When Israelis and North Americans think of Palestinians, they often think of those Palestinians who grab news headlines – people engaged in some form of resistance, probably armed, against Israel. In contrast, we tend to think of Israelis as citizens – as simply people like us (i.e. like rich north americans) who are trying to live their lives – lives made difficult by the constant threat of “terrorist attack”.
But these perceptions are the result of an instituted distortion, a partisan reality, where we see predominantly one side of Palestinians, and a different side of the Israelis. When Israel kills Palestinians, we are told that all those who were killed have a connection to terror. But when Israeli civilians are killed, this is never justified in our media by the fact that most Israelis are in the military, and virtually are Israelis are associated with people in the military. If we think ourselves neutral on the conflict, then why do we think it more objectionable that Palestinians would join an armed group than Israelis would join their military?
The reality is that both sides see military action against the other as a matter of duty – both sides have extremists, and both have moderates which are caught up in the program of those extremists. I’d say that currently the Palestinians are far more moderate in their leadership than the Israelis – the PA has abandoned armed struggle, but the Israelis have not abandoned the occupation, or even the right to make daily raids and kidnappings in areas purportedly under control of Palestinian security forces.
We wonder why some Palestinians believe that suicide bombings are justified, or why any terror attack against civilians could be a legitimate military action in their struggle for self determination? Largely, the reason is the same as the reason Israelis commonly believe their own treatment of the Palestinians is acceptable – because they define the other in terms of the other they see, the most extreme other. Which Israelis do Palestinians see? For those in the occupied Palestinian territories, they only see soldiers and settlers. Soldiers come into their houses in the night and take away their parents, or their children. Settlers walk around carrying assault rifles and live on hilltop fortresses armed to the hilt and with enough food and water to last for years. Settlers are supported by most Israelis, and by their government and army. They are the face of Israel to the Palestinians. And even their snowmen are armed.