It’s The Occupation, Stupid: Why Palestinians Are Stabbing Innocent Civilians


The Israeli occupation is the reason why so many Jews – and Palestinians – are dying, writes Michael Brull.

Why are Palestinians stabbing innocent people in Israel? Such attacks are horrendous, and deserve no moral defence. But understanding why they occur requires no great genius. Just a modicum of honesty.

Let us begin by looking at some relatively uncontroversial context. Teddy Kollek was the mayor of Jerusalem from 1965-93. In an interview he gave with an Israeli newspaper whilst still mayor, he candidly explained the institutionalised racism entrenched under the occupation:

We said things without meaning them, and we didn’t carry them out. We said over and over that we would equalize the rights of the Arabs to the rights of the Jews. [This was] empty talk . . . Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. They were and remain second and third class citizens . . .

For Jewish Jerusalem I did something in the past 25 years. For East Jerusalem? Nothing! What did I do? Nothing. Sidewalks? Nothing! Cultural institutions? Not one. Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved their water supply. But do you know why? Do you think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there, and the Jewish residents were afraid that they would catch it, so we installed a sewerage and water system for cholera prevention.

The stabbings can be understood as a response to recent provocations and suspicion about Israeli intentions in relation to the Haram al-Sharif. But these should be viewed as a trigger, rather than a cause. Left-wing Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy put the point quite strongly:

“You thought 300,000 people would acquiesce? That they’d watch settlers invade their homes as city hall denied them minimal services amid maximal property taxes? That they’d look on while the occupier arbitrarily denied them residence status, as if they were migrants in their own city? That they would put up with Jewish gangs beating them up in full view of policemen and forgive…

Did you really think right-wing provocations on the Temple Mount would pass quietly? That the burning of the Dawabsheh family would pass with no response — and even more so the defense minister’s arrogant claims that Israel knew who the perpetrators were but wouldn’t arrest them?”

It may be thought that Levy is a somewhat radical voice, though he writes for the respected liberal paper, Ha’aretz. So consider the perspective of veteran Israeli journalist, Akiva Eldar, formerly at Ha’aretz, now at Al Monitor:

“It is time to dust off the Or Commission Report, which dealt with the events of October 2000, when 13 Arab demonstrators were killed, and immediately implement its recommendations for closing the wide gaps between Jewish and neighbouring Arab municipalities in the fields of education, health, infrastructure and policing. First and foremost, the police’s fatally trigger-happy tendencies toward Arab citizens must be addressed (since the second intifada, when 13 Arab citizens were killed, police have killed 51 Arab citizens, compared with two Jewish citizens).

A Jew who dares visit Akeb, the northernmost of Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods, bordering Ramallah, or the Shuafat refugee camp, would not find it hard to understand why youths from these neighbourhoods stab Jews and throw stones at them.”

However, Eldar is also a progressive. One of Israel’s leading journalists, Nahum Barnea, coined the term the “lynch test”, to describe Israelis who wouldn’t even criticise the Arabs when they lynched Israelis. He named among their ranks Levy and Eldar.

Yet the point they made was voiced in similar form by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem:

“The events of recent weeks cannot be viewed in a vacuum, isolated from the reality of the ongoing, daily oppression of 4 million people, with no hope of change in sight. At present, Israelis are exposed to untenable violence, but the status quo almost all Israelis have come to see as acceptable in fact exposes millions of Palestinians to violence that is a consequence of the very regime of occupation, with its inherent features of oppression, dispossession and the trampling of rights.”

Closer to the political centre, Ha’aretz correspondent Chemi Shalev notes that it is impossible to make sense of the stabbings without having the occupation as the context:

“Ordinary Israelis and their supporters abroad have also learned to expunge the occupation, not only from their words but from their thoughts as well. Once you do that, Palestinian teens wantonly hurling themselves at unsuspecting civilians, knowing that they will face certain injury or death, turn into manifestations of unadulterated psychotic evil.”

Shalev observes that Israeli authorities “continue to manage even the minutest details of daily life for the Palestinians”, and don’t acknowledge “the social, economic and human toll of the occupation and the blind hatred that it foments.” Shalev concludes that “the refusal to countenance a link between the occupation and the violence that it breeds, despite overwhelming empirical and historical evidence to the contrary, in Israel and around the world, is a form of what is sometimes termed ‘denialism.’”

Or take the position of the entirely non-liberal Avi Issacharoff, reporting at the conservative Times of Israel. He reported that:

“To fully understand the context in which this new intifada has flared, we need to go back many more years — to the ongoing neglect of Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem by Israeli governments over the past 48 years, despite the dire economic situation of the residents of these areas; the state of lawlessness; and the fact that a twilight zone has evolved in some of the villages on the periphery of Jerusalem since the construction of the security barrier.

Entire neighbourhoods and villages whose residents have blue ID cards, who are citizens of Israel, are not given any attention by either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.”

As a last example, consider the writing of Nahum Barnea, roughly a political centrist, who founded the “lynch test”. Barnea is one of Israel’s most influential journalists, and writes for Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel’s most read dailies. Barnea wrote:

“Israel is a bad occupier, and always has been. Instead of giving the occupied population hope, it settled among it. Instead of taking care of the people’s welfare, success, safety – it treated them with a lack of generosity and respect, refusing to either live with them or disengage. That doesn’t mean that terrorism is morally justified. Terrorism is the rotten fruit of despair, the monster it births. But it doesn’t come from nowhere: It has a mother and father, grandparents, and siblings.”

He also commented on Israel’s response to the wave of stabbings: “Escalate personal and collective punishment, oppress the Palestinian population till they hit the ground. They believe that despair can be beaten with more despair”.

Okay, Barnea and YNet might be disloyal terrorist sympathisers too. So consider Barnea’s interview with a military source. He explained: “Avoiding collective punishments contributes to quiet. Treating the populace with an iron fist increases terrorism.”

Perhaps the Israeli military source was justifying terrorism with that treacherous comment. Or, perhaps, there are sane people in the Israeli military. There is a connection between the “iron fist” and “terrorism”.

After almost 50 years of occupation, this should be pretty obvious. If that can be conceded in one of Israel’s most widely read daily tabloids, we should be able to admit that in Australia too.

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).