Yalla Peace: Offense is in the eye of the beheld

The new IDF anti-hitchhiking campaign is stomach-turning in more ways than most Jews might think.

Kidnapped IDF soldier hitchiking ad 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kidnapped IDF soldier hitchiking ad 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sometimes I think Israelis and Palestinians spend too much time encouraging people to be prepared for the worst, rather than focusing our energies on concepts and ideas that might safeguard our mutual futures.
We look at each other and instead of seeing the majority of our community that is good, we instead see the dark side, the minority of our community that are extremists and prone to violence.
Take the new IDF campaign to discourage soldiers from hitchhiking, arguing in a powerful message that doing so might expose soldiers to kidnapping by “Palestinian terror groups.” The website features a movie of a kidnapped soldier reading his abductors’ demands to release all of the “freedom fighters” in Israeli prisons. At the end, the soldier says: “Sorry mother.”
The campaign was launched because information obtained through the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) – Israel’s secret police – revealed a Palestinian member of Islamic Jihad released to Gaza as part of the Schalit deal had told relatives in the West Bank how to kidnap soldiers.
Hitchhiking was high on the list, apparently.
The new IDF marketing campaign is sloganed “Don’t catch a ride. The ride might catch you,” and will appear on billboards at train and bus stations and on popular Internet sites, including an IDF website.
The campaign is stomach-turning in more ways than most Jews might think.
It targets violence by Palestinians, which is why the kidnappers are “Palestinian Terrorists.” It’s a stereotype that plays into “popular notions,” which is another way of saying “stereotypes.” Although the truth is hitchhiking has always been discouraged, and not all soldiers are Jews. Some are Druse. So why a new campaign?
Surely Palestinians even in Israel will see the campaign as offensive. So with much sarcasm, I offer some alternative PSA campaigns to help them see why this is so offensive.
HOW ABOUT urging “Israelis” not to take cabs driven by Israeli Palestinians, even though many Israeli Jews will not take “Arab cabs.” Or put up signs at restaurants that read “Jews only.” If you keep Arabs out, they won’t blow them up. How about a campaign to tell Israeli Jews, “We may have to live with non-Jewish Israeli citizens, but that doesn’t mean we have to trust them.”
These are extreme examples, but are intended to make a point from the Arab perspective, who surely view the hitchhiking campaign as another provocation creating animosity.
Animosity is a primary motivation for violence. Not throwing kerosene on a fire is a good way to keep angry fires from getting worse. But animosity is not sarcasm.
Instead of spending money on campaigns promoting more animosity and fear-mongering, as Arabs will surely view the IDF campaign on hitchhiking, why not invest our efforts on genuine peace, advocating two states, one Israel and one Palestine?
Why not a campaign from the Israeli government that reads, “Save Israel, Give up the Settlements.” It could show a scene where a platoon of Israeli soldiers are confronting settlers telling them that they should go home to Israel so the Palestinians can create a state. A Palestinian could be handing a flower to the soldiers.
Maybe another campaign might read more dramatically on billboards and buses, “A Palestine state won’t just make the Palestinians happy. It will make Israel safe, too.”
A third campaign might show a little Palestinian child being led away from their home in east Jerusalem with the child saying “Israel took my daddy’s home. But when I grow up I will fight to get it back.” Underneath could be the slogan, “Embrace real peace. Don’t take my home.”
I have a dozen more sarcastic ideas that might help Israeli Jews to understand why the IDF campaign is so offensive. Maybe they’re no more offensive to Jews than the hitchhiking campaign is to Palestinians.
This campaign would show a picture of Yitzhak Rabin over a caption, “Don’t let his death have been in vain. Embrace peace, again.” Instead of an Israeli soldier sitting between two Palestinian “terrorists,” they could have a picture of Yigal Amir in handcuffs, held by the Israeli police.
Well, they’d have to use Israelis who didn’t agree with Amir’s violent act.
Or, better yet, what if the IDF brought Israelis and Palestinians together to brainstorm positive PSAs to promote peace and discourage violence? We’d probably have to have a marketing campaign to convince the public it might work.
The writer is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Radio Talk Show host.