Israeli politicians and pundits make sure to talk about Palestinian incitement at every opportunity. Rarely do we ever hear about Israeli incitement that denies both Palestinian history and present reality.
By Yoni Mendel
In Israeli public discourse, the phrase “Palestinian incitement” makes an appearance time and again. One can hear it in the news by members of both the coalition and the opposition, it is seen as an immutable fact by pundits, and it is highly prioritized by analysts at various think tanks. Suffice it to say that much of this incitement focuses on delegitimizing Israel and rejecting its existence.
Here are just a few examples of “Palestinian incitement” from the past month: after a fatal vehicular attack in Jerusalem, an Israeli think tank, Palestinian Media Watch, concluded that the attack stemmed from Palestinian incitement against Israel. In January three Israeli parliamentarians, Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu), Moti Yogev (Jewish Home), and Amir Ohana (Likud), along with the International Legal Forum, led a hearing in the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on incitement in Palestinian textbooks in East Jerusalem. That same month, MK Aliza Levi (Yesh Atid) led a Knesset hearing on incitement in UNRWA’s Palestinian schools. Members of the Center for Middle East Research presented the report they wrote on the issue.
That report, compile by Dr. Arnon Gross and Dr. Roni Shaked, was celebrated by Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, after he claimed that it served as proof that education at UNRWA’s schools was “close in spirit to Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini.” Furthermore, after the terror attack in Petah Tikva last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called to “fight against Palestinian incitement.” Following President Trump’s press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) said that “Palestinians need to stop the incitement.” In other words: in Israel today, public officials, the media, and research centers focus on a single topic that seems never to disappear: “Palestinian incitement.”
Let’s take a look at Israel for a moment. One can easily find quotes from academic studies that focus on Israeli denial of both Palestinian reality and history. However, instead of deepening the discussion on studies conducted on “Palestinian incitement,” I will provide a few tangible examples of Israeli denial that caught my eye. It is no coincidence that these examples represent major institutions and figures in the government.
A few months ago, the Foreign Ministry released an official English-language hasbara video that tells the story of the history of this country. According to the ministry, history began with the biblical figures Jacob and Rachel, who were followed by a series of foreign occupiers — including the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, and the British. After that, somewhere in the first half of the 20th century, came the Palestinians. Without batting an eyelid, the Foreign Ministry turned the Palestinians into strangers in their own land, who arrived here shortly after the British.
Last month, the Education Ministry launched a video campaign titled, “One People, That’s the Whole Story,” with the goal of implementing the conclusions of the Bitton Committee, which sought to strengthen the heritage of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. These videos feature different cultural icons who speak about their family members in Arab countries. Every time a country is mentioned, its map appears on the screen. And so, when famed Israeli singer Kobi Oz talks about the development town Sderot or Likud MK Jackie Levy speaks about the wave of immigration of Bukhari Jes to Jerusalem, a familiar map appears. It includes Israel, the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the West Bank — all under the name “Israel.” In 2007 the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee decided that the Green Line would not appear in Israeli textbooks. The Education Ministry is only continuing that trend.
Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) has also made a number of outrageous remarks. For example, two months ago he stated that he does not believe Netanyahu’s controversial statement that “Arabs are coming out in droves to the pools” was problematic, and that Bitan himself would prefer that Arabs not vote at all. Two weeks ago Bitan said that he does not think we should be speaking about a Palestinian “state,” instead suggesting an alternative phrase: “A Palestinian entity minus.”
Just a few weeks ago, Justice Minister Ayeled Shaked spoke at a conference put on by the newspaper B’Sheva, praising Prime Minister Netanyahu as he left for Washington D.C. to meet with Trump. “We must make the whole world recognize our legitimate presence in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” she said.
This needs to be our goal and it must be said. We are here to remain here: in Gush Etzion and Gush Dan, in Hebron and Holon, in Kiryat Arba and Kiryat Shmona. This may be declarative, but the world must clearly hear from us what are Israel’s borders […] our victory will begin when everyone knows that we will be here, in all parts of the State of Israel, from the sea until the Jordan river, forever.
What would happen should the Palestinian Education Ministry decide to launch an official campaign that presents the map of the country with the name “Palestine,” without borders? What would happen should the Palestinian Foreign Ministry launch an official campaign according to which Palestinians had always lived in this country, and that the Jews arrived here — foreigners just like the British — only a century ago? Or what if a Palestinian parliamentarian refuses to treat Israel as a state, calling it an “Israeli entity minus.” What would happen should the Palestinian Justice Minister say that “We are here, in Ramallah and Nazareth, in Nablus and Sakhnin, in Jenin and Jaffa […] our victory will begin when everyone knows that we will be here, in all parts of the State of Palestinian, from the sea until the Jordan river, forever.”
It doesn’t take much to imagine. If we translate the remarks made by Israeli decision makers to Palestinian-Arabic, we wouldn’t have to wait long before the Israeli choir begins singing the same, worn out “Palestinian incitement” tune.
“Palestinian incitement” has turned into a winning code that lies at the heart of the Israeli discourse on Palestinians. I am not claiming that Palestinians are so innocent, but I do hope to glean two pieces of insight from the way Israel treats the situation in the Palestinian Authority. Firstly, the two nations struggling over this land often treat it as if it is all theirs. Secondly, the next time a researcher, analyst, or member of Knesset wants to talk about “Palestinian incitement,” he or she should begin with a full disclosure. For instance: “In addition to growing Israeli incitement that rejects the existence of Palestine — on the internet, in schools, in the parliament, and in the government, we are also bearing witness to a form of incitement that is not so different in Palestine against Israel.”
If we do not dare to look at ourselves in the mirror, we will never be able to see our own incitement against the Palestinians.
Yoni Mendel is the projects manager of the Mediterranean Unit at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and co-editor of the book review section of the Journal of Levantine Studies (JLS). This article was first published in Hebrew by the Forum for Regional Thinking. Read it here.