An American friend asked me yesterday where I thought our greatest dangers lie. Getting bogged down in Gaza? The northern front, facing Hezbollah and the Iranian militias in Syria? The soon-to-be nuclear Iran? Another intifada in Judea and Samaria? Violent riots by Arab citizens of Israel?
None of those, I said. The greatest danger facing Israel today is from the Americans.
My friend was surprised. How is that possible? President Biden expressed his full support for Israel, and is supplying us with weapons and ammunition, and has sent significant naval forces to our region. He threatened Iran against intervening. Congress just overwhelmingly passed a resolution of support for Israel. What more do I want?
So I explained that the problem with America is the same problem that we had here in Israel until October 7. It is the conseptzia, the stubborn resistance to the reality that is behind the conflict that has been going on for at least a century, and of which the butchery on Simchat Torah was just the most recent flareup.
What is the conseptzia? It is a collection of wrong ideas, a constellation of misunderstandings about who the Palestinians are, what motivates them, and what they want. It involves the mistaken projection of a set of values common in the West on a people that have different values, a stubborn refusal to listen to them, and a consistent underestimation of their intelligence, their tenacity, and the exceptionally strong emotion of hatred that infuses their culture.
Right now someone is asking how I can generalize. There are several million Palestinians, and multiple political and religious factions. How can I say they are all the same? Hold that thought – I will come back to it.
Here are a few false propositions that are part of the conseptzia:
1. Like most present-day Americans and Western Europeans, Palestinians are primarily motivated by economic considerations and only secondarily by religion and ideology.
2. The violent terrorism of the Palestinians comes from their frustration that they do not have an independent state.
3. Palestinians are essentially corrupt and will give up their ideological goals if paid enough.
4. The Palestinian Authority (dominated by the Fatah movement) is more moderate than Hamas, and would accept a Jewish state somewhere between the river and the sea if enough of their demands were met.
The reasons none of these are true come from the nature of Palestinian culture.
Palestinian culture is very different from that of liberal Americans or Europeans. That is not surprising, since it developed in an entirely different place from different antecedents. The starting point is traditional nomadic Arab culture, with its emphasis on maintaining personal and family honor and avoiding shame. The Arabs of Eretz Yisrael, who came from various parts of the region, did not consider themselves Palestinians in the beginning of the 20th century (with the exception of a small movement made up of educated Christian Arabs). Their identity was as part of their clans, and as part of the Muslim Ummah. As far as they were concerned, Eretz Yisrael was southern Syria.
Once the 400-year yoke of the Ottomans was removed and Jewish immigration increased, Muslim resistance to the possibility of a Jewish state grew, and was especially encouraged by Amin al-Husseini, the British-appointed, Nazi-supporting, Mufti of Jerusalem. The British had their own reasons for preferring Arab sovereignty when they left in in 1948, and they supported resistance by local Arabs as well as an invasion by the Arab states. But as everyone knows, the Jews succeeded in defeating the Arabs, Arab society in Eretz Yisrael collapsed, and hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled the area that became the State of Israel.
This was the nakba, a terrible blow to the honor of all the Arabs, who were defeated – and to Islam which was outraged by the reversion of an area from Muslim to infidel rule. And they lost to Jews, the Jews that Mohammed routed in the 7th century and who were permitted to live in Muslim lands only as dhimmis, institutionally inferior to Muslims. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this event in forming a specifically Palestinian culture, a culture that grew out of this massive loss of honor. To be Palestinian is to suffer from the nakba, and to dream of reversing and avenging it.
During the 1960s, the Soviets encouraged Palestinian nationalism, adding to it some spices of Marxism-Leninism, and presenting the Palestinians to the world as an oppressed third-world people fighting a war of national liberation against European colonialism. Later we had the “Zionism is racism” resolution in the execrable UN, followed by the 2001 anti-racism summit in Durban, South Africa, which emphasized this theme (despite its complete inapplicability to the conflict), leading to today’s accusations of “apartheid.” Despite all this, which is mostly intended to make Western liberals comfortable with idea of wiping Israel off the map, the Palestinian consciousness still centers on the shame of the nakba.
The honor lost in 1948, and which has continued throughout “the occupation” (to Palestinians this means the period of Jewish sovereignty that began in 1948), can only be recovered by reversing the nakba, bringing back all those who fled in 1948 and their descendants, and establishing Palestinian sovereignty over the land. It is also a religious imperative to restore rule by Muslims. Finally, the shame of what has occurred is so great, that the reversal must be accomplished with great violence. Only if the land runs with blood can the accumulated insults of the last 75 years finally be avenged.
This is Palestinian culture. This is what separates Palestinians from other Arabs and Muslims, many of whom can accept the existence of a Jewish state. With various modifications and different emphasis, this is what every Palestinian child learns in school, whether in a Hamas or UNRWA school in Gaza, or a PA school in Judea/Samaria. It is even to a great degree taught to Arab citizens of Israel in the Israeli Arab educational system. It is what Palestinians hear from their leaders, in their mosques, on the TV and radio, and in their newspapers and social media. It’s what Palestinians say in Arabic, and often in English too.
Certainly there are Palestinians for whom economic goals are important; there are secular ones and Christians; and there are those who hate violence and believe in democracy. There is opposition to Hamas in Gaza and to the PA in Judea/Samaria. But the basic ideas are unchallenged – they are pervasive in the culture itself. They are the conventional wisdom, the motherhood and apple pie of Palestinians, and some form of them is accepted by the great majority. Polls consistently show that most Palestinians favor armed resistance against Israel, and elections are almost always won by the most radical candidate. If that isn’t enough, Palestinian values are often enforced by men with guns.
So that is why the ultra-violent massacre in the south was cheered by Palestinians everywhere. And that is why the propositions of the conseptzia are false. Honor/shame and religion are at the top of the list of motivators for the Palestinians. Palestinians have consistently chosen violence over statehood, and weapons over economic development. They are not frustrated because they don’t have an independent state – they are infuriated because we have one on what they believe is their property. If we give them money for development, they will take it (and skim off plenty from the top for the benefit of their leadership). But the PA will always pay terrorists and their families, and Hamas will not stop building tunnels and rockets.
The Palestinians can’t be bought off and they can’t be persuaded that it is in their interest to live at peace alongside a Jewish state. The various factions have different strategies and tactics, but their ultimate objective is the same: Israel must disappear.
The Americans are dangerous, because they don’t or won’t accept this. The Americans have been slaves to the conseptzia since at least 1967. Biden, Blinken, and the rest continue to talk about a “two-state solution”, by which they mean a Palestinian state under the PA in Judea/Samaria and Gaza (sometimes even with a road between them cutting Israel in two!) What happened on October 7 shows that this is unacceptable. If Israel loses control of Judea and Samaria, the horrific events in the lightly populated Gaza Envelope could be repeated, this time in Tel Aviv. Even if the PA were more moderate than Hamas (it isn’t), who is to say a moderate leadership wouldn’t be replaced by an extreme one? Indeed, Gaza was originally ruled by the PA, but Hamas won the PA elections; and when in 2007 it wasn’t allowed to take power, it overthrew the PA in Gaza, tossed local officials off buildings, and took over.
Ordinary Israelis understand this, and our government seems to as well. This is why it announced that it did not want to decide at this time what would happen in Gaza after Hamas is defeated. It is obvious to us that only some form of Israeli control in both Gaza and Judea/Samaria can protect us, and it is equally obvious that the Americans oppose that. That’s why they are demanding that we come up with a plan for “the day after.” Israel would prefer not to have this argument today.
There are two kinds of people that favor a two-state solution: those that don’t understand Palestinians, and those that do and want to hurt Israel. I believe that Biden belongs to the first group, but there are far too many in his administration and the State Department in the second.