The Inversion of Reality in Israel
For ten years, I've spent the Jewish holidays in Jerusalem, joining multitudes from all over Israel and abroad who flock here to celebrate. It is a period of festivity, with concerts and events throughout the city. From my apartment outside the Old City, I watch Jews streaming to the Western Wall as generations before them have done, and Christian tourists who come to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles.
This year, the holiday begins with the usual exuberance, but events take a dark turn as streets turn into murder scenes, and paranoia grips the city.
Exhorted by their leaders to defend Islam's holy sites, Palestinians are fed lies about marauding Jews planning to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque. President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's purported peace partner, calls on Palestinians to prevent Jews from "defiling" the Temple Mount "with their filthy feet." He promises that "every martyr will be placed in Paradise." His call is repeated by political and religious leaders on TV and social media, illustrated with graphic images of bloody knives.
As if on cue, Palestinians eager to find that promised paradise leave their homes with butcher knives to seek out Jewish victims. A young Israeli couple are ambushed and killed before their children. A vicious attack on a family returning from the Western Wall leaves two dead. The gruesome scene is filmed by Arab onlookers who casually watch the victims die, sipping Coke and refusing to help.
Within days, a wave of violence has engulfed the city. The festive streets filled with holiday celebrants have become eerily deserted. No one knows when or where the next knifing will occur.
I am awakened one night by the sharp staccato of gunfire, followed by the long wailing of ambulances come to evacuate the latest stabbing victim, a 15-year-old boy, and his assailant, Fadi Aloun, shot dead by police. On his Facebook page is Aloun's declaration that he intends to become a shahid (martyr). Film clips show him walking along the train tracks after the attack, while Jewish youths behind the guardrail point him out as the perpetrator, telling arriving patrolmen to shoot.
Palestinian sources proclaim that "Martyr Aloun" was "murdered in cold blood." The Globe and Mail follows, reporting that Aloun "was accosted ... by a mob of Israelis, who accused him of carrying out a stabbing some time before" and "prodded" police to kill him. The perpetrator is turned into the victim.
In the ensuing days, sounds of sirens and helicopters become a constant backdrop. They signify new attacks and more casualties. Regular radio programming is pre-empted with news that comes around the clock. Reports of "incidents" are not confined just to Jerusalem now. They are coming from all over the country – Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah, Jaffa, Afula. High schools are closed in Jerusalem – not enough security guards. Jerusalem's mayor says residents should carry weapons for self-protection. Those who do venture out look over their shoulders. Some sport baseball bats or umbrellas. I buy pepper spray, one of the last available vials.
An acquaintance, Tzvi, recounts his own brush with terrorism: he is walking and chatting with his friend Daniel in the Old City, when suddenly Daniel keels over and falls to his knees, head forward and bleeding, dazed and unaware. Tzvi whips around to see a petite Arab girl standing directly behind Daniel with arm raised, grasping a butcher's knife, about to bury it in Daniel's back. In that second of panic, an unarmed Tzvi fends off the assailant by swinging his laptop at her head. She staggers back, then lunges forward again with her knife, as if possessed. He swings again, shouting, "An attack!" and yells at Daniel to shoot the attacker who, despite the blows, is still wildly lunging with her knife. The police hear the shot, come running, and hold down the assailant, who is still fighting, screaming that she wants to die. Medics treat Daniel and his attacker on the spot before transferring them to hospital.
The terrorist is Shorouq Dwayyat, an 18-year-old student who, before stabbing Daniel, implored her mother on Facebook not to mourn her when she becomes "a shahid for Allah." Palestinians, however, report that Dwayyat was attacked by Jewish "settlers" who ripped off her headscarf. They show a video of her lying on the ground surrounded by Israeli police. NPR airs a report interviewing Dwayyat's family, who say they've heard that Shorouq's hijab was removed. They insist she is incapable of stabbing anyone and declare that Palestinian rage is stoked by three things – "the Al-Aqsa Mosque," protecting Islamic rights," like wearing our hijab," and "Israeli attacks on children and others." The report gives no voice to the victims.
On one particularly brutal day of violence, two teenage cousins, Ahmed and Hassan, walk through the streets with knives, looking for victims. They slash an Israeli man and then come upon a 13-year-old boy riding his bicycle. They throw him down and repeatedly stab him, leaving him nearly dead. Much of this shocking barbarism can be seen on surveillance film made public. A CCTV clip also shows Israeli police approaching Hassan, who rushes at them with knife aloft. He is shot dead. Ahmed runs into the street and is struck by a car. Cell phone footage shows him afterward, lying with his legs bent beneath him, blood on the ground. Someone is heard cursing him.
The story quickly becomes inverted. The Palestinian prime minister calls Hassan's shooting an "assassination in cold blood." Abbas's spokesman blames the Israeli government for Hassan's "execution." In a televised speech, President Abbas accuses Israel of "executing our children in cold blood, just as they did to the boy Ahmad Manasra and to other children in Jerusalem and elsewhere."
Inconveniently for Abbas, Ahmad is filmed, alive and well in an Israeli hospital. Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the Palestinian leadership out, accusing them of lying to encourage more violence. Yet some Western media continue to distort the story. An NBC website article conveys the false Palestinian claims as credible and questions the accounts of Israeli spokesmen in a he-said, she-said scenario, despite clear-cut footage of the perpetrators chasing their victims and charging toward police with a knife.
With each attack, the facts are twisted by Palestinian media and leaders. Terrorists shot or killed in self-defense are held up as victims of Israeli savagery. Truth is turned on its head.
The story continues to be distorted here, too. The reality of knife-wielding Palestinians shot in self-defense becomes a "cycle of violence." Victim and perpetrator are equated, distinctions blurred.
Headlines mislead: MSNBC describes an armed Palestinian lunging at security officers as "Man shot after rushing past police in Jerusalem." The LA Times declares "Four Palestinians Killed in Israeli Violence" while USA Today writes "Israelis Kill 4 as Violence Surges" without noting that the four killed were actively engaged in violence.
The president's spokesperson parrots Palestinian accusations of excessive force and terrorism by Israelis. Secretary of State John Kerry blames the outbreak of Palestinian violence on "massive" Israeli settlement building.
I feel I've entered an alternate universe, where black is white and perpetrator and victim are reversed. Palestinian lies and incitement are downplayed or concealed. Truth has become a casualty, along with the innocents who have been wounded and killed by those brainwashed by hate rhetoric.