by Petra Marquardt-Bigman
Last Sunday, Al Arabiya reported with much anticipation that an “advertising drive is expected to take Washington D.C by storm on Monday as the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Visualizing Palestine call on the United States to halt $30 billion of military aid to the Jewish state.”
The advertisements targeted the annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Al Arabiya featured one poster that suggests US taxpayer-funded weapons are used by Israel to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.
The text on the poster claims that between 2000 and 2009, Israel’s military “killed at least 2960 unarmed Palestinians.” Unsurprisingly, it turns out that presenting Palestinians as the innocent victims of Israeli brutality and evil is the basic formula of the work put out by the “Visualizing Palestine” project.
This is probably a promising strategy, since many people who see a poster claiming that Israel killed almost 3000 innocent Palestinians between 2000 and 2009 will not necessarily recall what else happened in these years: In response to being offered a state of their own in the summer of 2000, the Palestinians launched a brutal war of terror against Israel; and in response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians elected the terror group Hamas and subjected Israel to relentless attacks with thousands of rockets. In 2008, the Palestinians were once again offered a state including the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem, but once again they chose not to respond positively.
When I checked out the work of “Visualizing Palestine,” I couldn’t help imagining how different their output would look if – instead of presenting Palestinians as hapless and helpless victims of Israel – mainstream views and attitudes of Palestinians were “visualized.”
So let’s give it a try and visualize Palestinian reactions to the aid they receive from the US.
For many years, the US has provided millions of dollars in bilateral annual aid to the Palestinians; in addition, the US is the largest single-state donor to UNRWA – the UN agency that works exclusively for the roughly 5 million Palestinians who claim (inherited) refugee status.
Yet, as documented by Pew surveys, Palestinians were always the most ardent admirers of Osama bin Laden. In 2003, 72 percent of Palestinians had “a lot” or “some confidence” that bin Laden would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Visualizing this fact could get us an image like the one shown above.
There is plenty of additional material. While the US pushed for the negotiations that resulted in the 2008 offer for a Palestinian state that I just mentioned, Palestinian “confidence” in bin Laden eroded only slowly: by 2009, 52 percent of Palestinians still trusted the Al-Qaeda leader to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” and by 2011, when he was killed by US Special Forces in his hide-out in Pakistan, fully a third of Palestinians still held bin Laden in high regard. Indeed, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned bin Laden’s assassination and deplored “the killing of an Arab holy warrior.”
Visualizing similar support for terrorism, extremism and Jew-hatred among Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim public would perhaps be very useful for helping people understand why the Jewish state remains a small threatened island in a dysfunctional and volatile neighborhood.