Israel Firsters

About twelve years
ago I participated in a conference in Cyprus that was co-sponsored by an
American and Spanish NGO. The conference brought together Israeli and
Palestinian educators to discuss introducing peace-oriented study in their respective
school curricula.

We were all asked to
bring material relating to peace already in use, which would be reviewed and
from which either side could borrow creative ideas. Palestinian educators had
no such material so the time at the conference was spent reviewing Israeli

During a discussion about,
if I remember correctly, problems of teaching peace in the classroom, one of
the Palestinian teachers raised an issue that was quite unexpected by the
conference sponsors, and by me for that matter. She, being a Christian Arab
from Jerusalem, expressed discouragement at the increasing gap between
Christians and Muslims within the Palestinian community. As a lifelong
Palestinian nationalist she was disturbed by the fact that her teenage son had
more in common with Israeli teenagers that he met on the beach in Tel Aviv than
he did with Muslim Palestinian teenagers who were his lifelong neighbors.

After she had
expressed her concerns the room went dead silent. It seemed to me that we all
recognized that the discussion had taken a sudden turn in a direction that
could easily lead the entire conference into an orgy of mutual recrimination, which was definitely not the intention of the organizers nor the participants.   

The silence was
broken when one of the other Arab participants announced that the problem was
obviously caused by “the occupation”. No one, including me, contradicted him.
We were all just relieved that the comment gave us an avenue of escape back to
the subject of educating for peace.

I recalled this
incident when reading a recent opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post about
“honor” killings in Israeli Arab society. The author made some valid points but
couldn’t help writing, “The government is also responsible for the
fact that the unnecessary occupation has caused bloodshed to become a routine
and everyday occurrence for Israel’s Arab community.”

One again, the “occupation” allows problems in Arab society,
like an unwanted foundling, to be placed at Israel’s doorstep. To the author’s
credit, after genuflecting to “the occupation” a pretty good analysis of the
phenomenon of the murder of women in the Israeli Arab community followed.

When I first began commenting on articles here at openDemocracy,
I was motivated to answer a writer who contended that the State of
Israel had intentionally opened the flood gates on one of its dams in order to
flood some villages in Gaza.

The article was simply one of many examples where Palestinian
leadership misfeasance brought tribulations to Palestinians that were blamed on
the Israelis. I have come to refer to such observers as “Israel Firsters”.

The first time I saw the term “Israel Firster” it was used as
an anti-Semitic canard by a writer in reference to the alleged dual loyalty of
all Jews to their countries of residence and to the State of Israel, with the
latter taking precedence.

I have also seen “Israel Firster” used to describe American neo-cons and others of the Jewish faith or Jewish ethnicity. Despite its
unfortunate prejudicial origins it seems to me that the term quite accurately
describes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Europeans and all others who blame
the problems and misfortunes of Palestinians (and others) on Israel first. This
has had a detrimental effect mostly on Palestinians because it has retarded
valid criticism of Palestinian leadership which might have motivated them to do
a better job for the Palestinian people. Instead “Israel Firsters” have had the
effect of letting Palestinian leadership off the hook, allowing them to go on
their way extracting what they can from the situation for their own personal

For the past few months we (Israelis and Palestinians) have
experienced a wave of terrorist attacks mainly on civilian targets. These have
mostly been knifings but have also included using vehicles and guns as weapons.
For the most part the attackers have been young people, including a few pre-teens,
who are inspired to express their nationalism by killing random passersby on
the streets. Most of the attackers have been killed in the act, glorified as “shaheed”
(martyr) and have become part of the pantheon of Palestinian heroes.

“Israel Firsters” reflexively blame the actions of these
young terrorists on “the occupation”. I would suggest that the absence of peace
education in most Palestinian Authority schools may have something to do with
the motivation of these young people to kill and be killed. A recent article on
openDemocracy about reforming education in Egypt, in my
opinion, has a great deal of relevance for the Palestinian educational system.

Until Palestinian schools seriously engage in educating for
peace rather than glorifying conflict, waves of youthful suicidal terrorism
should not be unexpected whether or not “the occupation” continues. 

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