Last Thursday, Palestinian Media Watch revealed that the Palestinian Culture Ministry proclaimed a National Reading Day in honor of Baha Alyan, a terrorist who murdered three civilians on a Jerusalem bus in 2015. This was just the latest of hundreds of similar examples of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorists, a practice the international community has been dismissing as unimportant for a quarter century now. Thus, it might be useful for Americans to look at the issue through the prism of a more familiar problem: school shootings. Because, as investigations into the shooters’ motivations reveal, those shootings have quite a lot in common with Palestinian terror.
As the New York Times reported last month, school shootings seem to have become “contagious.” Each new shooter is inspired by his predecessors, and especially by the media attention they receive. In a cellphone video made prior to February’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, for instance, the gunman declared, “I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018 … It’s going to be a big event. When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am.”
Similarly, after another gunman killed two people on live television in 2015, one 26-year-old man wrote on his blog, “I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are … Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.” A few months later, that man murdered nine people in a shooting spree at an Oregon community college.
Investigators have consequently concluded that alienated or mentally disturbed young men see such shootings as a way “to get the attention of a society that they believe bullies, ignores or misunderstands them,” the Times reported. And media attention plays a major role in this, according to researchers at Western New Mexico University. As the Times put it, “The role of the media in turning school gunmen into household names and perpetuating ‘the infamous legacy they desire’ can be shown to have inspired additional attacks.”
This conclusion would come as no surprise to Israelis because Israeli researchers had long ago reached a similar conclusion about the role of societal attention in motivating Palestinian terror. During the height of the second intifada (2000-05), Dr. Anat Berko interviewed numerous failed suicide bombers–people who were caught before they could blow themselves up. She found that, for young men, a key driver of such attacks was the knowledge that they would be lionized by their own society (women were more likely to be motivated by a desire to escape miserable personal circumstances). As she put it in a 2014 interview, “The suicide bomber does not act out of suffering or inferior economic status, but rather out of a desire to win social recognition.”
Since Israel obviously couldn’t eliminate that motive as long as the PA continued to exist and to glorify murderers, it focused instead on denying suicide bombers means and opportunity. In this, it was stunningly successful, thanks mainly (as I’ve explained before) to its decision to let the Israel Defense Forces retake full control of the West Bank, thereby depriving terrorists of the safe havens in the PA where they had plotted, prepared, and trained for their attacks.
Yet the motive still exists, in spades, as even a cursory glance at PMW’s latest press releases show. Two days before the organization issued its release about National Reading Day, it announced that the PA had named a plaza after Maher Younes, an Israeli Arab who kidnapped and murdered an IDF soldier in 1980. And four days before that, it issued a press release about a new game show on official PA television whose host opened it by praising “our heroic martyrs who water the land of Palestine with their blood every day.”
As anyone familiar with Palestinian language-laundering knows, “martyrs” are terrorists who kill Israelis. This was made explicit in a music video broadcast last December on a television station run by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, in which the lyrics glorifying “martyrdom” were accompanied by pictures of suicide bombers.
This ongoing glorification of terrorists hasn’t made much of a dent in the Western dogma that Palestinian terror is actually driven by “legitimate grievances” and/or “poverty and distress.” Hence, many Westerners still deem PA incitement a trivial issue undeserving of attention, and Western countries still lavish aid on the PA without insisting on an end to such incitement.
This is clearly counterproductive for the West’s oft-proclaimed desire that Israel withdraw from the West Bank. As long as the PA continues urging its people to slaughter Israelis on a daily basis, such a withdrawal would be completely untenable. Were Israel to remove its soldiers, it would instantly be back in the situation of the second intifada–in which Palestinians had not just motive but also means and opportunity, and used it to slaughter over 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians.
Yet it also turns out, and not for the first time, that by treating Palestinian terror as a unique and somehow “legitimate” form of terror, other countries harm themselves as well as Israel, because they deny themselves the chance to learn lessons that could save lives back home. As the Times reported, investigators now consider school shootings “the American equivalent of suicide bombings.” And, if so, as Berko’s study makes clear, logical tactics to combat them might include denying the shooters the media attention they crave and closer monitoring of those dark corners of the web where such shootings are glorified (and, yes, Israel’s experience also obviously shows that making it harder for killers to get guns would be a third).
Contrary to the old children’s rhyme, it is not true that “words can never hurt me.” The glorification of violence, whether it’s Palestinian terror or school shootings, can be deadly. It is, therefore, long past time for the West to stop tolerating it. Conditioning financial aid to the PA on an end to such incitement would be a good place to start.
Originally published in Commentary on June 27, 2018