Despite what Israeli leaders may have you believe, Islamic fundamentalism is not the driving force behind the latest violence.
“Say a prayer before leaving your house, dress in your best clothing. Brush your hair well, and smile for the camera. You may end up as another poster on the bleeding walls of the city. No one is safe from their guns.”
— A young Palestinian from Silwan, Jerusalem, October 2015.
This quote was written on Facebook a number of weeks ago by a young Palestinian who has been the subject of dozens of arrests and has spent much of his life in jail, due to political persecution as a result of his participation in protests. Pay attention to the wording: the author treats leaving the house as a nearly-suicidal act, viewing death as an inevitable force in the hands of the (Israeli) ruler. For him, the only means of defense is a short prayer before leaving home. This is where the role of religion begins and ends in the collective consciousness of resistance among most young Palestinians.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up neatly.
The sharper ones among you — that is, those who do not think that the news starts and ends with Channel 2’s cheap propaganda — may have noticed that despite the relative “calm” of the last two weeks in Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been on fire for over a year. The fact that more than 70 Palestinians were killed in October (among them 15 killed in the Gaza Strip) testifies more than anything to the fact the current resistance to the occupation will not end soon.
Yair Lapid and ISIS
And now to debunk the latest Israeli lie: did all these Palestinians die for Al-Aqsa? The short answer is: no. The longer, less refined answer: Not at all.
Similar to the Second Intifada, the current wave of violent resistance may have begun with Israeli provocations at the mosque, which represents the national symbol of historic Palestine — not merely a religious symbol — but it continues without any connection to what is or isn’t happening there now. We cannot ignore this critical point.
While Palestinians are struggling against the occupation and its injustices, Israelis are struggling to maintain the propaganda machine in the post-Mufti-Hitler era. For Israeli politicians and their spokespeople in the media, it is easy to paint the Palestinians as Nazi-fundamentalist monsters interested solely in the murder of Jews.
A prime example came last week when Yair Lapid — ostensibly one of the leaders of the opposition — went from one European television studio to the next, where he spouted off baseless propaganda. “We are up against ISIS… animals, murderous Muslims who want to murder Jews for 72 virgins,” he told BBC, France 24, and God knows who else.
The fairytale of 72 virgins, by the way, has no solid basis in mainstream Islam, to which the vast majority of Palestinians adhere. This myth isn’t even mentioned in the Quran, and it is certainly not what leads Palestinians to take part in violent, suicidal acts. In fact, it hardly even exists in the internal Palestinian conversation.
Attempts to paint the violence of recent weeks as ISIS-style terrorism constitutes not only another injustice by the occupation, it also legitimizes Israel’s very justification for the continued control of a nation struggling for its freedom. Doing so convinces the Israeli masses of the righteousness of the Chosen People, while blurring the fact that the occupation is the real spark for the wave of violence, rather than the desire to die as “shaheeds” (martyrs).
More importantly, this propaganda hides the hopeless desperation of most Palestinian youth, which is caused by dire poverty, nightly raids by the army, beating parents in front of their children, arrests, death, violence against the young, and countless others factors. Frankly, it is an unbearable hell.
The fact that many Palestinians see our struggle for freedom as a religious war is saddening, as it plays into the Zionist narrative and only serves to deflect attention from the real raison d’être of resistance. Even we, the secular, liberal, and atheist Palestinians have to shoulder part of the blame, since we do not do enough to criticize and oppose these voices (although that is an entirely different discussion). And yet, even those voices view the occupation and colonialism as the sole reasons to call for jihad. That is clear as day in both the Hamas and Islamic Jihad charters.
Now let us imagine what would happen if a Palestinian leader were to go from studio to studio in Europe, spewing anti-Semitic hatred and comparing the Jews to bloodthirsty animals, much like Lapid and Netanyahu are doing to the Palestinians.
The fact that this would only harm our just struggle against the occupation, as opposed to the benefit that Zionism reaps through the demonization of Palestinians, is enough to prove who is on the right side of history. Israeli leaders view their lies as beneficial, seeing only net positives from their delegitimization of Palestinians (as if the boot of occupation wasn’t enough to cause their lives to become a living hell). Palestinians, on the other hand, have no interest going down that road.
Truthfully, it doesn’t even interest them. Right now young Palestinians are motivated not by their desire to reach heaven, but by their need to escape hell.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.