The topic of the day-long conference was torture, and Palestinians were
describing the horrific methods the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) used in
prison to get information out of them. Photos and illustrations of these
practices were shown on a screen. Human rights activists, Palestinian and
Israeli, spoke at length and in detail about the routine use of torture against
This was in 1993, in a Tel Aviv conference room,
and I was there as a reporter. Toward the end of the day, during a Q&A with
the audience, I asked about the torture of Palestinians by Palestinians. For
some time, Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
had been targeting West Bankers and Gazans whom they considered collaborators,
including Palestinians who worked for Israelis, and, in Hamas’s case, “moral
collaborators” who sold alcohol or racy videos. The issue was well-known;
B’Tselem was preparing a massive report on it, and I wanted to know what these
people had to say.
Palestinians in the audience turned and glared at me.
From the panel, the Israeli lady who headed the Public Committee Against
Torture, which organized the conference, also glared at me. I don’t remember
getting a straight answer. But during the break that followed, a middleaged
Palestinian activist came up to me with a stern, reproachful expression and
said, “That will be a legitimate question – after we have our own
As people headed out to the lobby, the Israeli emcee looked at me
a little sheepishly and said in a low voice: “These people aren’t comfortable
He was right, and what he said still holds true –
as can be seen from the general Palestinian reaction to last Friday night’s
massacre of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar, which was
distinguished by the butchery of three children, ages 11, four and three
Before going into the moral cowardice of the Palestinians’
reaction, I want to emphasize that from all evidence, they do genuinely deplore
it, with few exceptions. Even Hamas said “harming children is not part of Hamas
policy,” even though this belies history. Not only Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas spoke of his revulsion at the murders of children, so
did leading PA media, so did Palestinians on Facebook, so did Nablus residents
interviewed by Channel 10 reporter Shlomi Eldar, so did the half-dozen east
Jerusalem shopkeepers I interviewed.
“We think it’s inhuman to kill
people like that,” said Murad Muna, a grocer. “Nothing justifies going into a
house and killing children,” said Nabil Feidy, a currency dealer.
THE killings, some people in the Gaza town of Rafah handed out sweets, a group
calling itself the “Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh” claimed
responsibility, and Islamic Jihad called it a “heroic
operation." Otherwise, Palestinian society has come down on this
slaughter of a family asleep, above all of children.
They are not the
amoral creatures that so many Israelis consider them to be. If you actually talk
to Palestinians, you see that they’re as human as anyone else, they know the
difference between right and wrong, and they know that stabbing children to
death, any children, is the worst abomination.
What Palestinians cannot
do, though, is take collective responsibility for such an abomination – which,
after all, has happened before – not often by any means, but there have been
instances of Israeli children being stabbed, shot or stoned to death by
Palestinians, and not recklessly, but methodically. It happened in Itamar
before, at the height of the second intifada in 2002, at Kibbutz Metzer the same
year, in Tekoa the year before, and there have been other cases over the
The cold-blooded murder of children cannot be mitigated by
anything. It is outside of politics, outside of anything the “other side”
does, no matter who the other side is and what he does. When children are
murdered, the blame belongs to the murderer, not to any enemy he might have
And when it happens more than once, more than twice, when it’s
something that “crops up” over the course of time, then it means there is
something very wrong in the society that that murderer comes from. It
doesn’t mean the society is savage, but it means there is some streak of
savagery in it that’s been allowed to come out.
Palestinians aren’t a
nation of child killers, they’re a nation like any other that abhors such acts.
And if they have a streak of savagery, they’re not the only nation in the world
But what’s depressing about the Palestinian reaction to this
atrocity is their refusal to take any responsibility for it – to say this was an
act plainly committed in our name, in the name of our cause, it isn’t the first
time it’s happened, so we have a problem. We, Palestinian society, have a
problem, not just the murderers. This was a Palestinian-made abomination; this
is our shame, and we have to collectively accept responsibility, we have to
swear to rid ourselves of this savage streak.
No way. The only
Palestinian I heard even suggesting that the massacre had anything to do with
them was an Israeli Palestinian, MK Ahmed Tibi, who said in the Knesset that it
“shames the Palestinians.” I think he’s right; I think that deep down,
Palestinians are ashamed of what happened in Itamar, but they don’t have the
courage to admit it – not even to themselves.
Some shopkeepers I talked
to said that as much as they condemned these killings, there was no reason to
suspect Palestinians as the killers, and they repeated the wholly
unsubstantiated local “news” that a Thai worker had been arrested for killing
the Fogel family over an unpaid debt. “There’s no way Palestinians could get
close enough to a settlement to get inside,” said Mazen Shweiki, who runs a
Others assumed that the murders had been carried out by
Palestinians, but said the killings by IDF soldiers and settlers of Palestinians
in the area, “including children,” in recent months had provoked them.
WHO or what, ultimately, was to blame? I asked Feidy, the currency dealer. “Only
one thing is to blame – the occupation. Always,” he said.
The PA media
took the same tack. Even the anti-terrorist Popular Resistance Committees, which
organize the weekly protests against the security fence in Bil’in and other West
Bank villages, blamed the occupation for this “despicable crime.”
murders of these children, said the committees, were also “part of the
escalation generated and mobilized by the policies and actions of the Israeli
occupation... Therefore we believe that the Israeli government bears full
responsibility for the occupation and its consequences.”
eyes, anything any Palestinian does to any Israeli is a consequence of the
occupation. If a Palestinian stabs three Israeli children to death in their
beds, that’s a consequence of the occupation. If a Palestinian were to stab 300
Israeli children to death in their beds, that, too, would be a consequence of
I’m about the last person to say that Israel is blameless
for the violence in the West Bank, and I’m also about the last one to say
Palestinians don’t have the right to resist the occupation. But when looking at
Palestinian behavior, there has to be some point where Israel’s responsibility
ends and Palestinian responsibility begins, and I’d say that point was
definitely reached last Friday night in the Fogel home.
For once, the
Palestinians should have left off the “but...” For once, they should not have
changed the subject. For once, they should have looked inside their own society
for the root causes.
They didn’t. They have a victim’s mentality – even
worse than Israel’s, which is saying a lot – that absolves them of all
responsibility. And because they don’t have the courage to take responsibility
for anything any of them has ever done to any Israeli, things they genuinely
despise, such as the murder of children, are liable to happen.
Palestinians acknowledge the savage streak in their society – even if only to
themselves – and resolve to root it out, then, if history is a guide, there will
be more abominations done in their name. And it’s completely legitimate to
expect Palestinians to understand this – even before they have their own state.