Sir Eric Pickles is a former Communities and Local Government Secretary, and is MP for Brentwood. He is Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.
Israel has been rocked by a recent wave of deadly terror attacks, prompting fears that it is experiencing the beginning of the ‘third intifada’. While the attacks appear unconnected and perpetrated by so-called ‘lone-wolfs’, they can all be linked by one thing – Palestinian incitement.
Palestinian society has been harmed by a widespread culture of hate. For years, glorification of terror and violence against Jews and Israel has been extensively documented in the official Palestinian Authority-controlled media, as well as in school textbooks. Glorification of notorious Palestinian terrorists, denial of Israel’s right to exist, and even portrayal of children as legitimate combatants, are all too commonplace.
Rather than condemning the recent violence and call for de-escalation, Palestinian officials have chosen to continue using dangerous its rhetoric, praising terrorists as heroes. This week, in his first TV address to the Palestinian people since the wave of attacks began, Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out “executions” of Palestinian youths in “cold blood”, including Ahmed Manasrah.
In actual fact, Ahmed, a 13 year-old boy, is being treated at an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem, despite his involvement in a stabbing attack on an Israeli man and a 13 year-old Israeli boy riding his bicycle earlier this week. Ahmed has become somewhat of a symbol since the release of a video on Palestinian social media showing the boy bleeding and writhing in pain after he was run over by a vehicle in Jerusalem mid-stabbing. Closed-circuit footage released by Israel Police clearly shows Ahmed with his 15 year-old cousin, both armed with knives, chasing down would-be Jewish victims. When the elected representative of the Palestinian people so fundamentally distorts the truth, it can only be of little surprise that many of those commenting on the video accuse “Zionist settlers” of “killing” the boy in cold blood.
Most inflammatory of all, the Palestinian Authority President also continued to peddle the accusation that Israel is planning to harm and alter the status quo of the al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third-holiest site. Earlier this month, President Abbas took to TV to declare: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem…With the help of Allah, every shaheed (martyr) will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward”. The dramatic escalation in violence cannot be fully understood without knowledge of this.
A few weeks earlier, he vowed to prevent the “filthy feet” of Jews from “defiling” Temple Mount” (the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque). At this point, Palestinian youths suddenly blockaded themselves in the mosque with explosive devices, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, leading to clashes with Israeli security forces who were seeking to restore calm. The international community’s failure to condemn the militarisation of such a sensitive holy site paved the road to where we are today.
The harmful nature of incitement on impressionable young minds can be seen through the fact that nearly all of the terrorists are Palestinian youths under the age of 25. The constant indoctrination to commit violent acts has prompted the next generation of Palestinians to throw away their lives for an instant of unimaginable terror.
Palestinians have taken to social media to celebrate and encourage further attacks. One widely shared instructional video, shows a Palestinian man masked in a keffiyeh – a symbol of Palestinian nationalism – attacking and cutting the throat of an Orthodox Jew. The parallels to those abhorrent ISIS videos are unavoidable.
Undoubtedly, there are examples of incitement from within Israeli society. Far Right protestors have been known to chant anti-Arab slogans including ‘death to Arabs’ and so-called price-tag attacks by Jewish extremists involve acts of vandalism against Palestinian property. These acts are not just inflammatory but criminal and are committed by extremists on the fringe of society. Crucially, they received strong condemnation from across Israeli citizens and Government.
When Jewish extremists recently torched a Palestinian home in the West Bank killing the family inside, Israel’s leaders immediately denounced the perpetrators as terrorists and Israel’s security services are hunting to bring them to justice. Such are the actions of a democratic country committed to the rule of law.
It was the same when terrorists murdered Lee Rigby on the streets of London in the name of an extremist Islamist ideology: our Government set about challenging the propagators of such a vile ideology. Faced with the same challenge, Israel deserves our support and empathy. When can parents taking their children to school, or shoppers quietly waiting for a bus ever be a legitimate target?
David Cameron was unequivocal in his condemnation of Palestinian incitement in his speech to the Knesset last year, condemning the practice of naming Palestinian schools in honour of suicide bombers. He recognises that democracies must stand shoulder-to-shoulder together against the threat to innocent civilians on our streets.
But our Prime Minister’s clear message somehow seems to have become lost in translation in the bowels of the Foreign Office, which has almost pathological desire to appear balanced whatever the cost. The call for both sides to end incitement equates the acts of a handful of extremists on the very fringes of Israeli society to the state-sanctioned incitement of violence rife within Palestinian society. By doing so, the Foreign Office is turning a blind eye to what is a glaring problem for the Palestinians.
Palestinian incitement isn’t a new phenomenon. For years, Conservative parliamentarians and Conservative Friends of Israel have called on the British Government to tackle this Palestinian incitement. Examples of it have been regularly presented to Foreign Office ministers and officials in parliamentary debates.
Now is the time for clarity in our policy towards Palestinian Authority-sanctioned incitement. Each incident of incitement must be condemned and DfID aid should be conditioned on the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to crack down on incitement.
The UK has a vested interest in promoting peace among the Palestinian population since no peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium- to long-term if a generation of Palestinians are growing up indoctrinated to hate Israel and the Jewish people. Make no mistake; leading Palestinian officials have inflamed the recent unrest. The British Government can no longer afford to be silent.