Contributing Writer Eva Schooler, ’20
“To Al-Aqsa, to Al-Aqsa – we shall unite our ranks. We will wipe out the people of Zion, and will not leave a single one of them.” One might presume that these words were declared in the heat of a revolt. However, this statement was made by a child on Hamas TV’s children’s show in 2007. Hamas is a Palestinian terrorist organization at the forefront of the Palestinian Liberation Movement. Palestinian organizations are not the only ones who use false or sensationalized information; Israeli leaders, journalists, and educators are also guilty of distorting news. Propaganda has played a major role in the Israel and Palestine Conflict to dehumanize the other and motivate public support.
Tensions between Jews and Palestinians escalated in 1917 when British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour created the “Balfour Declaration.” The declaration supported Jews’ right to Israel as a homeland. Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, inspired Balfour through lobbying campaigns and his manifesto Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl had argued that Jews deserved Israel as the land was promised to them in the Torah. Consequently, the Mandate for Palestine was set by the British government and authorized by the League of Nations. The mandate stated that Britain had control over Palestine and the responsibility to convert the land into a homeland for Jews. The United Nations voted to partition Palestine between Palestinians and Jews in 1948. Over time, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust flocked to modern-day Israel. Roughly 750,000 Palestinians were subsequently forced to leave their homes to make room for the Jewish immigrants. Today the descendants of the displaced Palestinians make up around 7 million people and are also considered refugees.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, from 1920 to 2014, a recorded 91,105 Arabs and Palestinians, as well as 24,969 Jews and Israelis, were killed as a result of the conflict. One of these victims was a relative of a Palestinian family friend of mine. The victim was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) along the West Bank. This event mirrored a story an Israeli friend had told me about a relative of hers who was killed by a Palestinian group. Unfortunately, these events fueled their hatreds of the other side. Instances like these have been used to justify violence in both Israeli and Palestinian communities, making the accomplishment of a peaceful solution more unlikely. For example in the Second Intifada of 2000, Palestinian rebels and police threw rocks at the IDF who responded with tear gas, and rubber and live bullets. A twelve-year-old Palestinian boy was tragically killed in the uprising. Palestinians then brutally murdered two Israeli soldiers at a Palestinian police outpost. To make matters worse, the IDF responded by launching rockets and bombs into Palestinian territories.
Presumably, to justify Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches are prone to using cherry-picked information. In 2015, Netanyahu made a speech to the World Zionist Congress. He claimed that, “[Hitler] didn’t want to exterminate the Jews” but was urged to by Palestinian nationalist Haj Amin al-Husseini. Granted, al-Husseini allied with the Nazis in hopes of preventing Jewish settlement, however, there is no evidence that he was the mastermind behind the Holocaust. In reality, al-Husseini broadcasted anti-semitic ideology across the Arab world by radio in exchange for support from the Axis Powers. Anti-semitic inspired violence heightened and motivated Muslim men to join the Axis front. Al-Husseini did Hitler’s bidding, not the other way around. Netanyahu’s statement was featured in Israeli and international publications such as Haaretz and the New York Times. Clearly, Netanyahu’s words reach a vast audience, affecting both local and global perceptions of Palestinians.
This was not the first time that I had heard Israeli political figures make claims that seemed so outrageously untrue. The day after President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, I watched an interview between two political figures; one was Israeli and the other Palestinian. The Israeli speaker claimed that the Palestinian Authority paid Palestinians to kill Israelis. My fingers raced across my keyboard as I googled the claims both sides made to see if there was any legitimacy to what they said in this heated debate. When I looked up the claim made by the Israeli, the only supporting source was The Jerusalem Post – a right-wing Israeli newspaper – from a few months prior. The Palestinian interviewee was enraged by this claim that made Palestinians sound evil, especially on live TV where it could not be edited.
My own Hebrew teacher, an Israeli woman, portrayed Palestinians in a similar light. I have this memory from my early days at Hebrew school where she dumped magazines onto the table for us to read. Flipping through the pages, I was horrified as I read about Palestinians’ criminal activity and that they abandoned their own homosexual relatives. I believed that Palestinians were evil, refusing to let Israelis live in peace. It was not until Palestinian neighbors moved in next door that I began to understand that these lessons left out vital perspectives.
I quickly realized that my Palestinian neighbors were raised hating Israelis and Jews. When one of their children mentioned that he believed all Jews were evil, I disclosed that I am Jewish. I can vividly remember his reaction, almost surprised that I, an “evil” Jew, didn’t have horns growing out of my head. I do not blame him for his apprehensions towards Israelis, especially after what his family went through. Still, his belief that all Jews are Zionists nurtured his anti-semitic sentiments.
Children of both Palestinian and Jewish heritage are targeted by those who hold extremist beliefs. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that children raised on hateful propaganda will become the adults who resolve the conflict peacefully. Textbooks in Palestine are also chocked full of anti-Jewish content. These textbooks are a testament to the hate Palestinian children are sometimes taught to feel towards Jews and/or Israelis. Thus, this propaganda, especially these textbooks, was a hot topic at the 2019 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination 99th session.
The circulation of anti-semitic texts across Palestine and the Arab world has made the likelihood of a peaceful solution seem even more of a fantasy. Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), written by Adolf Hitler, history’s most famous anti-semite, is 6th on Palestine’s best-seller list. This manifesto proved successful in inciting violent anti-semitism in the 1930s and 1940s. More recently, extremists have harnessed Mein Kampf to vilify Jews abroad and in Israel. Anti-semitism is by no means a part of the traditional Arab-culture; however, the Nazi party’s influence through financial support and transfer of its ideology has remained in the Arab-speaking world to this day. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is exacerbating these biases.
Due to Judaism’s prevalent role in the discussion surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, those who speak out against Israel in the media are often labeled anti-semites. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement are especially susceptible to this accusation. The movement, which was founded in 2005 by Omar Barghouti, aims to persuade the Israeli government to end its occupation of lands taken after the Six-Day War in 1967. Although B.D.S. claims to be anti-Zionist but not anti-semitic, B.D.S. has been accused of trying to rid Jews of a homeland and demonizing Israel. Others have argued that the movement is reminiscent of the Nazis’ boycotts of Jewish businesses. Furthermore, members of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are in the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. This is seen as problematic because the Council consists of members of terrorist organizations and is under the umbrella of the B.D.S. National Committee. Defenders of B.D.S. claim that banning B.D.S. would be a violation of freedom of speech. The B.D.S. movement was also inspired by the anti-Apartheid Boycott Movement (which similarly used boycotts in ending Apartheid in South Africa), and not by a hatred of Jewish people.
Tensions between Jews and Palestinians go back over a hundred years. Propaganda and extremists have exploited the anger between the two groups to invoke violence. As a result, thousands of people have lost their lives to conflict, and even more have been forced from their homes. If people are not held accountable for the dangerous and faulty information they relay, there will never be peace in the land of milk and honey.