Opinion: Blowback: Why Palestinians think what they do about Israel

Increased security around Hebron

An Israeli solider checks the IDs of Palestinians at a checkpoint near Hagai settlement south of the West Bank city of Hebron on Nov. 23.

(Abed Al Hashlamoun / European Pressphoto Agency)

The Israeli-Palestinian debate has seen its share of politicians making spurious, racist claims to further an agenda. But when academics do the same and use the cover of shoddy social science, it is particularly pernicious.

That is precisely what Daniel Polisar did in his recent Times Op-Ed article attempting to demonstrate with research that Palestinian public opinion on Jews and violence against Israelis doesn’t bode well for peace or a two-state solution.

Polisar selectively picks snippets of polls that justify his claims about what Palestinians think and how those views present an obstacle to peace. He doesn’t bother to investigate why Palestinians hold those views; in doing so, Polisar profoundly misleads readers and advances an openly racist discourse that demeans Palestinians and their aspirations to live free and full lives.

So why does Polisar only stick to the what -- and a partial one at that -- and fail to investigate the why? Because the answer directly undercuts his argument that these Palestinian views, not the Israeli actions that shape them, are an obstacle to peace. Polisar does not mention, for example, that 81% of Palestinians in a recent poll conducted by one of the agencies he cites expressed fear about being “hurt by Israel in your daily life or that your land would be confiscated or home demolished.”


In reality, it is the daily experiences Palestinians have dealt with at the hands of Israel for seven decades that have directly shaped their views on this issue. Polisar paints Palestinians as irrational creatures holding unjustifiable fears about Israeli intentions. He never mentions that the state of Israel has razed more than 400 Palestinian villages, effectively wiping most of the Palestinian presence off the map. He writes not a word about continued colonial expansion in the West Bank through policies of land appropriation, home eviction and house demolition. Palestinians have witnessed Israel take over most of the land they hold dear and destroy thousands of homes, hundreds of villages and their associated houses of worship -- and Polisar implies that fears over Israeli intentions in Jerusalem are paranoid and irrational?

Following such brutal treatment, is it any surprise that when polled, Palestinians express deep skepticism about Israel’s policies and intent?

Polisar also bemoans Palestinian denialism, this notion of a rejection of a Jewish connection to the land of Palestine. Palestinian denialism, while existent and problematic, is a function of politics. If anything, there’s evidence to show that Palestinians did not deny the Jewish connection to the land until it was used to justify Palestinian dispossession after the creation of modern Israel in 1948. Anyone who looks at the holy books of Palestinians, including the Bible and the Koran, can clearly see Jewish connections to the land throughout.

What shapes Palestinians’ opinion about Jews, Israel and violence is their interaction with Jews, Israel and violence. For Palestinians who have lived under occupation for nearly half a century and in refugee camps or as second-class citizens since 1948, those interactions have consistently resulted in the denial of basic rights, including injury or death. The increasing militarization of Israeli society and the disturbing extremist political viewpoints more easily found in the country’s Parliament only make matters worse.


What is a Palestinian whose home was demolished by Israel supposed to think of Israel? What is a Palestinian child who sees his grandfather mistreated at an Israeli military checkpoint supposed to think of Israel? What are the parents that buried their children killed by Israeli bombs while playing on a beach supposed to think of Israel? Following such brutal treatment, is it any surprise that when polled, Palestinians express deep skepticism about Israel’s policies and intent?

Polisar knows the answers to these questions. That’s why he didn’t bother answering them. If Palestinians are unredeemable, then there is no need for Israel to make peace with them, no need to extend equal rights to them, and no need to recognize that Palestinians should live in freedom. Polisar has abandoned substance and deeper inquiry in his effort to disparage Palestinians and turn them into unrecognizable monsters unworthy of the dignity demanded by people around the world.

Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a policy analyst at the Arab Center in Washington. 

This piece is part of Blowback, our online forum for rebuttals to The Times. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

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