A contrast between Israelis and Palestinians
Today's New York Times contains two articles that unintentionally show a vivid contrast in the psyche, social mores, and attachment to democracy between the Palestinians and Israel, which the world at large simplistically views as an oppressor victimizing the Palestinians.
One article reports that still another Palestinian has been killed in the continuing warfare between the Fatah and Hamas factions in the Gaza Strip. Since the Israeli withdrawal from the territory, hundreds of Palestinian militia members and innocent civilians have died as the two groups battle each other for control.
Prior to that incident, the Times article notes, Palestinian gunmen forced the driver out of a UN refugee agency car and made off with his vehicle. A UN spokesman later announced that agency cars would temporarily stay off Gaza's roads.
Yet this is the very agency into which the U.S. and Western European countries have poured billions of dollars to feed and house Palestinian refugees over the past five decades. No other refugee population in the world--e.g., the hundreds of thousands of Jews driven out of Muslim countries--has ever received such massive foreign assistance.
The so-called Palestinian unity government, composed of both Fatah and Hamas, is the party with which Israel is expected to negotiate. How much confidence can the Israelis have that a durable settlement can be reached with a regime that cannot live in peace with itself and a society that refuses to renounce violence, that is unwilling to make serious compromises, and that scorns coexistence with Israel?
The second Times article is headlined: "Israeli Soldiers Stand Firm, but Duty Wears on the Soul." The article tells how some Israeli soldiers are troubled by their own harsh treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Manning security check points, they control the movement of Palestinians to prevent suicide bombers and other terrorists from infiltrating into Israeli communities.
In the process, some soldiers acknowledge that they seriously inconvenience and often intimidate innocent Palestinians. Their duty, the article states, "wears on the soul and turns young men callous."
A left-wing group has collected the testimony of nearly 400 Israeli soldiers who are disturbed by their own behavior while on duty. These men are frustrated by the Israeli need to live by the sword. "We are so few and they [the Arabs] are so many," one soldier says sadly.
By no means do these troubled soldiers represent a majority of those in the Israeli armed forces. But I am impressed by their empathy, and I wonder whether such sensitivity would ever be displayed by soldiers in the armies of the Arab countries that surround Israel.