to audiences of Palestinian and some Austrian families”; and “an inspiring mass” at which friends of Palestine from around the world “sang Kumbaya” together. Yes, really. While pronouncing himself “inspired,” the young American conceded that all this was just “a small glimpse into the 'peace industry' that exists here, where organizations can get investment dollars for almost anything.”
To read most of these websites you would think that the reason why all these compassionate souls have flocked to the Palestinian territories is that this is the most troubled corner of the planet – that the inhabitants here are the poorest on earth, the most deprived of education, employment, and medical care, the most exposed to violence, starvation, and disease, and the most subject to torture, unjust imprisonment, and assorted forms of abuse and humiliation. All, of course, the fault of Israel. Yet even the most cursory comparative study shows otherwise. On the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index, the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” come in at #114 out of 187, placing them under the category of “Medium Human Development.” Looking over the list, one might feel that their placement should actually be a good deal higher, but never mind. As it is, they're just below Egypt, at #113 – which means that despite all the horrible things that the evil characters in charge of Israel supposedly do to make every day of their lives a hell on earth, the Palestinians, according to the U.N. (which, as we know, is no great friend of Israel), are doing almost exactly as well as the Egyptians right next door.
Then there's the South Africa angle. The folks who wring their hands raw over the Palestinians' horrible living conditions, and who condemn Israel for subjecting them to an apartheid-like nightmare, are the same ones who celebrate the post-apartheid Republic of South Africa as a glorious success story. Well, guess what? South Africa is at #123 on the U.N. list, nine places below the Palestinian territories.
But the main point about the U.N. list is that there are dozens of countries that are plainly worse off than the Palestinian territories – many of them far worse off. Yet, compared to the armies of Americans and other Westerners who are proud to identify themselves as friends of the Palestinians, the number who are rushing to, say, Mozambique (#184) or Malawi (#171) or Mali (#175) and forming organizations to help out the suffering people there is minuscule.
Perusing these friends-of-Palestine websites, one discovers certain phenomena over and over again – among them a staggering naivete and sentimentality, a colossal ignorance of history (or a remarkable determination to block it out), and a reflexive, vicious hatred of Israel and, yes, Jews. On these sites, Palestine often seems less like a real place on the map, a place where real people live out their lives, than some perverse combination of a poverty-and-suffering theme park for idle, affluent Americans, a laboratory in which Peace Studies practitioners can carry out their experiments, and a destination for left-wing Christian pilgrims in search a virtue fix. On none of the websites I looked at was there so much as the slightest hint of awareness that more than a few Palestinians are in the grip of a self-destructive psychopathology that has been instilled in them by terrorist movements and on which they have brought up their children, almost surely guaranteeing that their people, however much “help” they may receive from all over the Western world, will not develop a normally functioning society or a productive economy in any of our lifetimes, but will continue to be fixated on murder and mayhem.
There's one running theme in many of the accounts by the “friends of Palestine.” They've gone to the Holy Land to observe and get upset about Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians, and in one case after another, to judge by their own accounts, the only thing they actually find to get worked up about is the security procedures that Palestinians have to undergo when they cross from one side of the famous “wall” to the other. Overwrought accounts of what it is like to endure this purportedly insulting, arduous, and humiliating ritual are ubiquitous on these sites. They do not convince. Compared to any number of things that people are being put through in various parts of the world right now on a daily basis, the security procedures at the “wall” seem tame indeed. Virtually never, of course, do any of these websites even admit in passing that the reason for these procedures is the same reason why laborious security procedures have been instituted at international airports in countries around the world: in a word, jihad.
A final point. The websites of several of the Christian friends-of-Palestine organizations note the dramatic decline in the number of Christians in Palestine over the last couple of generations. A typical plaint: “Christians are the minority in this land where the faith was born. Many Palestinian Christians are suffering and leaving the country.” The implication is always that Israel is at fault. At none of these sites is there any mention of the fact that the number of Christians is declining across the Muslim world, and for one reason only. “Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East,” read a December 23 headline in the Daily Telegraph. No religious group, the Telegraph noted, is more persecuted around the world than Christians, and their chief oppressors are Muslims, thanks to whom “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left [the Muslim world] or been killed in the past century.” It's a phenomenon on a massive scale – but one that the mainstream media rarely report on, and one that all the smug, self-satisfied Christians who profess to fret endlessly about the Palestinians don't show any sign of giving a damn about.
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