Earlier this week, a mosque in the West Bank was vandalized. This reprehensible attack is believed to be the work of radical Jews who wished to make it plain to Israeli authorities — and not as probably most Westerners think — the Palestinians, that the removal of settlers from housing that was not legally purchased or constructed with the permission of the state will carry with it a “price tag.” These so-called “price tag” attacks have grown in recent years, even though the overwhelming majority of settlers, not to mention the Israeli people, deplore them. But though any such attack on a religious institution is a stain on the honor of the Jewish people and inevitably generates negative coverage of Israel such as this feature published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the bottom line is that in a democracy thugs do not get their way. As the Times reported that same day, the Israeli government has secured agreement from the few inhabitants of Ulpana to leave their homes that were ruled by a court to be built on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of the existing and quite legal Beit El settlement. In doing so, the rule of law has been vindicated.
But amid the general condemnation of the behavior of the extremist settlers that for some calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Zionist enterprise, it is worth noting an element of the story generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of the “price tag” attacks as well as allegations of settler violence toward local Arabs. However wrong the extremists are–and they are dead wrong–their behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on settler misbehavior ignores a context in which attacks on Jews in the West Bank is a regular occurrence. And that includes Arab attacks on synagogues. The problem is that the foreign press gives the Jewish violence the sort of “man bites dog” treatment that makes it worthy of notice, whereas Palestinian misbehavior is simply taken for granted. This bigotry of low expectations is at the heart of the problem.
If one reads the Israeli press, you know that a synagogue on a moshav in central Israel was vandalized with Muslim graffiti this week, but you missed it if all you see is the New York Times. Nor was that the first such attack on a synagogue. Similarly, tucked into some but by no means all of the stories about the dismantling of Ulpana is the fact that the houses were built there as a response to the murder 12 years ago of a Jewish mother and child by Arab terrorists.
Mentioning this does not rationalize settler violence, let alone excuse it. But doing so does spoil the prevailing narrative of the West Bank morality play that Israel’s critics promote which portrays the settlers as evil and the Palestinians the innocents. The situation in the West Bank is complex. The Arabs who live there have a right to have their property rights respected and to go about their lives without fear of violence. But the same should apply to the Jews who live nearby. But unfortunately, not only do the Palestinians not respect the right of Jews to live on this land, they also do not respect their right to do so in safety. This position is granted legitimacy of a sort by a foreign press that implicitly accepts the frame of reference that regards all Jews in the West Bank as usurpers or thieves, even if the land they live on is indisputably owned by Jews.
Those who believe Jews have no right to live anywhere in the West Bank or in the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 can only do so by effectively negating the historic and legal rights of the Jewish people. But even those who hold this position must acknowledge that a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict cannot be built on the sort of anti-Jewish violence that is so routine it barely rates any coverage in the West.
More to the point, until Arab violence is treated as being as reprehensible as most Israelis consider the “price tag” attacks, the Palestinians will go on laboring under the misapprehension they can force the Jews out. That bigotry of low expectations directed at the Palestinians is a far greater obstacle to peace than any settlement.