Two nights ago, while walking through Pierpont Commons, I ran into an interesting display against a back wall of the lobby were several panels covered with drawings by Palestinian children. I spent a long time staring at these drawings by children trapped in a conflict-plagued society, entranced by the strange power of scene after scene of violence and death, crudely sketched in crayon. It was a heart wrenching display and I can”t even begin to think of how horrible it must be to be so young and a witness to the type of violence that has become commonplace in many of their lives.
But something else about these drawings struck me as well. Most noticeable was the common themes running through most of them. Eighteen of the 36 drawings were of rock-throwing crowds being mowed down by Israeli soldiers, eight were of the tragic and widely-televised killing of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra and five were of helicopters dropping bombs on buildings.
I stepped closer and read the captions on one of the drawings. It contained the phrase, “Where are the eyes of the world to see what Israel does?” Several other captions also contained that phrase or very similarly worded ones. Perhaps it is common for Palestinian children, growing up in very poor, nearly Third World conditions, to know and use English, but I was surprised many of them had not just translated captions, but English words and sentences mixed in with Arabic in their drawings.
These drawing are here thanks to an increasingly vocal group of students and others who have been working hard to turn the recent violence in Israel into the most important issue on campus. But discussions of the violence soon lead, as they are designed to, to criticism of many other aspects of the Israeli state, including its very right to exist. The drawings in Pierpont Commons were yet another piece of propaganda, and certainly the most ingenious one, meant to inflame anti-Israeli sentiment. The “on-message” scenes illustrated in those drawings and the plaintive cries for peace those children were doubtless encouraged to write by their teachers are meant to emotionally manipulate people into believing Palestinians are merely helpless victims of a brutal oppressor.
I do not condone or try to downplay the many unfair ways in which Israel has treated its Arab citizens or the violations of human rights it has perpetrated. But the recent wave of violence in Israel, which Israelis did not start, is nothing less than an internal insurrection and Israel has responded more calmly than most countries facing a similar situation would.
I don”t know how people expected Israelis to react to having rocks thrown at them for months (did they think they”d send their kids out to throw rocks back?), but there are few ways to deal with violent and threatening mobs except with a good deal of force. And however careful authorities are, people will be hurt and killed during several months of street fighting.
It breaks my heart that so many Palestinians have been killed, but I am also dismayed that the authoritarian Palestinian Authority has put forth little effort to stop the fighting. The deaths of so many Palestinians, especially children, has been and continues to be a futile exercise, getting the Palestinians nothing, not even the negative opinion of Israel they so desperately want the American public to develop.
In fact, the only notable result of the violence is a new Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, a right-winger with a lot of Palestinian blood already on his hands. I have little doubt Sharon committed atrocities that he should be in jail for today, but if I lived in Israel, I probably would have voted for him too. Palestinians seem to have gotten the idea that they can use mob violence to bully Israel into giving them anything they want (even Ehud Barak”s reportedly huge concessions were not enough) and faced with that prospect, what can Israelis do but put someone in power that they”re sure won”t be bossed around?
Palestinians will eventually get a state of their own, though I don”t know why anyone expects it to be better than their current situation. The vast majority of Palestinians will still live in poverty. It, like the surrounding Arab countries, will be a police state. As much as violations of civil liberties by Israel are complained about, a Palestinian state, like the surrounding Arab countries, will be virtually devoid of freedom of speech, a free press and freedom of assembly. Women”s rights? Gay rights? Protection of racial, ethnic or religious minorities? Don”t hold your breath.
How about elections? I”m sure they”ll be about as free and fair as Egypt”s or Syria”s.
I don”t say this to deny Palestinians should have a country of their own, but people need to understand that neither side is an angel. I fear seeing more people on this campus being swayed by shocking images into believing that Israel is the sole aggressor and not worthy of American support, the usual argument of pro-Palestinian groups in the U.S. and on campus. People in this country need to understand that Israelis are dying too, the Palestinian Authority won”t be setting up a liberal democracy when it works things out with Israel and turning against our best friend in the region would be a terrible and completely unwarranted mistake.
When we”re sent drawings by kids asking, “why doesn”t the world [read: Americans] see what Israel is doing?” I hope people realize that those aren”t just emotional outpourings, they”re very clearly targeted messages meant to manipulate us. I”ve heard too many well-meaning progressive students, outraged at the specter of ethnic conflict and violations of human rights, be swayed into believing vicious claims that Israel is practicing apartheid, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. There has been no organized effort to push all the Palestinians out of Israeli controlled territory and there certainly has been no attempt to kill all of them.
People should not buy into this vilification of Israel. It is a friend worthy of our support, a country with a right to exist and a right to quell violent uprisings whose rocks, and some guns too, are aimed at its people.
Peter Cunniffe”s column runs every other Friday. Give him feedback at www..michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.