The recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks, already described in the generic "cycle of violence," has released a flood of writings and reports warning of a third Intifada. Most of the voices of wisdom claim that a current atmosphere of Palestinian hopelessness in which the peace process seems to have reached a dead-end will ultimately lead to an explosion of violence and clashes between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Yet all such opinions, either willfully or unwittingly, completely ignore the nature of Palestinian acts of terror and their relationship to an identity structure and an educational tradition that came to be solidly built on antisemitism and valorization of endless violence.
According to statistics, 2022 indeed seemed to have been the most violent year in Israel since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005, with nearly 200 dead Palestinians and 30 dead Israelis. However, statistics and value-free numerical equations are usually deceptive. Most dead Palestinians were either members of terrorist organizations killed in military action or lone-wolf terrorists killed during attempted terrorist attacks. On the other hand, most dead Israelis are innocent Israeli civilians murdered in Palestinian terrorist attacks. To establish any sort of moral equivalency between the acts, no matter how unpopular or uncontroversial, of the official security agencies of a democratic state known for its rule of law and the actions of rogue terrorist organizations or indoctrinated young men is to mistake the arsonists for the firefighters. This happened immediately following the latest terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which a young Palestinian man indiscriminately opened fire at Jews leaving a synagogue after prayer, leaving seven dead before he was killed by Israeli security. Many rushed to blame the terrorist attack on an IDF military raid in Jenin which took place a day earlier and left ten dead Palestinians, 8 of whom were members of Palestinian terror groups. The events were then lumped together in a "cycle of violence" that needs to be deescalated and restrained, leaving no room for any distinction between terrorism and state action.
Underneath such positions lies a conglomerate of presuppositions and assumptions that are rarely openly discussed or mentioned. One of such major presuppositions is that Palestinian terrorism, the indiscriminate murderous violence targeting mostly defenseless Jewish civilians, is a core part of the Palestinian identity and a normative Palestinian behavior to be expected. As such, this behavior can not be blamed on Palestinian society or institutions but on Israel and Israeli action, which controls the structure of power from which the Palestinian identity emerged. In this position, highly intelligent people discover the most troubling aspect of the conflict but only to dismiss it. This form of humanistic bigotry against the Palestinians came to justify their worst inclination and disregard the lives of Israeli Jews, ending up being one of the most dehumanizing positions towards Israelis and Palestinians.
This position is not new but has become a core intellectual habit of the international left since the canonization of the works of Frantz Fanon as a Bible of decolonization. According to Fanon, the murderous rampage of the colonized man against the colonizer is the quintessential act of self-liberation. The blaze of wrath and anger that ends in murder is nothing but the birth pains of freedom. In other words, the struggle, no matter how violent or extreme, is an existential condition and an ontological urgency. These ideas, which started in the circles of the French Left in the 1950s to justify Algerian acts of extreme violence against the French colony, became a solid part of the international left, taught in the most prestigious academic institutions to generations of leftist activists, journalists, professors, politicians, and others. These ideas, the epitome of dehumanization and pathological misanthropy, were not born yesterday and are parts of the major intellectual edifice of leftists' social and political thought.
The proliferation of such intellectual pathologies is what ultimately enables armies of American and European journalists, diplomats, aid workers, NGO officials, and others to totally accept the prevalence of violence, icons of death, and the valorization of cruelty in Palestinian culture, both popular and high, and in education. This leads to the interesting simultaneous recognition and dismissal of the most central problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the absolute and final negation of Zionism, by any means necessary, as the central ideological content of the Palestinian identity and its symbols. The final result is an international behemoth made of international institutional structures established and financed to purportedly solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while, in effect, ignoring its core issue. Palestinian media, religious, political, and educational institutions are left to daily indoctrinate members of the Palestinian society into believing that the meaning of their identity is existential victimhood which could be exited only through the total and complete destruction of Israel done by way of blood, death, and sacrifice. Anyone who dares to examine Palestinian education, media, literature, poetry, music, etc., would not be able to ignore the unsubtle presence of such violent ideas in Palestinian national symbolism and Palestinian self-image. Palestinian Media Watch, a Jerusalem-based NGO, constantly provides translation and analysis of such casual content in Palestinian culture. This is ultimately the root cause of the total insolubility of the conflict.
There will never be peace between the Israelis and Palestinians if the primary issues of Palestinian identity, Palestinian education, and Palestinian culture are not addressed. This is intuitive to many Israelis, and now Arabs, who live in the Middle East and understand the conflict. Yet, for those who ride the high horses of intellectual superiority and sociological nuance, the Palestinians shouldn't be expected to do any better. But one should not mistake a solution for the latter problem as a solution for the former. Those who care about the future of peace and security must try to address both problems. Until now, there has not been a sincere conversation about the nature of Palestinian identity and the possible ways to help Palestinians exit its current violent structure and attempt to redefine what being a Palestinian means away from existential struggles. Until this conversation becomes a central component of any efforts seeking peace and stability, the problems of terror, violence, the loss of innocent Jewish lives, and the indoctrination of Palestinian youth will continue.
Hussein Aboubakr Mansour is the Director of EMET's Program for Emerging Democratic Voices from the Middle East and a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum.