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Israeli onslaught shatters western belief that Arabs are source of violence


July 16, 2014 - Last week I saw that my white American uncle posted something on Facebook. It was an article from some obscure far right-wing news source and it was called "Support the Civilized Man: Defeat the Jihadists." Lo and behold, the article was a plea for continued support from the West to Israel. The title of this article so flagrantly states the mantra of the West when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians (and Arabs in general). I could discuss the political aspects of the events that happened this past week in Israel/Palestine. I could discuss the appalling treatment of Palestinians by Israeli citizens, subsidized by the Israeli government and military forces. But there’s one aspect of these recent events that I can’t whisk away: race...

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Israeli onslaught shatters western belief that Arabs are source of violence

Leila Abu-Orf

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July 16, 2014

Last week I saw that my white American uncle posted something on Facebook. It was an article from some obscure far right-wing news source and it was called "Support the Civilized Man: Defeat the Jihadists." Lo and behold, the article was a plea for continued support from the West to Israel. The title of this article so flagrantly states the mantra of the West when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians (and Arabs in general). I could discuss the political aspects of the events that happened this past week in Israel/Palestine. I could discuss the appalling treatment of Palestinians by Israeli citizens, subsidized by the Israeli government and military forces. But there’s one aspect of these recent events that I can’t whisk away: race.

What makes the recent events in the battle between Israel and Palestine peculiar isn’t the violence—we’re all used to hearing about that. I think what’s really startling the West (Israelis included) is that they’re finally realizing it’s not just Arabs that can be violent. The logic of the racialization of the Arab, specifically the Palestinian, is diminishing before our very eyes.
I vividly remember the day that I learned I was a Palestinian-American. Not in the sense that my dad had a darker skin color or that we went to Mosque sometimes or that we would randomly fast during Ramadan or that Arabic would be spoken every now and then. I’m talking about realizing that there’s no such thing as just being Palestinian, that being a Palestinian actually means a lot of other things. I’m talking about the day I learned things about myself that I previously had been unaware. This day was September 11, 2001. On this day I learned that being an Arab meant that I was inherently violent and angry and irrational. On this day I learned that Arabs don’t respect women like the rest of the world. That our highest glory is to that of dying in the name of Allah. Oh yeah, and we love blowing ourselves up. Shit! This was all news to me.
9/11 was the day I became "othered." I realized I was different from my white peers, beyond my skin color, name, and religion, but on a deeper level. On this day I became aware of the stereotypes that haunt Arabs and Palestinians. And over the days, months, and years that followed, I felt them being applied to me without my knowledge or consent.
I know this realization would have come to surface eventually, even if a day like 9/11 never occurred. Edward Said explained it better than I ever could in his groundbreaking piece on Orientalism, a theory that explains the polarizing aspects of our cultural world: East vs. West, Orient vs. Occident. Pretty much any race/ethnicity that isn’t of European descent is defined in opposition to the seemingly naturalness of Western ways. We are a perversion of "normal" and "natural." In our present history, one of the many ways in which Orientalism is manifesting itself is in the discourse surrounding Palestinians and Arabs. It’s this notion that as Palestinians, we are violent. We are blood thirsty. We give Israel no other choice but to arm itself with one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated military operations (funded by Uncle Sam). Who could blame Israel then, for offensively defending itself while being surrounded by hostile, violent, angry Arab nations?
But then we learned of the kidnapping, stabbing, lynching, and burning alive of 17 year old Mohammad Abu Khdeir by Israeli civilians …and the subsequent near-death beating by of his 15 year old cousin Tariq, from Florida, by Israeli police…and the lynch mobs of Israeli civilians in Jerusalem chanting "death to Arabs…" and the facebook pages made by Israelis that called for revenge with over 30,000 likes.
And then we realized something doesn’t sound right. Wait, it’s not the Palestinians being violent? How do we make sense of this?
First, we must ensure that we rationalize the violent actions of Israelis so to make it more justifiable. We are reminded that the Israelis who turned to violence and hateful language are a small minority. We are reminded that there were hundreds of Israelis who reached out to Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s family. We are reminded that Netanyahu condemned the murder of the teenager. Palestinians, on the other hand, are never afforded the luxury of a contextual explanation that rationalizes their actions. Instead, Palestinian violence becomes the explanation for Israeli military intervention. Palestinians get violent? Let’s bomb the shit out of Gaza. Israeli’s get violent? The world doesn’t really know what to do.
But here’s my idea of what to do and how to make sense of it all. Let’s just drop the deeply ingrained belief that violence is a Palestinian trait or a seemingly natural mindset that all Arabs are born with. Because we all know deep down that there’s nothing ingrained in the genetic code of Arab blood that makes us more violent than say, white people. Because we all know the definition and parameters of race change with each decade, logically negating the essentialist nature of the very concept of race. Because we have to know by now that all people are capable of violence and acts of hate: not just Palestinians!
We need to stop making excuses and explanations for the violence of some but not others. Conversely, the violence which we do not tolerate from some must also be condemned when perpetrated by others. Israel is a nation in which every citizen is required to serve in the army. Exposure to violence in such a climate is universal and normal. The same is true for Palestinians who suffer the consequences of occupation, whether it be from the hands of the British prior to 1948, or IDF or Hamas. This is not to say that one is better than the other, or that one is more justifiable than the other. All humans are capable of violent action. Everyone is at risk when people exercise their ability to act violently. Not just Israelis when Palestinians act violently.
So when I read that article on Facebook my white American uncle posted called "Support the Civilized Man: Defeat the Jihadist," I swallowed another pit in my stomach. Violence is violence, whether the person perpetrating it is brown, black, white, or yellow; in civilian clothing or an army uniform; with a suicide bomb strapped on or in some office controlling the direction of a drone. To my Uncle I ask, "How do you define civilized?" because at this point, it seems like it’s still the same definition that was used to justify slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, and colonization of people of color all over the world.

Leila Abu-Orf first posted this essay on her Facebook page. 



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