Saturday, March 16, 2002

How do diehard opponents of Israel maintain sympathy for the Palestinian cause, now that Palestinians en masse have rejected Israel's offer of peace, independence and statehood (at Camp David in 2000) in favor of a brutal 18-month campaign of anti-Jewish terrorism? One popular reality-denying rhetorical technique is to invoke the concept of "humiliation". Unlike other grievances, such as civilian death tolls, political freedoms, or publicly stated objectives, humiliation is not objectively measurable, and can therefore be assigned arbitrary strengths, causes and consequences. Before Camp David, for instance, one might have expected the Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood on 90+% of the occupied territories to have been welcomed by a people chafing under occupation (and its rejection therefore to be proof positive that the PA is at war with Israel, not with its occupation). These days, however, pro-Palestinian commentators refer routinely to the "humiliating" offer at Camp David--thus reconciling the supposed anti-occupation motivation for its rejection with facts that plainly contradict it. (The Camp David offer gave them virtually everything they wanted, goes the argument--but the few tiny flaws in it were so "humiliating" that even so, they couldn't accept it, and that's why they're behaving for all the world as though they never wanted to make peace with Israel in the first place.)

Consider, for example, a New York Times editorial about the recent Israeli military incursion into towns and refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The editorial asserts that "this kind of extended military operation is unacceptable", and that "Israel must cut way back on its use of force", but its only concrete objections to the operation involve the treatment of detainees (a minor postscript to the entire operation), and the fact that "hard-core terrorists from Hamas and other groups appear to have slipped away" (a fact that presumably argues for a bigger military operation, not a smaller one, if the terrorists are to be trapped and apprehended next time). The editorial writer's real fear, of course, is that Israel might "deepen the level of Palestinian anger", thus jeopardizing "a future accord based on peaceful coexistence between the two peoples". The source of this anger? The "humiliation" imposed on the Palestinians by Israeli counterterrorist actions. (The editorial refers to it no fewer than three times.)

One might think that PA repression and corruption would be appallingly humiliating to Palestinians, along with joblessness, lack of economic opportunity, notorious terrorist groups massacring civilians in their name, or dozens of other burdens that can't be traced to Israel at all. But if the New York Times wants to believe that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the real source of Palestinian humiliation, and hence of Palestinian terrorism, then it can easily portray the entire sordid record of Palestinian rejectionism, in word and deed, as a story of innocent victimhood--whatever the facts.

Palestinians (including so-called "moderates" such as the late Faisal Husseini) calling for the elimination of Israel? Just rhetorical retaliation to the humiliation of the occupation. Terrorists, with the full blessing of both the PA and the populace, murdering Jewish women and children at every opportunity? What can you expect, given the humiliation of the occupation? The PA smuggling long-range weapons useful only for attacking across a defended border? Well, a demilitarized state would be humiliating. The PA reneging on every negotiated agreement, and refusing to accept a generous final settlement? It was a humiliating offer, and after years of humiliating occupation, Palestinians were too bitter to accept a peaceful end to it. Humiliation explains all, excuses all, rationalizes all. It's an explanation that's fully consistent with any reality--and thus perfect for those who wish to ignore reality altogether.

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