The following letter has been sent to the editor of Amnesty International’s magazine in the UK.
Kristyan Benedict’s article on “10 Days in the West Bank” (Amnesty Magazine, July/August 2009) takes up three full pages but still manages to tell only one side of the story.
Benedict begins by mentioning that Bethlehem University was closed for three years – but doesn’t say why. No doubt it was closed during the three most violent years of the first Intifada (1987-90) because of incidents of violence taking place there — but there’s no mention of this. Why was it closed? Did she ask?
She then quotes a Palestinian activist saying how hard it is to resolve conflict “when people are constantly being provoked to retaliate”. This presumably refers to only the Palestinian side (as if Israelis are never provoked by anything) but also reads like a justification for violence, an attempt to understand why some Palestinians choose to become suicide bombers, for example.
The delegation she was on then visited the separation barrier and told of the (presumably) negative impact it had on Palestinians. But not a word about why it was built. Not a mention of the vast number of lives saved by the huge reduction in the number of terrorist attacks carried out in Israel.
The next stage of the trip was in the hands of a group known as ICAHD — one of the most notoriously biased organizations functioning in the region, recently denied EU funding once its bias became clear. ICAHD — unlike over 99% of Israelis — considers Israel to be an apartheid society and supports boycotts and sanctions directed against the Jewish state. Their representatives appear to be the only Israelis the delegation spent time with.
On day five of this whirlwind trip, the superficiality of it all becomes incredibly clear in this passage, which I quote it in full. Benedict is describing an Israeli army checkpoint in Bethlehem, and writes: “I wonder when the toilet there was last cleaned — it’s often the petty oppressions that hurt most.”
Kristyan, it’s often the petty remarks like that which hurt the most. I’m sorry that the toilets at a barrier designed to control the entry of terrorists into Israel did not meet your high standard.
The description given of a visit to Hebron is probably accurate, describing the horrific behavior of Jewish settlers there. But there’s no mention of the history of the city nor the masscre of Jews by Arabs in 1929 — which is the reason why there is a Jewish presence at all there today. Of course 1929 was a very long time ago, but so was 1948 and Palestinian suffering from that year gets a mention in the article’s first sentence. The conflict has a long history with a lot of blood spilled on both sides.
The article concludes that “if there is to be peace … it will come because non-violent resistance won out” — presumably meaning non-violent resistance to the brutality of the occupation. Some of us think that if there is to be peace, it will happens when both sides learn to accept the other’s right to live in peace and security. It’s not a question of resistance, which is what Hamas calls its war against the Jews. It’s a question of negotiation, dialogue and reconciliation.
Only the final sentence of the article mentions, in passing, as an afterthought, all the violence carried out on the Palestinian side right up to the present day: “Palestinian civilians,” it says, “are put at greater risk with every rocket launched from Gaza.” In other words, the one time Palestinian violence is mentioned at all , it’s mentioned because of its effect on Palestinians — not its effect on Israelis.
Reading the article, one gets the sense that in ten days in Palestine, Benedict learned half the story. Of course there is genuine Palestinian suffering, and more specifically, violations of human rights. Amnesty has correctly, and repeatedly, noted these when carried out by Hamas and by its Fatah rivals. But there is no mention of that here. Hamas is not mentioned, nor is the Palestinian Authority, not even once.
The bad guys — the ones throwing bags of urine at innocent residents of Hebron, smashing windows in a Palestinian cultural center, and (horror of horrors) not cleaning toilets properly, are Israelis. They are, apparently, never victims themselves of the conflict.
The point, Kristyan, is that there are two sides to a conflict like this. Israelis and Palestinians are both victims. If you only see the suffering of one side, only see the violence coming from one side, and you do nothing to understand the other side — you have seen nothing and learned nothing. A half-truth is, in this case, no better than a lie.
If the suffering of the Israeli Jews — victims of decades of terrorism, several aggressive wars launched by neighboring Arab states, and prior to that, the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism — if that suffering means nothing to you because they are Jews and not Palestinians, then you are worse than ignorant. You are a part of the problem.
As a proud member of Amnesty International, I am ashamed to see such an article in my movement’s magazine.