A handful of conference attendees were standing in a circle making faces at a cute, chubby infant girl, who was being cradled in the arms of her twenty-something, hijab-clad mother. When asked her daughter's name, the mother responded, “Jenin.” Several cooed with delight, and one young man was particularly excited, widening his eyes and nodding his head vigorously.
The newborn’s name, of course, comes from an incident that occurred in April 2002 during Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield military campaign against terrorist organizations in the West Bank. To the mother and many others at the conference, it is known as the “Jenin Massacre.”
Thing is, there was no massacre. But one would never know it if his only source of information was the PSM conference. For sale at one exhibitor's table was a DVD about the “massacre” that claimed to show the “footage no one was supposed to get.” Only in a paranoid fantasy, however, could one make such an assertion. CNN, among others, rushed to broadcast early reports of a “massacre,” interviewing on camera almost any Palestinian claiming to have witnessed atrocities. Most of the world was duped.
But when the United Nations—hardly a partisan of the Jewish state—thoroughly investigated the battle at the Jenin Refugee camp in the West Bank, it found that no mass slaughter of innocent Palestinians had actually occurred. The UN discovered that contrary to claims of over 500 innocents perishing, only 56 Palestinians died—47 of whom were armed. So few civilians died at Jenin because of the incredible caution exercised by the Israeli Defense Forces, which lost 23 of its own.
Emblematic of the PSM conference is that a beautiful young baby forever will be saddled with a name based on a slanderous lie, one that perpetuates a cult of victimology while necessarily dehumanizing the entire Jewish state.
Though media was barred from most sessions, this journalist attended the entire conference and enjoyed ample interaction with the 200 or so mostly college students in attendance.
While the bulk of the attendees were idealists searching for their own Vietnam, the organizers were knowing manipulators crafting a narrative designed to satisfy that quest. From the moment an attendee steps past the registration area, the storyline is quite clear: Israel is evil, and Palestinians are pure. Israel is labeled the new South Africa, which is directly tied to the conference’s primary theme: the movement to divest from Israel. Largely ignored were the recent Hamas victory and the five-year intifada.
Masking the radicalism of the conference were the downright scientific-sounding presentations from many of the speakers. Facts galore were offered for students’ eager consumption, yet they were lacking crucial context. One speaker, a middle-aged white woman and former journalist, repeatedly referred to the higher death toll for Palestinians since the start of the intifada, while never discussing how many of them were armed or suspected terrorists.
At a large gathering open to the media on the second day, two secular Muslims attempted to one-up each other in demonizing the Jewish state—yet neither man did so much as raise his voice. Each calmly made the case that the mere existence of the Jewish state was the problem, that the very idea of a Jewish state was “apartheid.” Neither mentioned the atrocities committed by Jordan against Jews and Jewish holy sites during Muslim rule over Jerusalem’s Old City from 1948-1967. Neither discussed the expulsion of roughly one million Jews from Arab lands after the end of World War II.
And of course, neither raised the issue of hundreds of innocent Israelis and scores of brainwashed Palestinian youths killed during the five-year campaign of suicide bombings.
Not that participants weren’t aware of Palestinian terrorism. One hushed conversation in a hallway overheard by this journalist involved a white woman from the Green Party who kept asking, “Who are we to judge an oppressed people resisting occupation?” The one person in the small group who felt it was appropriate to condemn terrorism nonetheless was quick to add that such criticism “should not be emphasized.”
To perpetuate the storyline of Israel as aggressor and Palestinians as victims, the PSM conference constructed an alternate reality, weaving together half-truths and outright fiction to justify the “solidarity” with a society that alternately condones and supports the intentional mass murder of innocent civilians.
It is because of this deluded fantasy that a group such as Queers for Palestine was distributing literature at the conference—while in the real Middle East, any sane homosexual would rather live in Israel than face death in Hamas-controlled “Palestine.”
What is clear is that most of these young do-gooders do not support terrorism. But they also don’t despise it anywhere near as much as genuinely peace-loving people should.
That attendees didn’t spend much time concerned with Hamas’ victory or Palestinian terrorism was not surprising; neither issue was raised by any of the speakers. Stressed instead were Israel’s “enslavement of Palestinians” starting in 1948, the “massive ethnic cleansing” of 1948, and that the Holocaust has continued since 1948 and “only the victims have changed.”
All the talk about 1948—the year the Jewish state was founded—belies the common perception that Palestinian activists simply want a state side-by-side with Israel. The PSM conference organizers don’t just want Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza; they want Israel out of Israel.
So naïve were the participants that many genuinely believed that a single, unified “Palestine” governed by Muslims would make a hospitable home for Jews. This obviously displays a startling ignorance of both history and the modern-day Jew-hating rampant through the Arab and Muslim worlds, but it is in keeping with the conference’s depiction of Palestinians as pristine and peaceful.
By twisting the truth, the PSM conference is not simply warping the minds of impressionable youths with the admirable impulse to save the world. They and other Palestinian partisans are creating a fantasy world so vivid and so rich that it passes as its own reality. This kills any hope for rational debate.
After all, what room is there for meaningful conversation when one side labels Jews as Nazis and believes in a massacre that simply never happened?