Palestinian Terrorism and Israel
I believe there may be an apparent correlation: when I cease writing a blog for almost a week; I suddenly get reams of correspondence. Can I conclude that if I do not want to hear from readers, I must continue producing a blog a day so that readers are so busy that they have no time to write or read much else? False logic, no? I will try to suggest other forms of false logic that have far more substantive implications. Among the emails I received, two were about, first, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, second, Justin Trudeau’s policies in that respect. Let me address both issues in turn, the issue of Palestinian support for terrorism against Israeli Jews in today’s blog, and the issue of Justin Trudeau’s views and the advisers who shape those views in tomorrow’s blog.
I begin with Palestinian intentions. The reference was to an article distributed by The Gatestone Institute written by Bassam Tawil on opinion polls of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel.
As we enter the third month of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, Bassam Tawil argues that it is important to discern the intentions of Palestinians in general and of the Palestinian leadership more specifically not just of the individual perpetrators of stabbings, rammings and fire bombings. Bassam is out to attack the thesis that the assaults are driven by despair and frustration among Palestinians at the lack of progress towards a peace agreement with Israel. In Bassam’s views, the attacks are nothing but a reiteration of long term Palestinian goals to eliminate Israel and are a result of Palestinian leadership incitement rather than actions of the Israeli government, the IDF or settlers.
Let me analyze the claim by first introducing readers to Bassam Tawil for those unacquainted with his writings and reviews of the policies and practices of Mahmoud Abbas over this past year. In this blog, I will mostly concentrate on polls he cites with respect to Palestinian attitudes towards Israel.
Bassam Tawil is a regular writer of op-eds for The Gatestone Institute and, since the outbreak of the intifada of knives, has written on topics such as:
“Fatah Knives and ISIS Knives: Palestinian Child Sacrifice”
“Palestinians: The Real Goal of the Intifadah”
“Who is Jailing and Torturing Palestinian Journalists?”
“The Terrorists Funded by the West”
“Palestinians: A World of Lies, Deception and Fabrication”
“Muslim Blood and Al-Aqsa”
“The Palestinian Jihad: Lies, Lies and More Lies” that was published in the Canadian Jewish News
“What Do Palestinian Terrorists Want?”
“Palestinians: Why Our Leaders Are Hypocrites and Liars.”
These are but a sampling of his prolific output. But they should tell you, without reading much more, that Bassam is a Palestinian, that he is very repetitive on a few themes, that he believes the Palestinian leadership is not simply absent without leave, but an orchestrator and stimulus of the Third Intifada. According to Bassam, the majority of Palestinians hope for and want the destruction of Israel. When he is more fired up than usual, he refers to Palestinians as the New Nazis and depicts Gaza under Hamas and eventually the West Bank as proto-Da’esh entities.
Bassam Tawil’s byline usually states that he is a scholar on the Middle East or a Senior Scholar at the Gatestone Institute whose pieces for The Gatestone Institute are reprinted in The Jewish Press (http://www.jewishpress.com/author/bassamtawil/) and elsewhere. He is often linked with another Palestinian, Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli, who is a well-recognized Palestinian investigative reporter. In fact, Bassam Tawil is more like Ezra Levant whom I will discuss tomorrow, someone who writes opinion pieces or op-eds, often using data accumulated elsewhere. Since a scholar is generally defined as a distinguished academic or a scholarly expert in a particular field, it is difficult to understand how Bassam can be portrayed as a scholar since he is not recognized as such by Middle East experts of various persuasions and since I have never been able to track down a CV listing his scholarly credentials. There is absolutely nothing wrong with listing oneself as a writer on the Middle East or a journalist on the Middle East. But why insert “scholar” or “distinguished scholar” unless one wants to mislead. This is especially important for a writer whose short essays so often refer to alleged lies and misleading statements by others.
Let us begin with the empirical material he does use and other material that he ignores based on polls of Palestinian attitudes. In the piece cited by my reader, reference is made to a poll conducted by The Watan Center for Studies and Research. Watan has published such items as a book entitled, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives by Padraig O’Malley, which is a scholarly book with the usual plethora of books read and interviews cited. One essential argument in the book is that, “Israel’s actions, according to the Israeli perspective, cannot be judged in conformity with universal norms” because Israel always faces an existential threat and is determined to survive in spite of the toxic atmospheric context of the area in which the country exists.
The thesis is consistent with Bassam’s and has been repeated by other authors and commentators. For example, Rachel Molschky on 24 July 2014 wrote on “Palestinian Support for Suicide Bombings,” based on a 1 July 2014 Pew Report. I will come back to the Watan Centre Poll in a moment, but I wanted to begin with polling by an organization with relatively impeccable credentials. The Pew poll cited was really about negative attitudes to extremism and terrorism in the Muslim world. “Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies.” Further, “support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade.” Nevertheless, the Pew Poll demonstrated that, in some countries, a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.
Take neighbouring Lebanon, which has the highest anxiety about extremism in the region given its long suffering from such acts, “92% of the public is worried about Islamic extremism, up 11 points from the already high figure of 81% in 2013. Lebanese Christians (95%), Shia Muslims (95%) and Sunni Muslims (86%) all share high levels of concern.” “In the Palestinian territories, 65% worry about extremism.” Ironically, that concern is higher in Gaza (79%) than in the West Bank (57%). The polls in Jordan and Turkey are instructive. For in Jordan, though the relative concern is low, 62% are aware of and upset by extremism. The percentage is 60% in Turkey. But both countries had shown a precipitous increase by mid-2014 and subsequent polls in both countries show a further significant increase, particularly in Turkey. Concern with terrorism seems to rise in correlation with the direct experience of extremist behaviour targeting one’s own population. Not surprising; it is rather what one would expect.
In Israel, in mid-2014, “More than eight-in-ten Israelis (84%) express worries about Islamic extremism,” Israeli Jews (87%) and Israeli Arabs (66%). This suggests either a correlation with being targets of Islamic extremism, or, as Bassam would argue, an unconcern with the victims. But concern with Islamic terrorism is not to be equated with concern with Palestinian terrorist attacks on Jews, as distinct from Islamic terrorism, or support rather than unconcern for such acts. If two-thirds of Palestinian Israelis are concerned with terrorism and 57% of West Bank residents are concerned with terrorism and 79% of Gazans are concerned with Islamic terrorism, how does this reconcile with Bassam’s allegations of Palestinian support for terrorism targeting Jews and Israelis?
The Pew poll does demonstrate that fears of and support for terrorism is ideologically aligned, though, for many, the differential between Jewish concerns and Palestinian fears of terrorism already indicate that. For example, Hezbollah, branded by Western governments as a terrorist organization, is viewed unfavourably in every mid-East country, 69% unfavourable and 26% favourable in Gaza, while 46% are unfavourable and 35% favourable in the West Bank. If Hezbollah has been an ally of Hamas, why are almost 70% critical of Hezbollah actions in Gaza? The explanation – most Gazans have an unfavourable view of Hamas. Hamas scares them as much as Hezbollah, a view shared throughout the region.
If we look at Palestinian Israeli citizen fears of Jewish terrorism, in a poll conducted by the Haifa-based research centre Mada-al-Carmel, 72% reported either a moderate or high degree of fear of violence by Jewish extremists in November following a spate of Israeli Jewish extremists attacks aimed at Palestinian Israelis. In Dimona with anti-Arab graffiti readily visible everywhere, a Jewish teen stabbed four Palestinians in October claiming “all Arabs are terrorists,” but proving by his actions that not all terrorists are Arab. In Netanya, three Arab Israelis were attacked by Jewish extremists screaming, “death to the Arabs.” In Tel Aviv, an Eritrean, mistaken for a Palestinian, was bludgeoned to death by a mob after a Palestinian terrorist shot and killed an Israeli soldier.
Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. The frequency may vary. The targets may vary. But the punishment meted out to different types of terrorists also varies. Palestinian terrorists are often killed on the spot. Jewish extremists are not killed on the spot. In fact, most often they are not caught, and when, in high profile cases, they are caught, if one follows the results, the Jewish terrorists are often treated with greater leniency than Palestinian terrorists.
All this is not to say anything yet about terrorism and its support or non-support. It merely suggests that one must be wary of selective citations of polls, of interpretations given to those polls and of claims that those polls are being examined with a scholarly and critical eye. At the same time, it should be noted that the interpretation given by Bassam was the general one: see Breibart, Sound the Trumpet, Rachael Molschky, Israel National News, the Jewish Virtual Library, the British Israel Group. Even a left-of-centre commentator like Bill Mahar, picked up on the poll results. So is the interpretation valid, namely that:
- A majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support the terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews;
- The attacks are a reiteration of long term Palestinian goals to eliminate Israel;
- The attacks are a result of Palestinian leadership incitement;
- The attacks are not the result of frustration with the peace process, lack of action by the Israeli government on that issue and initiatives by the Israeli government and the IDF in support of the settlements.
Virtually all polls I have examined indicate just under half of Palestinians support the random acts of terrorism against Israeli Jews, including the poll cited by Bassam. As one example, in a detailed poll last month conducted by the Israel Virtual Library, only 30% believe in a peaceful uprising, namely through non-violent passive resistance, while 42% support a violent uprising. Just under 28% oppose any uprising altogether. The 42% who support a violent uprising is not far off the 48% support for the terrorists. The difference, quite aside from methodology of conducting the poll and built-in room for error, is possibly explained because the support for random acts of terror may be higher than for a wholesale violent uprising which would undoubtedly be put down with overwhelming force at great cost to the homes, infrastructure and many Palestinian lives. Random acts of terror only attract reprisals against the attackers and, because of their randomness, generally spread more fear among Jewish Israelis.
On the other hand, almost half of Palestinians are either fearful or positively favourable to these random acts of violence as precursors to a general uprising. But even for this half, they absolutely do not identify with Da’esh.
In fact, a clear 83% actually support the war waged by the West against ISIS and over 90% see ISIS as totally unrepresentative of Islam with only 6% identifying with Da’esh. Palestinians even exaggerate the support Da’esh has in their own society with 8.5% in the West Bank believing it has moderate or large support and almost 20% in Gaza believing it has moderate or large support, though most Palestinians correctly believe it has a small or no presence at all. Almost 93% of Palestinians oppose the actions of Da’esh and less than 2% are supportive.
The attitude to Da’esh stands in stark contrast to the support for random acts of terror by Palestinians or a general uprising, with 70% of Palestinians on the West Bank and 84% in Gaza having a favourable attitude to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad. What is more interesting is how the support for violence has shifted over the last twenty years, from a low of about 25% twenty years ago to a high of 86% in July of 2001. Since then, that support has fluctuated from a low once again of 30% to a high of 62%. So support for acts of terrorism seems to fluctuate significantly, interpreted by most as, other than a core resistance of 25-30%, seemingly context driven. That alone makes one suspect that there is not much substance to the claim that Palestinians in general have an implacable hatred of Jews and want to throw Jews into the sea. It is bad enough that such a significant minority still does, but they do not constitute even a majority or even close to it. Yet a much higher percentage supports random terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews.
From my studies of a wide cross section of polls, the random violent attacks, which most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank support, are not an expression of a long term Palestinian goal of eliminating the Jewish state, though a very significant minority of Palestinians do support such a goal. The third thesis that Bassam articulated, namely that the Palestinian leadership has been orchestrating the “spontaneous” acts of violence, not by ordering them or even facilitating them practically, but by creating a poisonous atmosphere of distrust in the reinforcement in the myth that the Israeli government has an appetite to change the political arrangements concerning the al-Aqsa mosque. That is harder to overtly refute since the causal analysis would be difficult to prove or disprove.
However, look at the majority of poll results. Most Palestinians, in the West Bank and certainly in Gaza, do not look favourably on the Palestinian Authority in general and the role of Abbas in particular. If Abbas is ambivalent about support for the random acts of terror, a more likely hypothesis is that this ambivalence results from his knowledge that he no longer enjoys a majority of support from Palestinians, that, on the other hand, if he took the lead in fostering terror, he could be squashed quickly by Israel, that support for violence would benefit his enemies more than himself since he has adamantly argued that the use of violence to oppose Israel is counter-productive. He is caught between an anvil and a hammer, and with either choice he loses. So he tries to create distractions rather than stimulating a general uprising.
However, a great deal more analysis and mustering of evidence would be needed to support or falsify such a thesis or to test whether Bassam’s theory might be valid, though on first glance, the evidence against it seems overwhelming. In sum, most Palestinians do support the terror attacks, but do not support an uprising against Israel, do not support the government of Abbas, and are unlikely to be led in their support of those random acts of terror by a leader who has lost the confidence of the majority of them.
It is bad enough that such a large number of Palestinians support random terror against Jewish Israelis without going off the rails in attributing that support as indicative of an exterminationist agenda or of a covert manipulative strategy of the Palestinian leadership. Whether the alternative thesis, that the violence in explicable in terms of anger at the Israelis for lack of movement on the peace front, would require a whole separate analysis. Suffice it to say that there is still a glimmer of hope since polls indicate that a majority of Palestinians as well as Israelis still supported a two-state solution in 2013 (Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah) which ascertained that 63% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians then supported the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. That support has since fallen on both sides as despair about the possibility of peace continues to increase, especially among Palestinians. Most worrisome, even then, Palestinians feared Israel as an existential threat as they saw encroachments on Palestinian land making a viable Palestinian state less likely each day, while a majority of Israelis, and, thus, an even higher majority of Jewish Israelis, saw Palestinians as an existential threat believing that most Palestinians had an exterminationist agenda.
Bassam’s thesis has more to do with detecting false but deeply held fears and feelings than having much to do with reality.