Palestinian Leaders Yell Political Theatre at Crowded Israeli Fire / Prof.B.Rubin

Often, small details give a tremendous insight into political realities. Such an example is the remark made by a high-ranking Palestinian official about the tragic fire in northern Israel.

When the fire broke out, 40 Israeli prison guards were rushed to a prison to evacuate the prisoners there in order to save their lives. The bus was trapped in the flames and all of these men, plus the driver, died.

Later that day, as Palestinian Media Watch reported, Palestinian Authority (PA) Deputy Minister for Prisoners, Ziyad Abu Ein, accused Israel of planning to use the fire in order to kill Palestinians in jail. As broadcast on the PA television station he said:

"Yes, they created a lag and our [Palestinian] prisoners were endangered. Had there not been Israeli criminals or Jewish prisoners in this particular prison, it would have been even slower... but the presence of hundreds of Israeli prisoners in [Damon] prison spurred the…the evacuation of the prisoners. But still it was very slow."

This statement haunts me for two reasons. First, it is the perfect example of the fact that even today, 17 years after the Oslo agreement, no PA official—nor even any journalist or intellectual living under its rule—can ever publicly say anything positive or even empathetic about Israel.

In each case, Israel must be portrayed in demonic terms, not only as rejecting peace but as bloodthirsty to murder Palestinians. Such rhetoric, of course, incites violence against Israelis and rationalizes terrorism.

Equally terrible, this approach by the Palestinian elite and rulers ensures that the Palestinian masses will remain radical, reject compromise, and oppose any possible peace with Israel. It is due to such behavior that peace remains impossible.

Yet this kind of thing is virtually never reported in the West, where the single adjective “moderate” is deemed sufficient to describe the PA, even as Israel’s government is being described with far less flattering adjectives.

Second, the difference between this kind of statement and reality reflects the enormous gap between the real Israel and the fantasy evil Israel created not only throughout the Arab and Muslim-majority world but also through (increasingly?) large portions of the West. Forty-one Israelis sacrificed their lives in this effort. However incompetent was the fighting of the fire in the beginning, Israel behaved in a humanitarian fashion—and would never consider doing otherwise—in trying to rescue prisoners regardless of their identity.

It is commonly said after tragedies that one can feel better if something is learned from them. Can some lessons about the problem of official Palestinian extremism and about Israel’s decency be learned from this one?

Note: The title of this article comes from scrambling the often-used phrase that it is not free speech to yell "Fire!" falsely in a crowded theatre.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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