In a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nearly two weeks ago, President Donald Trump said that “Palestinians have to get rid of some of that [tremendous] hate that they’re taught from a very young age,” if they ever hope to achieve peace. Trump’s remarks were preceded by Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinians “continue to call for Israel’s destruction inside their schools, inside their mosques, [and] inside their textbooks.”
The idea that Palestinians possess some kind of perennial hatred of Jews is a popular myth among many of Israel’s supporters. Like Trump, Israel’s apologists often cite “Palestinian hatred” as the reason why the notorious peace process has continuously failed, and why there are perpetual lags in its re-initiation. With the help of mainstream outlets like The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post, and Fox News, the farcical notion of “Palestinian anti-semitism” has become a central theme in debates over the conflict.
Irrespective of Israel’s original sin in 1948, and its disproportionate use of force today, somehow it is Palestinian “Jew-hatred” that stands in the way of a real solution to the conflict. But, to point the finger at Palestinians for their unyielding “hatred” is to turn reality on its head. It not only improperly treats Israel as an existential victim (whose relentless military attacks against the Palestinians are supposedly necessary for its “survival”), but also minimizes its role as a brutal, occupying force in the conflict. In reality, Israel possesses one of the most powerful military forces in the world and exercises a hateful campaign of supremacy and expulsion against a largely defenseless population.
If widespread “hatred” exists towards Israel among Palestinians, it is as a result of this oppression. Rather than some kind of blind anti-semitism, this ever-present suffering is what fuels Palestinian anger. When children see their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers killed, tortured, and detained at the hands of an occupying force, they are bound to despise it.
Consider, for example, the case of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who in March 2016 shot and killed an unarmed and incapacitated twenty-one-year-old Palestinian, Abed Al-Fattah Yusri Al-Sharif, in the city of Hebron. After an eleven-month investigation, Azaria was sentenced to only a year and a half in prison for manslaughter. Since murder carries a twenty year prison term, Azaria was visibly pleased at his fate, and smiled remorselessly as his family kissed and hugged him. As if this was not troubling enough, Netanyahu has suggested the possibility of pardoning Azaria entirely.
With the price of Palestinian blood treated so cheaply, is it any surprise that some Palestinians have come to hate those who have devalued their lives so relentlessly?
And what about the very real phenomenon of Israeli hatred toward Palestinians? In her book Palestine in Israeli School Books, for example, Israeli academic Nurit Peled-Elhanan details the manner in which Israeli schoolchildren have been subtly taught to fear and dehumanize Palestinians for decades, and how this has affected their attitudes and actions as adults. Through this systematic indoctrination, Israeli soldiers, settlers, and politicians have learned to love and feed the occupation, which ceaselessly punishes the Palestinian people. This reality is hardly acknowledged by either mainstream press outlets or Western political figures.
In the end, then, there is a twisted truth to Trump’s claim that Palestinians are taught hate—though not for the reasons he suggests. Israeli bullets, discrimination, and the humiliation of a seven decade-long occupation is what is responsible for this state of affairs.