It's not just Hamas

It's time for America to stop coddling the Palestinians -- they're bloodthirsty bigots who would have exterminated the Jews if they were in charge.

Published December 13, 2001 12:01AM (EST)

This latest rash of violence in Israel has brought on the usual avalanche of lament from Palestinian spokespeople and their pan-Arab sympathizers around the world. Why, they moan, does it always matter more to the United States when Israelis die than when Palestinians do? Why do the Americans insist on pursuing such a one-sidedly pro-Jewish policy in the Middle East, even while they pretend to want peace on both sides?

Here is Edward Said writing in the Nation: "In the United States at least, there is no major segment of the polity, no significant sector of the culture, no part of the whole community capable of identifying sympathetically with the Islamic world." And here is Ali Abunimah in the New York Times: "[I wonder] why Israelis and pro-Israeli spokesmen who are called for comment by the same radio and television stations that call me are rarely asked to condemn the violence that is committed in their name."

These are familiar questions, and ones to which Pollyanna, pussyfoot diplomats like Colin Powell refuse to give straight answers, preferring instead to ignore the blatant hypocrisy they express. This is political correctness at its most insidious, because it makes us and, more important, our peace brokers, willfully blind to the great and ongoing moral lie staring them in the face.

The lie is this: Palestinians (and, post-Sept. 11, much of the Arab world) hold the rest of the world to a moral standard they themselves neither uphold nor share. They cry for justice, and yet theirs is a culture in which justice is utterly partial (in favor of Muslims, and against the infidel) and administered by the sword alone. They pretend to want peace, though by the rules of jihad, conquest, not compromise, ends conflicts. They want freedom, and yet freedom (especially religious freedom) is precisely what the Arab world so manifestly lacks, and rejects. They want life, and yet they devalue human life at every turn, both the enemy's (making no distinction between civilians and combatants) and their own (proudly raising their youngest children to be suicide bombers).

If it weren't for our (and Israel's) cultural commitment to tolerance and the rule of civic law, to the use of violence only in self-defense and to reaching diplomatic solutions, the Palestinian people would have no cause at all. They would not exist. If treated according to their own barbaric rules, with the same visceral bigotry, the Palestinians would have been exterminated long ago, and all their Jewish executioners enshrined as martyrs. But instead, we have heard them, honored their complaints and done everything -- short of absconding -- to deal justly with them. But they answer only with more bombs, all the while declaiming our brutality. They want from us what they refuse to give. They act according to one code and hold us to another, never seeing the incompatibility of the two.

Take, for example, the most basic of concepts: the intrinsic value of human life. Who could forget the hideous spectacle this past September of Palestinians celebrating in the streets upon hearing that thousands of civilians had been killed in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks? This was perhaps the most shocking footage any of us had ever seen, and that on a day when a lot of shocking footage was rolling into our living rooms.

It truly boggled the mind that any people, no matter what their cause or sufferings, could rejoice openly and unashamedly in the deaths of thousands of innocents. It was grotesque, and demonstrative of a people whose common creed is kill or be killed, and whose disrespect for human life not their own was savagely apparent. This was beyond beastly. No animal stoops so low as to fete the death of his foe. No. This was devilish in its baseness. And what we saw on television was, according to wire reports, only isolated pictures of what was in some places widespread jubilation by thousands.

What's more, these revelers were not the rogue minority, or if they were, they were not treated as such by their leadership. Far from denouncing this behavior, Palestinian leaders threatened the lives of the journalists who dared to disseminate the damning footage.

Yet, these militants are the very same people who are so loudly clamoring for the rest of the world to mourn the deaths of their children, many of whom died throwing stones and otherwise provoking Israeli soldiers, and many of whom had been raised to consider killing Jews their sacred duty. We are expected to rue the deaths of young men who, by their own enlistment, are bomb fodder, and who believe themselves to be winning a place in paradise by razing shopping malls. We are expected to feel unbounded pity for the mothers and families of these men, who, interviews reveal, feel only pride in the loss of their husband, brother or father. We are expected to stop the killing of people who kill themselves with alacrity, and who laugh at the deaths of all Jews, as well as those they consider to be Jewish sympathizers.

Likewise, throughout the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban have made equally hypocritical stabs at civility, decrying the deaths of Afghan civilians, behind whom they had no compunctions about hiding from American air attacks, and for whom they had done nothing in the five long years of their dictatorship. Moreover, complicit as we now know them to have been in the dirty dealings and strategems of al-Qaida, the Taliban should have accepted without comment the deaths of their own citizenry. Holy war is holy war, and the deaths of civilians are to be received just as sanguinely as they were meted out on Sept. 11. But no. Somehow, the Islamist suicide bomber's jaundiced moral code does not apply to himself. When it comes to the deaths of his own kin and countrymen at the hands of the infidel, that is something altogether different. Then suddenly, "Western values" apply and are decried without a hint of irony.

The posture of victimhood may be exploited in the West, but consider for a moment what things might be like if the shoe were on the other foot. If Israel were a Palestinian state, complete with superior firepower and all the privileges of internationally recognized statehood, and the West Bank were a Palestinian occupied Jewish enclave, do you really suppose there would be any Jews left to protest?

What's more, do you imagine that Palestine, like the vast majority of the rest of the Arab world, would be anything other than a repressive dictatorship bent on crushing its God-given enemies? Would it be any different from, say, Egypt, where vicious anti-Semitic rants, and fabricated conspiracy theories routinely run unchallenged on the Op-Ed pages of major newspapers? Would it really be any different from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gassed hordes of his own people, simply for the crime of being Kurds? Or would it more resemble Pakistan and Afghanistan, where vigilante mobs beat and murder neutral journalists just as remorselessly as they burn their detested white devil in effigy? And all in the name of Allah.

Given the jihad mandate of Islam, would peace talks even be an option if the Palestinians were in a position of power? Peace is clearly a concept utterly foreign to these people, who, even when offered their own state, still will not be satisfied until they possess the whole of Israel and have driven every Jew from its soil. People who celebrate the deaths of their enemies are incapable of understanding, much less making peace. They do not share our values, and therefore cannot partake of them.

Finally, would Jews, and for that matter Christians and Hindus and Buddhists, if left alive, be allowed to practice their religion freely under what would more than likely be an Islamist regime? Well, of course, we know the answer already. Look at Sudan, where Muslims in the north murder and enslave Christians in the south, taking children from their families and banishing them to lives of servitude. Look at Iran, where Muslims, let alone persons of other faiths, fear to transgress strict religious provisos, or Saudi Arabia, home of the perfidious mutawain (religious police), and birthplace of Wahabism, the worst of fundamentalist Islam's factions.

We have spent immeasurable time and resources trying to fairly mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict. But if we are more sympathetic to the Jews, who could blame us? The Jews do not raise their children to be terrorists. Their leaders do not condone and encourage the murder of innocents. Neither do they applaud and celebrate the deaths of Palestinians and other Arabs. These are not subtle differences, and they mean that even when Israel oversteps its bounds in retaliation, and -- like us -- is guilty at times of overzealous retaliation and the use of arguably criminal means, they are, as a people, not without some recognizable moral compass. Their sense of right and wrong lies within our purview, and one can argue, the purview of the reasonably civilized world. The Palestinians' does not.

It is time for the Islamic authorities here and abroad -- almost all of whom have been conspicuously uncritical (and often secretly supportive) of the recent intifada redoubt in Israel, the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida or the Taliban, and their fascistic interrelationship -- to disavow and actively help to dismantle the terrorist networks and the terrorist milieu that so pervades the Arab world.

It is also time for the Bush administration to stop bending over backward to accommodate the Palestinians, and to stop allowing them to perpetuate the image of themselves as equal partners in the peace process. They are not. And they won't be until every member of Hamas is incarcerated for life, not just passed through the revolving prison door for the eyes of Western cameras. The United States has been complicit in the Palestinian fraud, Clinton because he was more interested in his legacy than the realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Bush because he has tolerated Arafat's Janus-faced mendacity with nauseating goodwill, and has been unwilling even to propose extending the war on terror to the next logical locale: the West Bank. Iraq is tertiary. We must set our sights on the nearer culprits.

By Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent is a New York journalist.

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