May 22nd, 2007

The Palestinians: when does a victim stop being a victim?

Reflecting on the current carnage between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, and on the ongoing violence in the Tripoli Palestinian refugee camps, Ralph Peters has written an article in today’s NY Post claiming that the Palestinians have been victimized for a long time, but not by the Israelis: by other Arabs, and by their own home-grown Palestinian leaders.

There’s no doubt about it, if you study history. The Palestinian refugees have been kept in a state of misery by the fellow-Arabs among whom they’ve stayed for decades (and now generations) as a sort of prominent window display of suffering. The goal? To prove Israeli perfidy, deflect attention from Arab failings, and get the world’s attention and sympathy.

If at any point there had been any true intent to absorb the Palestinians into the local population in the way of refugees almost everywhere (and in the case of the Palestinians the task would have been relatively easy, because they differ so little both ethnically and culturally from the people in the countries in which they found their somewhat dubious “refuge”), it would have been done long ago.

One of the sad things about the Tripoli violence is that it’s an example of the exploitation of the Palestinians by their brethren Arabs. As often is the case with a weakened host, the Palestinian camps in question have apparently been taken over by foreign al Qaeda elements that seem to have been the initial cause of the violence. The camps themselves were previously off-limits to the Lebanese, who’ve steered clear of them in a long-established agreement with the PLO, a group clearly incapable of keeping out even more violent elements than themselves.

As in the case of most long-term welfare recipients, the Palestinians have been ill-served by their singular history of having been on the UN dole for almost sixty years. As journalist (and Hemingway wife) Martha Gellhorn presciently wrote back in 1961 (quoted in this post of mine, which I urge you to read in its entirety):

The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war….[T]oday, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad.

The goad has worked; the Palestinians became masters of propaganda, if nothing else. Oh, and of killing. As Peters points out, now that they’ve had a chance at self-government in Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal of 2005, they have made a bloody (literally) mess of it.

But why expect anything else? Despite their status as victims of their Arab brethren, and as poster children for victimization in general, they have become victimizers—not just, or even primarily, of the Israelis their suicide bombers target—but of other Arabs, and of themselves.

This is not a new story. In fact, it’s a very old one. Arafat was probably the most corrupt and violent victimizer of Arabs in the post-WWII age. He robbed his own people blind, yes, and killed so much of the opposition that many moderate Palestinian voices (and they did exist in greater numbers in the past) were silenced effectively, and forever, by death. (If you are curious to know some of the details, please pull up a chair and read “In a Ruined Country: how Yassir Arafat destroyed Palestine,” an article written by David Samuels that appeared in the September 2005 issue of The Atlantic).

But Palestine was not alone; Arafat’s modus operandi was to wreak havoc wherever he went. Where, for instance, did the name “Black September”—used by the Arafat-affiliated terrorist group that put the PLO on the map with the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre—come from?

“Black September” originally referred to the events of September 1970, in Jordan. The Palestinians are, after all, virtually identical in ethnicity to most of the population of Jordan, and originally Arafat and many Palestinian refugees found a home there. But he tried to overthrow the government of that new home, and so King Hussein saw fit to do a little housecleaning—to the tune of approximately seven to eight thousand Palestinian dead—in September of 1970, eliminating the Palestinian presence there in order to preserve his own rule.

The Left is relatively silent about events such as these—after all, the perpetrators were not the Israelis, so who cares?—but the result was that Arafat and thousands of his troublemakers were expelled from Jordan and took up residence in a little place known as Lebanon, where they proceeded to wreak more havoc. The until-then relatively stable Lebanon has never been the same since their arrival.

Wading back into the history of the formation of the state of Israel always brings out bitter contention and argument. I’ve no desire to refight that battle at the moment, although it almost inevitably comes up in the comments section (and I’ve noticed that posts about Israel tend to be powerful troll-magnets).

So I’ll just say here that, whether you believe the Israelis cruelly drove the Palestinians away, or whether you think the Palestinians—with the strong encouragement of their fellow-Arabs—cooked their own goose by refusing the country they were handed by partition and leaving Israel to make room for the easy Arab victory and takeover they thought would follow, their subsequent history has been as equal-opportunity dealers of destruction, chaos, and death.

So, when do victims such as the Palestinians stop being objects of sympathy and become acknowledged as the perpetrators of misery, some of it their own? When will the world demand that the Palestinians cease riding their victimization and using it as an excuse for corruption and brutality? I think that time is long overdue.

Martha Gellhorn thought so too, back in 1961:

It is hard to sorrow for [the Palestinian refugees] who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring the heart past all doubt…[they] cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless….

Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good has it done them?

And remember, that passage was written before the 1967 war.

29 Responses to “The Palestinians: when does a victim stop being a victim?”

  1. kungfu Says:


    I’m a huge fan of Martha Gellhorn. Any guess what she might say about the war in Iraq?

    She was a reliable pro-allies propagandist during WWII but she railed against Vietnam. At least that is the impression I got from her book “The Face of War.” I kind of have the feeling she would really slam our current war in Iraq, although she’d also have terrible things to say about the insurgents/ terrorists.

    She was a great writer.

  2. stumbley Says:

    “Sherif Ali, so long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.”

    —Robert Bolt’s version of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia

  3. alphie Says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of historic guilt.

    Do the people who are “virtually identical in ethnicity” to Marx, Trotsky and Lenin share the guilt for Stalin and the horrors of WWII?

    If so, the above post is rather ironic.

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    Jews don’t like thinking about final solutions to the Palestinians, because of their history. This cripples them much as the fear of killing civilians cripples the US war effort.

  5. Cappy Says:

    The Palestonians failed to declaire their state in 1948 when they held the West Bank and Gaza. Their sell-by date was up in June, 1967 when they had failed to have a state in 19 years or Arab rule.

  6. The Bunnies Says:

    “I kind of have the feeling she would really slam our current war in Iraq, although she’d also have terrible things to say about the insurgents/ terrorists.”

    I could handle an Iraq War opponent like that, one who acknowledges that although we might be bad, the other guys are worse. One could actually discuss things rationally with such opponents.

    But when’s the last time we’ve heard Kennedy/Reid/Murtha or any of them actually criticize our enemies in Iraq? If you’d prompt them, I’m sure they’d say, “OF COURSE we think the Iraqi terrorists are bad, but…” and then explain why Bush is worse.

    It almost seems sometimes like they dislike Bush more than al-Queda in Iraq, the former Baathists, and al-Sadr’s army. But I wouldn’t dare question their patriotism.

  7. Vicenza Says:

    It’s about time the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land ends – before we go on some half-baked, factually challenged rant about Palestinian culpability in the face of horrendous crimes against humanity.

    Typical rubbish Neo.

  8. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Coincidentally, vicenza posts on the day I heard an Israeli diplomat make an observation:
    When a Christian kills a Muslim, it’s the Crusades. When an Israeli kills a Muslim, it’s a massacre. When a Muslim kills a Muslim, it’s the Weather Channel. Nobody cares.
    Horrendous crimes against humanity. Jeez. Take it someplace else. We get tired correcting people who are either too dumb to know better or who know better and hope we’re too dumb to know better.

  9. Thinkaloud Says:

    I think that in some parts of Africa there may be people devastated by war, poverty, drought, and disease who are more upbeat and less bitter than the Palestinians. Maybe we should send in Tony Robbins? That’s a joke. Sort of.

  10. subadei Says:

    “The world” seems happily blind and willfully resolved to simply tossing cash (as they’ve always done) at the Palestinians. Because, as everyone knows, money solves any and every problem… Except it doesn’t, especially in this case. Money irons out wrinkles, it doesn’t stitch the tear or patch the knee.

    I agree with Neo’s perspective that the Palestinian’s are, in effect, their very worst enemy and very much the patsy of traditionally anti-Zionist Arab regimes.

    However, Neo approaches this from afar, ignoring the mircro-complexities (the rise of Hamas is due to the want of any human being’s resolute want for security. Fatah was a corrupt regime under Arrafat and Hamas was the essential Robin Hood of Palestine,) and the macro-realities (the Arab street, once famous for using the Palestinians as virtual pawns, is now decrying Hamas and the instability they sow.)

    The concentration regarding the Israeli/PA “issue” (it’s a tad more than that, but…) from the American perspective of foreign policy should concentrate not on peace between the two, rather on fomenting an effective governance in the PA. In short, divide the political wing of Hamas from the angry, unemployed young men that make up the meandering and frenetic militant wing.

  11. gcotharn Says:

    People with a better track record than Tony Robbins: Christian missionaries.

    Of course, if Christian missionaries went into Gaza and the other Palestinian areas, they would be “suicide proselyzers.” But that’s not quite right, since the missionaries would not be killing themselves via their own hand. “Suicide mission proselyzers” is more like it.
    “Suicide Mission-aries”? Send in the “Suicide Mission-aries”!

    What about this: as best we can, we attack the poisonous melding of Arab tribalism + Islamic Fundmentalism, via injecting democratic opportunity + free market economics into the region. Even if we cannot “give” Arab Muslims democratic principles, we can give democratic principles a more dynamic opportunity to take root, via injecting them more powerfully into the regional conversation. With luck, and with modern media: radio/television/movies/Internet, maybe democratic principles will take root in much less than a few centuries, thus saving millions of Arabs from very possibly being pulverized – via either defensive or retaliatory nuclear attack from the West.

    Tweaking Churchill: Democracy is the worst possible solution to the problem, except for every other solution in existence.

    Of course, if there is a better solution, I am open to hearing it and supporting it …

  12. The Bunnies Says:

    gcotharn, I would really love to think your ideas could work in Palestine, and I do think they could work in the larger Arab world.

    But I’ve seen too many photographs of Palestinian children dressed as suicide bombers to think they have any hope at all. “Hamas Mickey” Farfur bothered me, but his co-host was what bothered me far more. Shie is a smart and beautiful girl who could be anything just about anywhere else in the world. Instead, she’s already been so infested with the sickness of Palestinian culture that she’s actively promoting death as a child.

    I feel awful for the decent Palestinians (who must be among the strongest people n the planet to somehow manage to grow up there not seething with bile), but the larger culture is so ravenous that I don’t hink there’s much hope for them.

    I’m an optimist for just about anywhere else in the world, though.

  13. Mark Says:

    Golda Meir said that there would be peace when the Arabs loved their children more than they hate the Jews. And while it’s still a pretty good assessment, who would the haters would hate if Israel weren’t there, if The Great Satan weren’t there, if they were left completely alone? The ability of factions to form, each one trying to exceed the others in fervor, in extremity, and in cruelty outstrips my worst nightmare.

    Is this mass fanaticism, like the fanaticism of our own Left, a dedication to a Solution That Doesn’t Work? A solution that whispers “You have to try harder,” that demands the removal of the impure who poison The Idea and somehow keep it all from working?

    Where is Santayana when you need him?

  14. gcotharn Says:

    I must correct my mispelling: “proselytize” is correct.

    Bunnies, the road to democratic and humanitarian principles is hard and rocky and unsure. However, if the region adopts democratic and humanitarian principles, the Palestinian areas surely will follow. That’s a pretty big if, and it could take decades or centuries, and obviously might never happen at all. But I don’t see any better ideas.

    The region will not get better once the Palesinian problem is solved. Rather, it is the other way around: the region is THE REASON for the Palestinian problem. The Palestinian problem will disappear when and if the region reforms itself. The Palestinian problem does not disrupt the region – the region disrupts the Palestinians.

    Subadei’s idea:

    “divide the political wing of Hamas from the angry, unemployed young men that make up the meandering and frenetic militant wing”

    I give this props for at least being an idea, even though it has failed again and again and again. I’ve no problem with finding new ways to try and make Subadei’s idea work. I do have a problem with U.S. tax money being wasted on Palestinian crooks who pretend to be working Subadei’s solution. No more money for those murderers and crooks.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    There’s two ways to effectively fight an org like Hamas or Hizbollah. One, which is the greater strategic and logistical view, hit their resource venders like Syria, Iran, Europe, Saudi Arabia, and (not now) Iraq.

    Two, put boots on the ground, control the territory, and remove the force of terror and brainwashing from the lives of the childre. This is basically a Good vs Evil fight to the death. Evil wants you to leave so it goes on corrupting the innocent, you want to stay because you wish to save the souls of children.

    Of course a combination of the two wouldn’t be bad. Israel does um.. neither btw.

    Israel didn’t even do what we did, which was try and find leaders that we could work with in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had our problems for Iraq’s leadership yes, but at least we tried and have Maliki. Who has Israel put in charge of the Palesitnian territories and did they ever hold elections when they occupied the West Bank and Gaza for those territories?

    Imperial administration is not something you can put off forever. You either rule directly or indirectly, because if you don’t, someone else will take those people you ignored and make them into weapons against you.

    The United States likes to pretend that it is only around the world to help local governments out, as any other nation would and should. Well, whatever works as a justification.

    The US has more responsibilities and duties than just giving a hand to folks. Things like making sure nations go down the right path and are free from external invasions from our enemies the Soviets or the Islamic Jihadists.

  16. Huan Says:

    the sad thing is that i suspect the palestinian leadership knows their people are being used for anti-israeli propaganda and are willing to play along despite the cost being both palestinian lives and palestinian statehood

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    So long as Arafat got the goods and the cash, don’t think he cared who was dying.

  18. Steve Rosenbach Says:

    Neo – as a therapist, you obviously appreciate the victim mentality of the Palestinians and how it has corrupted their political society and utterly destroyed what was left of civil society.

    “Palestinian refugees” is such a ridiculous concept. Why are the Palestinians the only refugee problem that wasn’t solved within a few years of the end of hostilities? Part of the problem is UNRWA, part is the victim mentality, and part is the adherence to an honor/shame culture by much of that part of the Arab world.

    “Palestinian refugee camps” are not “camps” as we might imagine them, but long-established neighborhoods and even towns, with permanent buildings and services. The often look crappy indeed, but no more crappy that many of the neighborhoods I’ve seen in Jeddah, Riyadh, or Quassim while on business in Saudi Arabia.

    The biggest oxymoron is the concept of “Palestinian refugee camps”, e.g., Jenin, in the West Bank or Gaza. How can you be a “Palestinian refugee” in Palestinian territory? (That would have qualified me as a refugee when I had to move from Manhattan to 8 miles away in Queens!)

  19. Nyomythtus Says:

    Israel settlers i.e. occupation doesn’t help find any secular solutions — and we all already know there are no, and can be nothing accomplished, on a religious level other than full scale slaughter. it’s an important point we should never overlook.

  20. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Says:

    The following letter was published in today’s New York Times. The Democrats are basically spineless. (No wonder — they are just as much in the pocket of Big Business as Republicans are, too):

    To the Editor:

    The assertion that the Democrats cannot overcome a presidential veto does not excuse their failure to set withdrawal dates. All financing for the war originates in the House; if the Democrats had tied financing of the war to a withdrawal timetable, a presidential veto would mean that the president had no money to fight the war.

    The House Democrats had the power to cut off or restrict financing; they failed to exercise it. The setting of benchmarks for the Iraqi government in the proposed bill is meaningless. The determination of whether Iraq meets those benchmarks is up to the president. Does anyone doubt what his determination will be?

    I have seen this before. Year after year in the 1980s, Congress mandated that the government of El Salvador meet certain human rights requirements and left the determination to the president. Year after year, despite no real improvement in human rights, the president dutifully certified the contrary, and the aid to El Salvador continued.

    Sadly, if the Democrats continue on their current course, the war will be with us for a very long time.

    Michael Ratner
    New York, May 23, 2007

    The writer is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

  21. sergey Says:

    Palestine society is wrecked now beyond repair, just as Germany under Nazi was, and can be restored to something workable only by some external force. A program which includes long-time occupation, quelling of all possible resistance by harsh measures, including public executions and shooting down rioting mobs, is needed, with following denazification and re-education of large masses of population. But just now I see no external force capable and willing to do all this. As in case with Germany, this will and capacity can emerge only after hot world war with dozen millions of victums, which, I believe, is unavoidable.

  22. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    Sergey, I’m so sorry I must agree with you.

    Further, I fear that Tel Aviv will be nuked before the Palestinians are successful in replacing hatred.

    Yet I offer another idea — Cantonization. Use Switzerland as the model, and make Gaza one canton (or two?), with other cantons on the West Bank.
    Who is the President of Switzerland (perhaps the most successful European country per capita)?
    Who cares? Almost no power … position rotates.

    The US could have, and probably should have, pushed cantonization in Iraq; and ex-Yugoslavia; and even today in Sudan AND Southern Sudan.

  23. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    A good post, Neo! Please forgive me for nitpicking:

    and so King Hussein saw fit to do a little housecleaning—to the tune of approximately seven to eight thousand Palestinian dead—in September of 1970, eliminating the Palestinian presence there in order to preserve his own rule.

    Hussein didn’t eliminate the Palestinian presence from Jordanian society; more than half of Jordan’s population today identifies itself as Palestinian. (Jordan is the one exception, an Arab country willing to grant citizenship to Palestinians.)

    What Hussein did in September 1970 was to eliminate Palestinians from leadership roles in Jordanian society, particularly in the Jordanian military. (The PLO had infiltrated the Jordanian army to such a degree that a coup was dangerously likely.)

    - – - -

    When Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, this was, in many ways, a barometer of Palestinian intentions (just as the total withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 was). And the results were the same in both cases. Hizbullah found a flimsy pretext (the Shebaa farms, which even the UN agrees were never Lebanese) to continue terrorism; and the Gazans continue to fire Qassam rockets at Israeli towns, protesting an “occupation” that no longer exists for them.

    Personally, I wish it were possible to seal off Gaza completely — no incoming cash, weapons, Israeli electricity or fuel, and so forth — and let them stew until the terror attacks from Gaza cease. But that would be utterly inhumane; Gaza doesn’t have anything like the infrastructure to be self-sufficient. (Heck, they haven’t even built decent sewers for themselves.)

    A better idea — which I advanced at the time of the Gaza withdrawal, and is getting somewhat stale now — would be for Israel to announce, as of a particular date, that it will start taking back Gaza, a piece at a time — one square kilometer for each rocket or terrorist attack launched against Israel from Gaza. The Gaza Strip is 360 square kilometers in size; I suspect they’d get the point rather quickly.

    (Heck, with the bloodshed going on there now, it’s not too farfetched that some small Gaza villages might clamor “us first, us first!”…)

    Daniel in Brookline

  24. Ymarsakar Says:

    “Palestinian refugee camps” are not “camps” as we might imagine them, but long-established neighborhoods and even towns, with permanent buildings and services. The often look crappy indeed, but no more crappy that many of the neighborhoods I’ve seen in Jeddah, Riyadh, or Quassim while on business in Saudi Arabia.

    When I was first using Google Earth, I rotated the globe around to look and zoom in on Israel. And it was Fauking Insane. Because there was a like pocking line that was consistent with the Israeli ‘wall’, and on the Israeli side it was green and ordered in squares, lots, and lines. On the Palestinian side, it looked like fracking Mad Max, all a shambles with this pukish orangish earthy color spread around all over. Talk about a bunch of savages. When you see someone that doesn’t take care of their homes and where they live, you know there’s something chaotically wrong with those people.

    I did the same thing with Mexico you know, at the southern border. Totally fracking same difference.

  25. Vicenza Says:

    Daniel – respectfully, Israel never gave up Gaza.

    You are terribly mistaken – but that what you get for reading Daniel Pipes(the ‘inventor’ of the pathetic “steal more land for peace” abomination you call a ‘plan’).

    When will you people start looking at what the the facts are instead of rubbishing them by claiming them to be some leftist ideological construct?

    But then you support a fantasy that a withdrawal from a devasting war will make us worse off, so there you go…

  26. Vicenza Says:

    How many of you ever heard these before – let alone let it register in your undeveloped minds what they mean.

    “Two time Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1974 – 77 and 1992 – 95) told French newspaper Le Monde in February, 1968: “I do not believe Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offense against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”

    General Mordechai Hod, Commander of the Israeli Air Force during the Six-Day War said in 1978: “Sixteen years of planning had gone into those initial eighty minutes. We lived with the plan, we slept on the plan, we ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it.”

    General Haim Barlev, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief told Ma’ariv in April, 1972: “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the six-day war, and we had never thought of such a possibility.”

    Other Israeli leaders and generals voiced the same sentiment that in June, 1967 Israel was under no threat, yet preemptively undertook a war of aggression falsely telling the world it had no other choice. It had a clear one. It could have chosen peace, but didn’t and never did earlier or since to the present because discretionary aggressive wars of choice serve Israeli interests as they do its US imperial partner.’

    Like your fantasy about Israel giving up Gaza – the June war is a creation of Jewish right wing propaganda.


    Is that what they teach you in therapy Neo? To be a liar?

  27. stumbley Says:

    Hey, vinnie:

    “so long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel”

    True then, true now, Pali propaganda notwithstanding.

  28. Barry Meislin Says: Deja vu all over again?

  29. sergey Says:

    Short answer: Never.
    More long answer:
    Fist of all, this “victim” simply does not exist. There is no mention of “Palestinians” in 1930s, 40s or 50s books or articles – only “Arabs” or “Jews” living on territory of British Mandat. The first notion of Palis as a nation appeared in Arafat speeches declaring PLO ambitions. There is no other reason d’etre for this nation except Israel destruction. So when Israel wants to negotiate peace with Palestinians, they really want this pseudo-nation to destroy the only foundation of its existence: this is an insane proposition. No Palestinian politician can hope to survive the deal.
    Beside this, there are two additional reasons why peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine state is impossible now and forever. First, any tribal society is inherently incapable to built and maintain state. There can be only chavos of rival gangs. Tribal territories can be governed only by external force, as in other Arab countries where ruling families belong to other sect or ethnicity than their subjects. Second, there simply too little space for two nations.

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