Why Do Palestinians Believe Crazy Things?
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that Israel carried out the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, according to a new poll. Although at first blush one might be tempted to chuckle and turn the page, in fact the poll is not merely a curiosity. It has significant implications for the chances for Middle East peace.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, was published in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida. It found that 84% of Palestinians believe the Paris attacks were “suspicious, and that Israel may be behind it.” Just 9% of Palestinians acknowledge that the Paris massacres were the work of Islamist terrorists.
Those who follow the Palestinian media know that the PA regularly promotes nutty conspiracy theories, often using Al-Hayat al-Jadida as its vehicle for doing so. Last year, they stirred a frenzy – and inspired waves of Palestinian violence – by repeatedly claiming that “the Jews” were conspiring to harm or destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Jews were “contaminating” the mosque.
In recent years, senior PA officials have publicly claimed that Israel distributes chocolates laced with mad cow disease in Palestinian areas (the PA’s director of Consumer Protection made that accusation); that Israel infects Palestinian children with AIDS (according to the PA’s representative to the UN in Geneva); that Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks (PA Radio); that Israel murders Palestinian children in order to harvest their organs (Al-Hayat al-Jadida); or that Israel uses naked women to lure “intifada youth” into police ambushes (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida again).
If such beliefs were limited to a handful of PA officials, then at least one could take solace in the knowledge that they could turn off the fountain of hate at any time. Of course it would still be deeply disturbing that Israel’s “partner in peace” is actively trying to incite anti-Israel violence. But at least there would be reason to hope the incitement might be curbed if, for example, the United States pressured the PA to stop it.
But when hateful conspiracy-mongering takes hold among the general Palestinian public, then Israel faces a deep and long-lasting problem. And that is what the latest poll, and other recent polls, suggest.
Most polls of Palestinians focus on their views of terrorism, settlements, borders, and similar issues. But every once in a while, a pollster asks a question that sheds light on the huge gap between how Westerners see the world and how Palestinian Arabs see it.
For example, take the question of who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A poll by PORI (Public Opinion Research of Israel) in September 2003 found that 26% of Palestinians believe Israel did it. A poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org in September 2008 found 27% of Palestinians think the U.S. carried out the 9/11 attacks, and 19 percent accused Israel. The Pew Research Center, in a July 2011 poll, phrased the question a little differently and found that 68% of Palestinians do not believe Arabs carried out the attacks, and only 22% acknowledge that Arabs did it.
We have not seen any polls that asked Palestinians whether they believe there was a Holocaust. But a May 2009 poll by the University of Haifa found 40% of Israeli Arabs believe the Holocaust was a hoax. Note that this astonishingly high number was among Arabs who have been far more exposed to modernization and Western thinking. It seems likely that the number of Palestinians who live in Judea-Samaria or Gaza and deny the Holocaust is even higher.
Why do Palestinians believe this stuff? We leave it to sociologists, historians, and political scientists to analyze the religious and cultural factors that encourage conspiratorial thinking. We merely take note of the fact that such thinking is widespread among the Palestinians, and the implications for Israel are significant.
Hamas, in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, in part of Judea-Samaria, already each have a de-facto state. Hamas lacks one major thing: total control of its borders. Israel’s partial blockade prevents them from acquiring tanks and jet fighters. The PA, for its part, also lacks one major thing: a full-fledged army.
So when the international community, the Jewish left, and the State Department demand that Israel lift the Gaza blockade and give the PA a sovereign state, Israelis have to ask themselves: Who would be in charge? Would reasonable, rational people run the State of Palestine? Or would the tanks and planes be in the hands of people who – by an overwhelming majority – sincerely believe crazy things, whether about 9/11 or the Holocaust or a dozen other issues?
Wishful thinkers – and there is no shortage of them in the Obama Administration, the pages of the New York Times, and the offices of various “peace” groups – look at the rest of the world and think that everyone is pretty much “just like us.” But the polls say otherwise.
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and are candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.