A few years ago, British poet and Oxford don Tom Paulin offered a view on what should be done to certain Jewish settlers. “[They] should be shot dead,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I think they are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hatred for them.” As for Israel itself, it was, he said, “an historical obscenity.”
On Friday night, March 11, apparently one or more members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ “moderate” Fatah party, broke into the West Bank home of Udi and Ruth Fogel. The Jewish couple were stabbed to death along with their 11-year-old son, Yoav; their 4-year-old son, Elad; and their 3-month-old daughter, Hadas. Photographs taken after the murders and posted online show a literal bloodbath. Is Mr. Paulin satisfied now?
Unquestionably pleased are residents of the Palestinian town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, who “hit the streets Saturday to celebrate the terror attack” and “handed out candy and sweets,” according to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The paper quoted one Rafah resident saying the massacre was “a natural response to the harm settlers inflict on the Palestinian residents in the West Bank.” Just what kind of society thinks it’s “natural” to slit the throats of children in their beds?
The answer: The same society that has named summer camps, soccer tournaments and a public square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian woman who in March 1978 killed an American photographer and hijacked a pair of Israeli buses, leading to the slaughter of 37 Israeli civilians, 13 children among them.
I have a feeling that years from now Palestinians will look back and wonder: How did we allow ourselves to become that? If and when that happens — though not until that happens — Palestinians and Israelis will at long last be able to live alongside each other in genuine peace and security.
But I also wonder whether a similar question will ever occur to the Palestinian movement’s legion of fellow travelers in the West. To wit, how did they become so infatuated with a cause that they were willing to ignore its crimes — or, if not quite ignore them, treat them as no more than a function of the supposedly infinitely greater crime of Israeli occupation?
That’s an important question because it forms part of the same pattern in which significant segments of Western opinion cheered Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe and even Pol Pot. The cheering lasted just as long as was required to see the cause through to some iconic moment of triumph, and then it was on to the next struggle. It was left to others to pick up the pieces or take to the boats or die choking in their own blood.
Whether similar tragedies would unfold for Palestinians in the wake of their own “liberation” remains to be seen, though the portents — the experience of the post-colonial world generally and of the Gaza Strip specifically — aren’t good.
Even worse is that Palestinians have grown accustomed to the waiver the rest of the world has consistently granted them over the years no matter what they do. Palestinians ought to have expectations of themselves if they mean to build a viable state. But their chances of doing so are considerably diminished if the world expects nothing of them and forgives them everything.
It is precisely in this sense that the frenzied international condemnation of Israeli settlements and settlers does the most harm. Having been accorded the part of George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein — perpetual target of the proverbial two minutes of hate — they have drained whatever capacity there was to hold Palestinian actions to moral account, to say nothing of our ability to understand the nature of a conflict that is more than simply territorial. The demonization of the settlers has made the world not only coarse but blind.
I write these words as one who has long entertained doubts about the wisdom and viability of much of the settlement enterprise, though I’ve never considered it the core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a point well borne out by the example of Gaza following Israel’s withdrawal.
Now I find myself cheering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for announcing, in the wake of the Fogel family massacre, the construction of hundreds of additional homes in the settlements. Israel’s consistent mistake since the peace process began nearly 18 years ago was to suppose that conspicuous displays of reasonableness and moderation would beget likewise on the other side. The reality has been closer to the opposite.
For 60 years, no nation has been held to such stringent moral account, or such ceaseless international hectoring, as Israel. And no people has been held to so slight an account as the Palestinians. Redressing that imbalance is the essential first step in finding a solution to the conflict. The grotesque murders of the Fogels and their little children demands nothing less.
Bret Stephens is foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal.