The letter presented below comes about as the result of a rather round-about process. Liza of somethingsomething posted a long and critical post about the conference, Stop being Verbal Vegetarians, taken from the title Manfred Gerstenfeld’s talk — a title which apparently upset some vegetarians. The passage that caught Ramzi eye went like this:
Dr. Gerstenfeld kept referring to the Palestinians as “the enemy”, and made statements such as “incitement to murder is an integral part of Palestinian society” and “…fighting a society permeated with genocidal intentions”. He suggested that we must “turn the accusers into the accused”, and that we should “stop being verbal vegetarians”.
It was a truly horrifying experience, and between the waves of nausea I was feeling, all I kept thinking was that thank god Charles was not in the room to hear this racist rant. I was angry enough, and would have been morbidly embarrassed had this utterly charming Lebanese-American blogger and conference participant heard what this man was saying.
Now this post led to two major threads of comment (one at Good Neighbors, and a longer one at somethingsomething), in which I participated.
But it also prompted Ramzi S., a Palestinians student in political sociology in France to write Manfred an email with a series of challenges. I have both Ramzi and Manfred’s permission to post the note with my comments. Ramzi, in his email to me wrote:
i will be ready to discuss the subject as much as it needs to get discussed, i prefer to STAY OPEN rather than close the door on every possible human contact…
I hope I do not disappoint him, and that we can begin a fruitful discussion. Blockquote bold = Ramzi.
After hearing about your intervention at the “The Media as a Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society” conference, I decided to contact you and ask for some clarifications about some remarks you made during that conference.
I didn’t present myself, my name is Ramzi , a Palestinian blogger and a Political Sociology student in France.
I heard that you kept referring to the Palestinians as “the Enemy.” I heard that you didn’t stop claiming the victimhood of the State of Israel. I heard too that you stated that “incitement to murder is an integral part of Palestinian society” you then stated that israel is ” fighting a society permeated with genocidal intentions” and you suggested to “turn the accusers into the accused.”
Now let me tell you what i think about this, then allow me to comment.
With all due respect, allow me to say in one word that your speech is a pure act of Demagogy.
I wonder how many times you visited the Palestinian Authority. I wonder how many times you had the chance to talk to Palestnians, I wonder if you ever saw a Palestinian in your life. It’s true, some mainstream media sources tend to represent Palestinians as such. But No Mr. Gerstenfeld, The Media never tells the truth, whether to defend or to attack , you shouldn’t allow the media to put down your very own social standing.
I’m not sure what the final remark means, but let me address some of the issues here. I won’t speak for Mr. Gerstenfeld, but for myself, and I had no issue with his remarks. (Apologies to the vegetarians — among whom I once numbered — but I found the title delightful, and when I mentioned it to a friend he pointed out that the only true pacifists are in the vegetable kingdom.) I have some contact with Palestinians, and participated in four years of dialogue with a group of Palestinians and other Arabs and Israelis and Jews in the Boston area, from 2000 to 2004. We began right after the outbreak of the violence, in an effort to keep channels of communication open, and it was at my initiative. I also participated in some dialogue groups in Israel shortly after the Oslo Accords in 1994-5. Is this enough? No. Did I learn things from these experiences? I think so. You can tell me.
First, there has been much objection, not only by yourself, but Israelis eager to dialogue with Palestinians like you, to this characterization of a genocidal culture in the PA. Now in my opinion, you can tell us, as you do below, that you don’t know anything about this, and that you were not raised to hate and want to kill Jews. But would you please visit Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI, and then tell me how I should interpret this evidence, which strikes me as much less subjective than yours.
Do you deny it? Claim it’s just a fringe phenomenon?
But isn’t this stuff on PATV? Aren’t these mainstream papers and newschannels in the Arab world? Help me understand how to understand this extremely distressing information which, better than anything, explains such moral atrocities as suicide terrorism.
As for the media never telling the truth, I’d be much more nuanced, even though I put out the documentary on Pallywood that suggests the the MSM does a consistently awful job. (That’s also why I call my blog is called the Augean Stables as my description of the current state of the MSM.) But I don’t think the media always lies. It’s our job to be sufficiently critical to have a sense of when its distortions appear.
Secondly, as far as I can make out, the MSM doesn’t tell us much about the genocidal dimensions of Palestinian culture. On the contrary, their tendency, until quite recently, has been to play down the more terrifying aspects of the matter. The segment that follows concerns events at the outbreak of the Second Intifada, taken from a post written shortly after the Kafr Qana incident this summer.
The day after two Israelis were savagely torn apart by a mob of Palestinians in Ramallah shouting “revenge for the blood of Muammad [al Durah],”, and “Allahu Akhbar,” Shiekh Ahmad Abu Halabiya gave a sermon which played on PATV.
“The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed… The Jews are like a spring as long as you step on it with your foot it doesn’t move. But if you lift your foot from the spring, it hurts you and punishes you… It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them.” PA TV, October 13, 2000
In discussing Israeli complaints about the nature of their enemy and the sources of his hatred, specifically pointing to this genocidal sermon, New York Times journalist William Orme presented the evidence as follows.
Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
Now I don’t know what to make of this, but in combination with your remarks, something does not compute. Did Sheik Halabaya make these remarks? Are they not genocidal? Are they a staple of the Palestinian religious and TV diet as they seem to be? Are they not dramatically underreported in the West? I sincerely mean it: help me understand what’s going on.
I, as a Palestinian, was never taught to kill. I am scared of death, maybe because I know it too much due to the circumstances. But I was not socialized in the same society you claim to know and to talk about. Mr. Gerstenfeld, you should know that behind this ugly wall are living human beings whose only dream is a normal Life!
Now here we run into another problem. I know that this is an oft-repeated claim of Palestinians that they just want “a normal life,” and it may well be true for many of you. But your leadership, including both “secular” groups and religious ones, apparently has a different agenda in mind. They are the ones who turned down Camp David and a resolution to the Oslo Accords that would have given the Palestinian people a major step towards a normal life. Now I’ve heard all the arguments about how Barak didn’t behave well, how he offered Bantustans, how the Palestinians, and any self-respecting people, couldn’t possibly accept what he offered.
But there are major problems here. First, when Arafat came home from saying “NO!” at Camp David, the Palestinian and Arab media played this up as Arafat standing up to the pressure of the West. Reports I’ve heard from reliable sources state that his return was greeted with public celebrations. This is not the behavior of people who “just want a normal life.” On the contrary, this seems characteristic of a people dedicated to honor at all costs. Arafat stood up for Arab honor. No “negotiated settlement” could be honorable: on the contrary, as the phrase under the large mural of Muhammad al Durah near his home in Gaza reads: “What has been taken by force can only be taken back by force.” Now this may be normal by Middle East standards, but please don’t try and sell this is similar to western (or Israeli) thinking.
Second, when the Intifada “broke out” the behavior of the Palestinians indicated that there was no compromise in their attitudes. While militants attacked Israelis on both sides of the Green Line (indicating that for them the pre-1967 border was meaningless, since all of Palestine “from the river to the sea” is “occupied”), the larger population of Palestinians who, according to you, just want a “normal life” supported suicide terrorism by majorities as high as 80%. Now, if you want to, you can point to the merciless campaign of vilification that Palestinians observe daily on their TV, including the constant accusations of intentional murder of martyrs like Muhammad al Durah, and the humiliating checkpoints, and now the barrier, as reasons for this. But I regretfully submit, that this is not normal behavior by the standards of a civil society: not the incessant brainwashing to hatred by the state-owned TV and state-run schools, not the radical absence of a dissenting leadership who denounce this behavior as profoundly immoral and a population that cries out against such inhumanity in their name.
Now there may be many Palestinians who, “behind the wall” want to live a normal life of peace and prosperity. I’m ready to believe that. But such desires are not really enough. How badly do you want this? Enough to make the necessary sacrifices in ancient notions of honor — enough to renounce honor-killings? scapegoating narratives? zero-sum choices? blood vengeance? Enough to denounce a leadership who would gladly sacrifice many Palestinians in the search for honorable vengeance?
For you to present the Palestinians on the other side as uniformly normal and peace-loving is not only inaccurate, but unfair to Israelis who, for decades now, have had to choose between letting the majority of Palestinians who do want to live and work together into Israel and risking attacks by the minority who do not, on the one hand, and shutting down the passageways between the two societies to protect themselves from murderous — genocidal — maniacs on the other. If you won’t own these maniacs, if you treat Israeli defensive measures as acts of hostility deserving war, then I think you both betray your values and your people, certainly your people as you define them.
Nothing but a normal life but just because they are born Palestinians, they have not only to endure occupation and embargo , but to endure your harsh judgements too! I suggest that you learn more about us! The people of Israel is not My enemy! I have many israeli friends, Israel Jewish and Arab friends! We get along very very well, murdering them never crossed my mind!
Again, I think you are unfair to everyone but the people you apparently deny exist and denounce Manfred for mentioning — the murderous Palestinian “resistance.”
Palestinians can’t have a normal life because they are Palestinians. There we agree. But why?
You apparently think it’s because of Israel and the occupation. But your abnormal life goes back to decisions your leaders — Arab and Palestinian — have made for you for almost a century. You had repeated opportunities for “normal” lives, with reasonably extensive land, in particular in 1947. But your leadership, then the Nazi ally Haj Amin al Husseini (uncle of Arafat), preferred a Jihad of extermination to compromise and state-building. And then, when you lost that war of extermination, the same leadership proceeded to imprison those of you who fled in prison camps which they cynically called refugee camps and called on world sympathy to condemn Israel for their own cruelty. And so on. The Palestinian people are the sacrificial victim of the Arab thirst for honor and revenge.
The occupation, which you may see as the source of all your people’s woes, actually comes late in the game, in response to assaults meant to wipe Israel out (1967). And the “occupation” is far less the product of Israeli desires for dominion (on the contrary!), than of Arab irredentism. The Three No’s of Khartoum, when the Arab leadership chose to leave millions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation than negotiate a peace that would allow Israel to live in peace. Now you may not want to wipe Israel out. But it does not strike me as honest of you to present yourself as representative of Palestinian thought in general. You must own your leadership. Indeed, I’d go farther and say that, if you want a normal life, you must realize to what an extent your vicious leadership is responsible for you abnormal life and start to resist them, rather than attack Israelis like Manfred who must deal with their violence — suicide terrorism, qassams — on a daily basis. And that resistance need not be violence. Challenge their claim that Israel is at fault and see how unhappy they become at having their strategy revealed.
Yes, I am turning the accuser (You) into the accused. This is your strategy, but what you seemed to forget is that this can go both ways, and if your main goal is war and destruction, you are on the best path! The way to Peace and conciliation is way behind you and if you think that by putting all of the Palestinians under one simplistic definition such as “Palestinian = Enemy” you will make life better for Israelis, be sure that you are heading towards Failure! Your statement is the Enemy of Israel. Your statement makes the world get disgusted from Israel. This Ugly wall is built with statements such as yours and hopefully, all of this will FALL one day! We kill our enemies , don’t we ? You were the one who said that we are ” a society permeated with genocidal intentions ” , and you called us Enemies and you want to turn us into the “accused”, isn’t this a Genocidal intention itself? isn’t this pure Eugenism ? …
This whole riff strikes me as bizarre.
First, Gerstenfeld’s argument is based on the fact that, until now, it is the Palestinians who (successfully) have turned Israel into the accused and justified terribly vicious actions against Israeli civilians on that basis (suicide terrorism). To accuse him of starting the conflict and thus making Israel vulnerable to the kind of attack he’s initiating strikes me as a strange inversion of a terrible reality. Surely, Ramzi, you are not going to tell me that the Palestinians have not accused Israel of every hateful crime known to mankind, including acting worse than the Nazis! So what is this indignation?
Secondly, to go from what Gerstenfeld said to “genocidal intention” and “pure Eugenism” so misrepresents his argument that I can only infer two possibilities:
1) either you have never heard Palestinians criticized, and therefore overreact to any criticism, no matter how well documented, or
2) you are using a classic rhetorical argument in which you reduce your opponent’s argument to an absurd and hateful parody that you then expect people to ignore and denounce.
In either case you are not contributing to a meaningful dialogue.
Finally, the “ugly wall” as you put it (again we agree, a scar on the landscape), is not built from statements like Manfred’s. On the contrary, it was built with the overwhelming consensus of the Israeli people as the only way to stop Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. It was built as a result of the suicide-bombings which your Palestinian people, the ones who want peace and don’t want to kill Israelis, have been incapable of stopping.
What i know is that no matter how many statements like yours i will hear, i will never accuse the Israeli Society as a whole, but i will turn to you directly and say “J’accuse” just as Emile Zola once said…
Hoping to get clarifications from your side,
With all due respect,
I think I speak not only for Manfred Gerstenfeld, but for all of us committed to a civil society who are not too embarrassed to ask:
Please, Ramzi, tell me what the story is, in the Palestinian world, with these insane, genocidal sermons, drummed into the population through mosques, TV, schools…? Could not this have something to do with the moral atrocity known as Shahada to Palestinians and suicide terrorism to those who are the objects of its violent and vile hatred? What are you Palestinians doing about it? What can we do to help you?
I know you think Manfred is an enemy. But that’s not the case: he and you and I all have the same enemy. The people Manfred denounces are Palestinians, but hopefully not the Palestinian people. They certainly are not working for the Palestinian people. On the contrary, they gladly sacrifice the Palestinian people to their search for honor and vengeance. And since the West seems determined to blame Israel for these sufferings (the world that gets disgusted with Israel for defending itself from genocidal hatreds), even when it is directly at the hand of Palestinians, in the calculus of your own leaders, the more you and your people suffer, the better. So when you try to shoot the bearer of bad tidings, and take refuge behind a Western public opinion that contributes to your victimization even as it “sympathizes” with you, you only help them, and harm all of us.
One last note: Ramzi, you make some important points in your comments on the post: “The Violence has got to stop!” at Good Neighbors. The main point of our difference is that while you will admit that your leadership makes you suffer, you continue to accept the narrative your leadership feeds you about the Israelis. In your mind, what the Israelis do cannot be defensive, it must be in order to destroy the possibility of peace. That may well be the last and most terrible hook that these exploitative Arab elites have planted in your mind.