Israel has come under fire recently, and for good reason. In the past few years, the self-declared sole democracy in the Middle East has killed more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians in the 2014 Gaza war, a conflict in which fewer than 10 Israeli civilians perished; maintained a blockade of Gaza that has left its residents stranded in abject destitution and could eventually make the region uninhabitable; faced allegations of human rights abuses from American senators and Amnesty International; and expanded its settlements further into the West Bank, spitting in the face of the U.N. Despite all of this, a solid majority of Americans have a favorable view of Israel, which recently received a 10-year military aid package of $38 million from the U.S. How is this possible? How does Israel get away with it?
To answer that question, we must look at the manner in which Israel defends the aforementioned transgressions. It argues that many of the Gazan civilians it killed were “terrorist operatives.” It deems Gaza’s brutal isolation necessary, to prevent its people from receiving weaponry by sea. It supports its security forces and says they fight only “bloodthirsty terrorists“. It lashes out at the U.N., arguing that its criticism of settlements “provide[s] a tailwind for terror.” The common thread through all of these is that Israel doesn’t oppress Palestinians, it combats terrorists. No one wants to side with the terrorists, right? By smearing Palestinians in this manner, Israel gives cover to — and effectively legitimizes — the atrocities it commits against them.
And Israel isn’t alone. Countless external organizations advocate on its behalf by calling into question the motives and agency of Palestinians. One such group, the nonprofit Facts and Logic About the Middle East, ran an advertisement to that effect in a recent issue of The Diamondback. (Here, I should stress that our editorial department has no control over the ads that appear in the paper, for better or for worse.) The ad claims that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East fosters terrorism among the Palestinians it serves. As evidence, it cites an array of distortions, half-truths and outright lies. Because it would require far more space than this column allots me to rebut them all, I’ll focus on some of the more noxious ones.
The agency’s central mission, since its creation in 1949, has been to provide for Palestinian refugees in various territories of the Middle East, from the West Bank and Gaza to Lebanon and Jordan, among other areas. This includes providing health care, helping with employment and running schools; that last duty draws the brunt of FLAME’s ire. The organization asserts in the ad that the agency’s education curriculum “portrays Jews as sub-human, [and] casts Palestinian terror as an Islamic duty.” This, unsurprisingly, is far from the truth.
The agency faces numerous accusations of bigotry among its employees. Some of these, such as the contention that an agency school in Rameh, Syria, had promoted anti-Semitism, are baseless. Others, such as the charges of agency employees inciting violence on social media, have proof to back them up — so the U.N. responds accordingly and disciplines said employees. In any case, the agency doesn’t tolerate such regressive views within its ranks, and no evidence exists of institutionalized agency bigotry.
FLAME isn’t the only group to take issue with the agency. Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza strip, has clashed with the organization repeatedly about the curriculum in its schools. In 2009, the agency planned to introduce human rights courses in its schools, to teach children about the Holocaust; Hamas pushed back with ugly anti-Semitism. But that didn’t sway the agency, which incorporated the lessons into its curriculum. When a similar issue arose in 2014 — Hamas censured agency textbooks for referencing Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., among others — the agency again stood firm, saying that it “[had] no plans to change its education program.” The FLAME ad asserts that Hamas has infiltrated the agency, with “[m]any of its 30,000 mostly Palestinian employees.” Given the bad blood between the two groups, this claim hardly holds water.
A less toxic aspect of the ad, but one nevertheless worth addressing, is FLAME’s criticism of the agency definition of refugees. Not only does the organization give its services to those displaced in the 1948 war, it aids their descendants as well, which the ad asserts is “a breach of all international convention.” Apparently, that international convention doesn’t include the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, a separate U.N. organization with a virtually analogous definition: The commissioner’s handbook states that the principle of “family unity” ensures a refugee’s offspring will receive the same benefits. This is a critical proposition, since a breathtaking amount of Palestinian refugees still live in poverty. Although the agency does bear some of the blame for their plight, as it’s cut back on its services recently, the “culture of dependency” talk that FLAME propagates has no basis in reality.
This is a common thread across the globe: If you want to get away with oppression, paint your victims as amoral deviants. Donald Trump kicked off his horrifically xenophobic campaign for president by maligning undocumented immigrants as rapists and criminals, a tone he’s maintained throughout his run. British politician Nigel Farage advocated for Brexit with a similar approach, drumming up fears that Syrian migrants would bring ISIS into the country. FLAME’s attitude toward Palestinian refugees is no different: Whether they’re bloodthirsty terrorists or bloodsucking moochers, Palestinian refugees — and, by extent, Palestinians — don’t deserve your sympathy.
None of this is to say that terrorism isn’t a problem. Attacks hurt and kill Israelis constantly, and moreover, a disturbing number of Palestinians have expressed approval of violence against Israelis. To pick a recent example, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in March supported violent uprisings against Israelis. This doesn’t justify Israel’s dehumanization, however. Let’s put aside the facts that more than 40 percent oppose such violence, per the survey, and that those Palestinians who support it aren’t necessarily terrorists themselves. What drives people to such extreme views? In many cases, it’s injustice: Without a fair shot in life, whether because of state-driven oppression or local brutality, people often see violence as the only way out. While Israelis worry that a terrorist attack will strike them down suddenly — and this is hardly an illegitimate fear — Palestinians live constantly under U.S.-funded occupation and oppression. We must first address the latter, which creates the vicious cycle of terrorism, if we wish to alleviate the former.
The Diamondback has something of a history with FLAME. In 2011, the paper ran an ad from the organization alleging that “[a]nti-Semitism is integral to Muslim culture.” Our editorial board at the time issued a mealy-mouthed response, noting that “the text [of the ad] is carefully worded in a manner that makes it difficult to refute.” Difficult isn’t the same as impossible, though. We should never allow pernicious statements such as these to go unchecked, especially when they further the subjugation of a populace that already suffers enough. Only by standing up to the dehumanization of Palestinians, whether from Israel, internal or external organizations, can we hope to bring their struggles to a just end.
Ryan Romano is a sophomore journalism major. He can be reached at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Israel had killed more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the 2014 Gaza war. More than 2,000 Palestinians died in the war, but the U.N. classified only 1,462 of those as civilians. This column has been updated.