One of the mysteries of the war against Israel is the extent to which a monstrously twisted narrative about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs—casting the former as evil and the latter as sanctified victims—has been absorbed by so many people.
Still stranger, this narrative seems to be the driver of progressive politics. It’s not just that “intersectionality” demonizes the Jews, but that it is driven by an obsession with Palestinianism.
As Corinne Blacker wrote in Tablet, “In queer and women’s studies programs, the topic of Palestine is regularly inserted into the most unlikely contexts, to the extent that one student in a class about queer history told me that they discussed nothing but Palestine.”
The astonishing story of Mohammed al-Durah illustrates just how perverse this is. On Sept. 30, 2000, the French TV station France 2 broadcast footage from Gaza that apparently showed the 12-year-old al-Durah being shot dead by Israeli fire as he clung to his father during a demonstration.
This iconic picture detonated the second intifada, the Palestinian terrorist war waged against Israeli civilians that murdered more than 1,130 of them and wounded more than 8,000 between 2000 and 2005. The footage incited hysteria across the Arab and Muslim world.
Eleven days later, when two Israeli reservists strayed into Ramallah, a mob beat them to death. They threw one body out a window, mutilating it and parading it through the streets. A gloating Palestinian Arab was pictured waving his hands in the air covered in the Israelis’ blood while the mob screamed “revenge for the blood of Muhammad al-Durah!”
One year later, at the U.N.’s sickening anti-Jewish hate-fest in Durban, South Africa, Mohammad al-Durah’s body was paraded in effigy among thousands of demonstrators screaming hatred of Israel. Then Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded by al-Qaeda explicitly for the killing of the child.
The whole al-Durah killing, however, was a set-up and a grotesque lie. As I saw in a Paris courtroom in 2007, previously unseen French TV footage showed that the scenes of battle had been staged with cameras, producers and even make-up technicians visible in a carnival atmosphere.
Palestinian “demonstrators” were laid out on stretchers and carted off to ambulances. But there was no blood or evidence of injuries whatsoever, not even on Mohammad al-Durah, with the boy peeping through his fingers moments after a reporter announced he had been killed.
The person who has done more than anyone else to bring this monstrous calumny to public attention is Richard Landes. As a professor of medieval history at Boston University specializing in apocalyptic millenarian sects, he suddenly realized he was looking at precisely the same phenomenon among the Palestinian Arabs. He reported the al-Durah hoax on his blog and coined the term “Pallywood” to describe the Palestinians’ theater of murderous fabrications.
Landes dwells upon the al-Durah hoax in his new and magnificent book Can the Whole World be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism and Global Jihad. It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand today’s lunacies.
The book asks the question: How has the West simply lost its mind over the issue of the Palestinian Arabs?
As Landes says, today’s Western journalists behave like true believers in the lies about Israel. They have never corrected the record on Mohammad al-Durah, which remains an incendiary blood libel, damning the Israelis for the supposedly cold-blooded killing of a defenseless child.
They have also never corrected the record on the Jenin “massacre” blood libel. In 2002, after 16 months of human bomb attacks in which more than 600 Israelis were murdered, the IDF killed 52 to 56 Palestinian Arabs in Jenin, around 40 of whom were combatants. Israel also lost 23 IDF soldiers during that operation in ambushes forced upon them by their commanders’ insistence on going door-to-door to limit civilian casualties.
Yet the Western media—pushing what Landes describes as “lethal journalism”—published hysterically inflated Palestinian Arab claims of a massacre in which hundreds or even thousands of Palestinians had been killed.
The Western public has been left with the impression that the human bomb attacks arose out of resistance to Israeli “occupation” and “war crimes.” In fact, they are the result of genocidal jihadi war propaganda delivered and concealed by Western journalists themselves.
Appallingly, the Israelis were described at the time as the new Nazis. But the malice that was unleashed was even worse. As Landes writes, “It was mostly about being freed from a sense of obligation to the Jews, a chance to take up again the Jew-baiting so long denied Europeans by a politically correct post-Holocaust sobriety.”
Landes quotes a poisonous comment made by a member of the House of Lords and reported in the Spectator, “Well, the Jews have been asking for it, and now, thank God, we can say what we think at last.” During that time, I was told something horrifyingly similar to my face.
This lethal Western mindset among liberals and progressives goes beyond bigotry against Israel. It has also fueled the West’s failure to identify and deal with the jihadi war of conquest being waged against Western civilization.
Liberals, writes Landes, have enforced the primary law of submission: Do not offend Muslims. The inevitable cognitive and moral dissonance has produced a “politics of outrage” that has left a radically disoriented West defenseless before the jihadist attack.
Western politicians maintained after 9/11 that Muslims around the world were outraged by the atrocity because Islam was a “religion of peace.” They did so even though Muslims were celebrating across the world and some 90% of them, according to various commentators, thought America “had it coming.”
When an Islamist named Ahmad al Aliwi Alissa murdered ten people in Boulder, Colorado in March 2021, many identified him on Twitter as a “white Christian supremacist.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born woman who fled Islam to become one of its most forceful accusers and lives under a fatwa commanding her murder, was denounced by feminists and disinvited by Brandeis in 2014 as an Islamophobe.
“Lethal journalists” who report Palestinian jihadi war propaganda as objective fact fail to grasp that they are thus reporting their own enemy’s war propaganda as news.
This critical blindness is rooted in half a century of the West being blamed for its “original sins” of colonialism and imperialism. This cultural self-loathing has spawned the identity politics of race and gender. Human rights NGOs excoriating Israel and the U.S. for racism and slavery have adopted the jihadi apocalyptic narrative that holds that the U.S. and Israel are the Big and the Little Satan.
This has led to what Landes terms, “The Alice in Wonderland mindset: When jihadis attack a democracy, blame the democracy.” So, while jihadi antisemitism is sanitized as resistance against the oppressor, criticism of Islam or the Palestinians has been denounced as “hate speech.”
As Landes writes, in this poisonous mix a new antisemitism has taken hold in progressive circles around the world.
It is a stupefying alchemy of inverted narratives, which Landes describes as a preemptive surrender to Islamist attack. The result, he writes, is that “when the worst Jew-haters in the planet act out their Jew-hatred in the most revolting fashion, supporting them has become the litmus test for radical credentials.” And the most tragic aspect of all is that so many progressive Jews have gone along with this madness.
So how can we fight it? In the only way we know how: With facts, evidence and reason. But we should be in no doubt that we are not just fighting to establish the truth about Israel and push antisemitism back underneath its stone. We are fighting to rescue a Western world that has simply lost its collective mind.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.