It was an opinion-shaping experience since most of those who went there are used to hearing the opposite. Representatives of the pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel groups, from Israel too, are regular guests on campuses and at community centers.
The event, which was organized by Reservists on Duty (an Israeli NGO acting against the BDS campaign), went as planned. The last speaker was Bassam Eid, a former researcher for the left-wing organization B’Tselem. Suddenly, someone emerged from the back, screaming something unclear, and was removed from the room after a two-minute disturbance. It turned out he was a student from the territories studying in the United States. He came to sabotage the event.
Several minutes later, the question and answer session began. “You’re standing here and telling us that Israel is wonderful. So why did Israeli soldiers kill a 12-year-old boy?” someone asked. A group of five anti-Israel activists had apparently infiltrated the auditorium. They weren’t kicked out, and the host courteously promised them an answer.
One of the delegation members tried to reply. It didn’t work. The man who asked the question kept shouting and disrupting him, and the others joined in, cursing in Arabic. There were even swear words like “sharmuta” (a whore in Arabic), and one of the rioters added anti-Semitic chants.
They were not interested in a dialogue. They were not interested in answers. They wanted to sabotage the event. This time they failed. Several minutes into the commotion, they were removed from the auditorium with the help of the New York police.
The delegation’s speakers were unfazed. They had experienced such disruptions since arriving for a round of lectures and meetings in the US. The members of the anti-Israel camp are unwilling to hear voices that refute the apartheid and demonization libels. As far as they’re concerned, whoever doesn’t call Israel a criminal country which has no right to exist should be silenced.
The exact same day of the event, when the anti-Israel speaker mentioned the 12-year-old boy, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report on casualties of war, including children. According to the report, in the early 20th century, only 5% of wartime fatalities were innocent. The wars were between armies, and civilian deaths were a minor byproduct. In World War I, 15 percent of fatalities were civilian, and towards the end of World War II the number jumped to 60 percent. The situation continued to deteriorate, and in the 1990s, 90 percent of wartime fatalities were innocent civilians.
With all due respect to the report, there is a dispute over the issue. But even those who disagree agree that most of the fatalities in the past few decades have been innocent. According to a report released by the Lancet medical journal, the percentage of children killed in Iraq after the 2003 invasion was higher than their relative share in the population.
In most conflicts, there is no reliable and totally accurate information. There are estimates. That isn’t the case in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every casualty is recorded, including gender, age and the background to the incident. An analysis of the figures, which come from Palestinian sources or from B’Tselem, reveal that the number of children who are hurt is much lower than their relative share in the population.
Every hurt child is a tragedy. There is no comfort in the fact that NATO, the American army and the British army hurt more children, or even significantly more more children. But a person who presents a question about a 12-year-old boy killed by Israel isn’t interested in knowing that the IDF—more than any other army—is making an effort to avoid innocent casualties. He and his cronies are udnertaking efforts to have the opposite effort, to convince the free world that Israel is carrying out a mass killing of innocent people. Between the Israeli effort to avoid casualties and the anti-Israel effort to spread a libel—the latter is winning.
The delegation members returned to Israel from the US a few days ago. They did an amazing job. I heard them. But it isn’t enough. Much more is needed to fight those who are spreading the libels. Demonization, either against Jews or against Arabs, doesn’t facilitate a reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. On the contrary, it perpetuates hatred. It further distances peace from our reach.
So the delegation members’ battle against libels is a battle for reconciliation and peace. It’s not just a pro-Israel battle. It’s a pro-Palestinian battle as well.