As a wave of Palestinian violence continues, some Palestinian advocates and sympathetic journalists have promoted the narrative that the violence against Jews should be blamed on Jews.
A New York Times reporter, for example, recently stated that for Palestinians the violence is an “almost inevitable consequence” of neglect. (An editor later cut the words “almost inevitable.”) Although there is a prominent opposing view — many observers say Palestinians have been radicalized by an increase in anti-Israel incitement and the broadcast of false rumors about the Israeli government’s intentions on the sensitive Temple Mount — the reporter, Jodi Rudoren, pushed the Palestinian narrative. What underlies the “uprising,” she said in her own words, expressing in her own opinion, is “frustration and alienation.”
This view, which rationalizes the attacks as a response to legitimate Palestinian grievances, was exemplified by Palestinian author Sayed Kashua during his interview on the Oct. 19 edition of NPR’s On Point.
“Not Worth Living”
Kashua took it to the extreme, going so far as to say, not once but twice, that life is “not worth living” for Arabs in Jerusalem. His histrionic claim, and the allegations he offered to support it, expose flaws, falsehoods and exaggerations that are at the core of this grievance-justifies-murder narrative.
In fact, according to a 2010 Pechter poll, Jerusalem Arabs in general are not dissatisfied with their lives. Asked about their overall standard of living, about 30 percent expressed some degree of dissatisfaction while 70 percent said were either very satisfied, satisfied, or felt neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction. And another poll conducted one year later showed satisfaction levels had increased.
Indeed, a plurality of participants in the latter poll incredibly said that they are likely to leave their homes and move into Israeli territory in the event that their neighborhood becomes part of a Palestinian state. A 2015 poll similarly found that Arabs in Jerusalem would prefer to be citizens of Israel than citizens of a future Palestinian state.
Pechter poll of east Jerusalem Arabs, November 2010
This hardly suggests Jerusalem’s Arabs find life under Israeli rule to be unlivable.
According to Kashua, the stabbings can be explained by the fact that Palestinians “don’t even have enough classes.” At fault? “It’s the Israeli education system,” he said. Indeed, an NGO has recently assessed that there is a serious shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem. But it also pointed out that the Israeli education system, prompted by the Israeli justice system, has taken measures to try to alleviate this shortage.
More telling, since Kashua was trying to make the case of a life not worth living and an education system failing so bad that Jews are inevitably being stabbed in the streets, the quality of teachers in schools was one of the things Arab Jerusalemites expressed most satisfaction about in the 2010 poll. (72 percent were very satisfied or satisfied about that, and another 17 percent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.)
Parks and Recreation
Kashua also attempted to explain the stabbing spree by saying that the large plaza at the holy site known to Muslims as the Al Aqsa Mosque and to Jews as the Temple Mount is “the only open place that [Arab] kids can play.” Turning to a personal anecdote to illustrate his point, he told On Point host Tom Ashbrook, “I used to take my kids there, to play there.”
He may have taken his kids to play there. But he didn’t have to. As Kashua knows all too well, the mosque is hardly the only place for Arab children to play. When Kashua moved Jerusalem with his children, he moved to the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in the south of the city. And between his home and the Temple Mount are an array of parks that Arab residents of Jerusalem can enjoy (and do enjoy, as anyone who has been to Jerusalem’s large parks can attest). And after living in Beit Safafa, he moved to the city’s predominantly Jewish western sector (as can any resident of Jerusalem) from where, again, he had absolutely no need to travel to the Temple Mount to allow his kids to play.
The dishonesty of Kashua’s conversation about open spaces was most evident when he reemphasized that the Al Aqsa complex is “the only place that you can feel some type of freedom.” Almost in the same breath, he betrayed his case: Kashua stopped taking his children to the complex after his daughter was “asked to cover her head” in accordance with Islamic custom, he admitted.
Newspapers, Cinemas, and Festivals
Kashua then turned to culture:
All the Israelis know very well that there is … not even one institution, political or social, in east Jerusalem. … Back in the 90s, in east Jerusalem, we had to have cinemas and theaters. It was all closed. We … the Palestinians used to have newspaper and magazines and festivals it was all shut by Israeli forces… in the 90s.
Again, Kashua apparently felt the unvarnished truth was insufficient to make the case that the violence should be expected. So he embellished. Al Quds, the largest Palestinian daily newspaper, is based in Jerusalem. The Palestine Festival of Literature takes place in eastern Jerusalem. So does the Jerusalem Festival, a Palestinian event hosted in east Jerusalem’s Yarbous Cultural Center. That venue also happens to be the location of the Al Quds cinema, which shares space with a music and dance venue called the Morocco Hall. Indeed, east Jerusalem was described only a few months ago as being in the midst of a “cultural revival.” Surely that would not lead someone to stab a 70-year-old woman.
The Palestinian Festival of Literature in Jerusalem, May 2015.
Photograph: Rob Stothard for the Palestine Festival of Literature.
(As to the closures of cinemas, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency gives a different account. “When the uprising against Israeli occupation started in 1987,” they stated in reference to the deadly so-called First Intifada, “the political climate kept viewers from movie theaters across Jerusalem and the West Bank, and many closed in dire financial straits.”)
Later in the program, Kashua levels a common accusation about Israel’s treatment of Arabs in Jerusalem. “The people of Jerusalem, they don’t have a right to vote for the Knesset, they’re not really citizens,” he says.
It is, and has always been, a bizarre grievance. When Israel reunified Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan during the 1967 war, it offered full Israeli citizenship to east Jerusalem Arabs. That offer remains on the table. But most residents have opted not to take citizenship. This is why most are “not really citizens,” and that is why most can’t vote in Israel’s national elections.
Nonetheless, even non-citizen residents of Jerusalem are able to vote in municipal elections. These elections could give the huge voting block a much greater role in how the city is run — about 37 percent of the Jerusalem is Arab — but they have chosen to boycott the city’s elections. Kashua outrageously said that the killing of innocent Jews should be seen as an unsurprising reaction, that is to say an obvious one, to challenges faced by the Arab community. But shouldn’t participation in elections have been more obvious to Kashua? Or at least, shouldn’t have Tom Ashbrook challenged his guest with such an obvious question?
(For this same reason, Jodi Rudoren’s attempt to explain violence by stating Arab Jerusalemites have suffered from “years of feeling like the neglected stepchildren of … City Hall” misleads readers more than it informs.)
Kashua saved the most outrageous allegation for last. “It’s just a very slow, and a very good, ethnic cleansing,” he says. “Unfortunately that’s the only words that I can use when I see the reality of Palestine and the reality of east Jerusalem.”
So slow is the accused “ethnic cleansing” that it is actually is happening in reverse. The Arab population of Jerusalem has grown 330 percent since 1967 when Israel took over the eastern sector of the city, while the Jewish population has grown 160 percent during that same period. This means that a city that in 1967 was 24 percent Arab and 76 percent Jewish is now 37 percent Arab and 63 percent Jewish. And according to recent numbers the Arab population continues to grow at nearly twice the speed of the Jewish population. That is in large part because the natural growth rate of Arabs in Jerusalem is higher than the natural growth rate of Jews in Jerusalem, and higher than the rate for the entire country of Israel.
Ashbrook simply should not have let such a grave and inflammatory accusation, that Israel is engaged in a “very good ethnic cleansing,” go unchallenged.
Whatever real grievances Jerusalem’s Arabs might have, the “desperation narrative” fails terribly as the rationale for the current wave of anti-Jewish violence centered in Jerusalem. But there is something else at play that Kashua and all too many journalists have ignored or downplayed.
In the words of the moderate David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel,
The message that “the Jews are plotting against Al-Aqsa” has been pushed for months by Palestinian political chiefs, spiritual leaders, mainstream and social media: Mahmoud Abbas in speeches to his people (he finally lost the Israeli middle ground with his false accusation last week that Israel executed the teen Pisgat Zeev stabber); Fatah in leaflets and Facebook posts; Hamas in videos; the Islamic Movement agitating inside Israel; Arab Knesset members… all these and others have been throwing fuel onto the fire.
Abbas, who had called for the al Aqsa mosque to be protected from the “filthy feet” of Jews, has also publicly “welcomed” the unrest. “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” he said, before adding a sacred dimension: “This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah.”
And those Palestinians not inclined to listen to Abbas need only log onto social media sites to see their peers celebrating and urging the murder of Jews.
Even among Jerusalemites who indicated in the 2015 poll that they prefer Israeli citizenship, and who even said they would accept a two-state solution as a way of ending the occupation, these calls fall on receptive ears. In that same poll, a majority of Jerusalem Arabs said that the Jews have no right to any of Israel. A majority also agreed that, even if negotiations led to a two-state solution, “the struggle is not over and the resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.”
It is this same worldview that inspires fathers to teach their young children to “want to stab a Jew,” as an little girl said in a chilling video posted on Facebook.
The root causes of the current round of violence cannot be understood without first understanding this worldview and its broad dissemination. But journalists continue to fail to give it sufficient attention.