Divergent reactions to a murder in Jenin

Mer-Khamis's assassination highlighted the Israeli inclination to accept even inimical opinions.

Mer-Khamis 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Mer-Khamis 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Anyone unfamiliar with the unique context in which Israel struggles to survive would surely have been mystified last week by the exhaustive coverage, widespread public interest and outpourings of sympathy here that followed the murder in Jenin of actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis.
The widely divergent reactions on either side of the Green Line offer a unique perspective on the attitudes of both sides to the conflict.
By birth Mer-Khamis was someone who, hypothetically at least, could claim to belong to both worlds equally. He was half Jewish and half Arab, though both his parents were quite removed from the mainstream of their supposed natural milieus. Mer-Kahmis’s father was a Christian Communist and his mother was a Jewish Communist.
Despite his pro forma, nominal duality of allegiance, Mer-Khamis left little doubt where his sympathies lay. He placed himself firmly and unambiguously on the very farthest fringes of Israel’s left-wing, adopted positions that invariably castigated the policies of all of Israel’s elected governments and supported the Palestinian narrative wholeheartedly and passionately. Average Israelis would surely have viewed him as anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.
Quite incongruously, nevertheless, it was in Israel that his death created the greatest resonance and aroused the strongest emotions. Apart from his immediate associates in Jenin, Mer-Khamis’s demise triggered no perceptible shock waves, no popular expressions of grief on the Palestinian street and certainly no sense that a hero and champion of the Palestinians had been felled.
This is doubly strange given the fact that Mer-Kahmis knowingly risked his life on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He resided in Jenin and opened a theater there. He did so despite recurrent threats against him from extremist Muslims who looked askance upon his activities. One might have expected that such selfless solidarity would have brought him extraordinary recognition and admiration among all Palestinians.
But it did not, although the Palestinian Authority leadership did pay him lip service and condemned the homicide.
At the same time, it asserted that the murder negated the Palestinian-Arab ethos. The crime, averred PA premier Salam Fayyad, “constitutes a severe violation of our principles and values and goes against our people’s morals and beliefs in coexistence.”
BUT DOES it? The murder was apparently committed because elements within PA society couldn’t countenance anyone who was not thoroughly Arab and not their brand of Muslim. They apparently wouldn’t abide cultural input from an avant-garde liberal framework. Such intolerance wasn’t philosophical. It evidently meant bloody consequences.
This isn’t uncommon in Palestinian society. In fact, freethinking and broad-mindedness have been the rarities through the decades. We need only note that during the 1936-39 “great Arab uprising,” fomented by Nazi-collaborator Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini (Hitler’s personal guest in WWII Berlin), some 300 Jews were killed. But the Mufti’s minions simultaneously put to death over 6,000 of their fellow Arabs in a reign of terror geared to remove any opposition.
This isn’t dissimilar to what Hamas imposes on Gaza today.
Such extremism, unfortunately, is far from exceptional.
Intolerance continues to flourish within Mahmoud Abbas’s and Fayyad’s bailiwick. The incitement the PA hierarchy allows in its schools, media and mosques only further fans the flames of hate.
Significantly, on the day Mer-Khamis was interred in Israel, a poll of 1,270 Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza – conducted jointly by the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research – showed that a third of all respondents approved the slaughter of the Fogel family of Itamar, including two children and a three-month-old infant.
This is a frightening statistic. Too often, Palestinian moderates tend to be ineffectual and unable to counter the fanatics – even when these fanatics harm Palestinian interests. This can only perpetuate the question marks regarding Palestinian readiness for sincere reconciliation with and acceptance of a Jewish state, one which distinctly differs from their precepts.
The vast dissimilarity in outlook between the two societies was underscored by Mer-Khamis’s cowardly, coldblooded assassination. It highlighted particularly the Israeli inclination to accept even inimical opinions. Such forbearance is the indispensable cornerstone of coexistence, something which Western democracies must begin to internalize and demand.