It’s Not the Settlements, Stupid
You probably have never heard of Khaled al-Mughrabi.
In 2015, Mughrabi, “one of al-Aqsa’s top preachers,” told worshippers at the Temple Mount that during the holiday of Passover, Jews kidnap children and put them inside a ‘barrel of nails’ with a faucet, because “[the Jews] eat bread kneaded with the blood of children.” Mughrabi had previously claimed that Jews masterminded 9/11. This could be reasonably dismissed as an anomaly — one imam who crossed the line.
In reality, however, the corrosive antisemitism ubiquitous within Palestinian society is a historical constant.
If you are like many other people who read the New York Times, the BBC, CNN, or Al Jazeera, you certainly will have never heard of Mughrabi: his name does not appear on their websites in any capacity. Nonetheless, any mention of Israeli settlements saturates their news coverage — because the building of homes on contested lands supersedes the corruption of Palestinian hearts and minds.
As a BBC headline maintained in 2010, “Obstacles to Middle East peace: Borders and Settlements.“ Likewise, the United Nations issued a similarly condemnatory statement following a General Assembly meeting in 2012. The “meeting was again gripped with the issue of settlements as the main obstacle to the two-State solution,” the document read. Naturally, an unfamiliar observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would assume that if leading global news outlets and international organizations classify settlements as among the core issues of the conflict — and equivocate or ignore the latent antisemitism within Palestinian society — that one takes precedence over the other.
Think about the two leaders sitting across the table from one another. Perhaps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most infamous moment came on the eve of the 2015 elections. “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” he warned. This was an attempt to incite fear amongst Jewish Israelis — and was a bigoted remark directed at the state’s Arab citizens.
By comparison, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote a PhD dissertation ‘in Holocaust denial’ entitled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.” The paper argued that the figure of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust was exaggerated, and that Zionists were complicit in the genocide.
Jerusalem has also figured into Abbas’ hatred. Abbas has agitated and employed antisemitism in promoting the canard that Israel is altering the status quo of the Temple Mount. In 2015, Abbas met with East Jerusalem activists and said, “They [Jews] have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet.” He then added, “Each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah.” This is the moderate voice within Palestinian society — the compromising one that Israel is supposed to strike a deal with.
Such statements speak to the intolerance that many Palestinians feel towards Israeli and Jews. According to the Anti-Defamation League, residents of the West Bank and Gaza scored 93 out of 100 on their index of antisemitism. In that survey, Palestinians answered in comfortable majorities that Jews:
- are more loyal to Israel than the country they live in;
- hold too much power in the business world, financial markets, the American government and the global media;
- talk about the Holocaust too much;
- and are responsible for most of the world’s wars.
A 2015 study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 40% of West Bankers and nearly 50% of Gazans believe that the Palestinian national goal for the next five years should be the reclamation of historic Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Moreover, when asked whether Jews have some right to this land — alongside Palestinians — 80% of West Bankers and 87% of Gazans agreed that “this is Palestinian land and Jews have no right to it”.
For far too long, the physical dimensions of the conflict have been prioritized over the content of people’s hearts. With good intentions, politicians have tried to resolve geographical problems without demanding ideological reformation.
There were no Jewish communities established beyond the Green Line between 1948-1967, nor did Israel exercise any sovereignty over the Temple Mount during that period; and yet, the conflict persisted.
The history of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute shows that houses and people can be moved. In the Sinai and Gaza, Israel did just that in the pursuit of peace. Yet what cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen are matters of the Palestinian heart and mind. How do you cure a society that rewards — instead of penalizes — terrorists and their families with financial compensation? Or adorns community centers and streets with terrorists’ names? These questions are at the root of the conflict– and they must be the first ones to be answered.