Palestinians are notorious for screaming about Israeli extremism while responding to their own extremism with silence.
It’s not that the majority of Palestinians don’t want to speak out against the extremists in their midst, but they are easily intimidated into silence by libelous and unchecked attacks from their community fanatics.
Ironically, these verbal terrorists who seem to dominate the Internet find it easier to attack their own moderates because they are impotent in confronting pro-Israeli activists.
It’s easier for Palestinian extremists to attack their own, in part because Palestinians as a whole –” extremist and moderate –” are marginalized in the mainstream media. Moderates, especially are shunned by supporters of Israel, those who would be natural allies who also seek a fair and just peace.
But Palestinians cannot denounce Israeli acts with moral strength if they avoid speaking out against the same alleged grievances against Palestinians. In other words, you can’t say that Israeli actions are wrong if you remain silent on the very same actions of your own people.
The Internet has spawned a cottage industry of extremist Palestinian sentinels who easily undermine Palestinian moderates within their own community circles.
The attacks are vicious and constant, and border on hate, but fall outside of the radar screen of mainstream and pro-Israeli audiences.
As long as Palestinians denounce Israel, they are hailed and embraced, as I was for many years.
The Palestinian sentinels tolerate some moderate voices as long as they stop short of serious issues, such as in addressing the Palestinian right of return, and the issue of Palestinian extremism.
Once you cross that line, they target you more ferociously than they even target Israelis. It’s easy to attack a Palestinian, while it takes much more talent and effort to confront the Israelis, moderates and extremists alike.
I believe that line must be crossed more now than ever if we hope to strengthen the growth of a peace movement in Palestine and strengthen the hand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas against the growing influence of Hamas and their secular allies on the extreme left.
I believe Palestinian refugees have a legal and moral right of return. It is undeniable, regardless of whether you blame their flight on Israeli military actions during the 1947-48 conflict (as Israelis often do), or if you blame their flight on the Arab countries who urged them to leave, vowing to push the “Jews into the sea” (as Palestinians and Arabs often argue.)
Somewhere in-between is the truth, but extremists on both sides work hard at keeping anyone from seeing that middle ground, which gathers dust and little public acknowledgment.
As a Palestinian moderate, I must criticize actions that I view are wrong, regardless of whether they are the result of Palestinian or Israeli actions. That includes criticizing the political polices of Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But I also have an greater obligation to fight harder to expose the threatening presence of extremists in my own community who find cover by wrapping themselves in the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation, in the Diaspora and especially in the refugee camps.
Palestinians must accept the fact that the refugees will not return. They can believe firmly that they have a legal right to return, as detailed in the Fourth Geneva Conventions and international law. But in the course of seeking to achieve a compromise with Israel, Palestinians must accept the fact that the refugees cannot return to their original homes and lands in areas that are now a part of Israel.
Palestinian extremists also have a tendency to excuse away their own violence, while exaggerating the violence of the Israelis. Similarly, Israelis often excuse or ignore the violence of their own while constantly blaming all violence on the Palestinians.
It is wrong to claim that you support compromise and peace if you cannot stand up with moral courage and denounce suicide bombings. Suicide bombings are not justified and are immoral. Pushing individuals to serve as suicide bombers is even more morally reprehensible.
Peace is possible, but only if Israelis and their supporters, especially in the American Jewish community, recognize the need to define the line between right and wrong.
It is also only possible if, at the same time, Palestinians are willing to define a moderate voice based on reason, rather than extremist rhetoric and hateful anti-Semitism, far to common in Palestinian discussion groups, mainly on the Internet.
It will take courage to stand up to these bullies. But it takes even more courage to stand up to the verbal terrorists when they are members of your own community.