A common belief propounded by opponents of Palestinian rights is that Arabs want to ‘drive Israel into the sea’. In 1992, Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said: “I wish Gaza would sink into the sea.”
Another common belief is that Palestinians were given a ‘generous offer’ by Ehud Barak, which they refused in 2000 and launched the intifada and the suicide bombers. But Israeli settlements expanded faster in the West Bank and Gaza under Barak than under Netanyahu, and a map of the ‘generous offer’ (never published in the US) shows a West Bank and Gaza littered with settlements, without Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, with checkpoints between Palestinian communities, and no freedom of movement or control over resources.
Everyone in the west is familiar with the image of a Palestinian child or youth throwing a stone (which they do, usually at tanks, that occasionally respond with live ammunition, which is a strange thing to call ammunition that kills). But in the olive groves of the West Bank, it is Israeli settlers, protected by the Israeli Army, which is armed and supported by the United States, who come down from the hills to throw stones (and worse) at Palestinian families who try to harvest their olives.
Israel’s government says it cannot leave the West Bank and Gaza because to do so would be to desert the settlers, who are committed to staying. But Tanya Reinhart reports that “many of the residents of the isolated Israeli settlements are speaking openly in the Israeli media about their wish to leave. It is only necessary to offer them reasonable compensation for the property they will be leaving behind.”
A member of Israel’s Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, said Arabs were reproducing like insects and “swarming like ants”. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians “beasts walking on two legs.” Israel’s tourism minister in 2001, Rehavam Zeevi, referred to Palestinians as “lice” and “cancer”. Among the most vocal and consistent opponents of Israel’s policy, on the other hand, is Palestinian Edward Said. In 2000, he called the Jews “one of the most enlightened and historically humane people”.
People throw up their hands and say: “Muslims and Jews cannot live together in peace”. But for most of history it was Muslims and Jews who managed to live in peace and European Christians who found themselves unable to live with either Muslims or Jews-expelling them, fighting crusades against them, and holding inquisitions to root them out.
It was also European Christians who enacted the Holocaust. On January 25, 2002 an Israeli Army official commented to Ha’aretz that “if the mission is to seize a densely populated refugee camp or to take over the casbah in Nablus the commander must first analyze and internalize the lessons of earlier battles, even, however shocking it may sound-how the German Army fought in the Warsaw ghetto.”
Israel refused to call what happened in Jenin in March 2002, where 23 Israeli soldiers and at least 56 Palestinians (most of whom were civilians) were killed, a massacre. Ha’aretz said “There is evidence of intense combat, but, with appropriate caution, it can already be said what did not happen in the Jenin refugee camp. There was no massacre. No order from above was given, nor was a local initiative executed, to deliberately and systematically kill unarmed people.” Media all over the world followed this line. But when Palestinians ambushed a group of soldiers and armed settlers, killing 12, in Hebron in November 2002, the Israeli foreign minister called it the “Sabbath Massacre”, Kofi Annan from the United Nations called it a “despicable terrorist attack”, and many wire agencies picked up the story as Palestinians attacking “Jewish worshippers”.
Many believe that Jews in the United States would not accept it if Israel made concessions to Palestinian rights. But 87% of Jewish Americans and 97% of Arab Americans polled believed Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in secure and independent states, and 52% of Jewish and 79% of Arab Americans favoured a two-state solution including the evacuation of settlements from the West Bank and Gaza.
Would the conflict be any different if people knew that everything they thought they knew about the conflict was wrong?