The Israeli occupation, Emily Hilton and the eternal privilege of the spotless mind

By turning a complex and vexing political dispute into a binary moral paradigm, reducing the historical and diplomatic complexities of a more than 100 year-long conflict to one territorial dispute, and dismissing authentic, historically-informed Israeli fears of Palestinian intentions as nothing more than a failure of empathy and imagination, Emily Hilton is certainly not "challenging narratives".

In the minds of most editors, journalists and contributors at The Independent, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a straight-forward story of the weak against the powerful, the privleged against the unprivileged, the oppressed and their oppressors.  

The fundamental ‘progressive’ principle to which they seem wedded as professional purveyors of news and opinion – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the powerful – is channeled to reveal Israeli culpability, examine the body politic’s darkest inclinations and expose the atavism of heart of modern Zionism.  Palestinians, within this ideological framing, are to be championed, comforted, pitied and humanised – but certainly never critically examined nor taken seriously as moral agents who control their own destiny.

In assigning an op-ed to a young British Jew named Emily Hilton (As a young Jew, the news coming out of Israel makes me feel hopeless about ending the occupation, Jan. 10), Indy editors were certain that, regardless of the particulars, the words would abide by the secular catechisms of this moral tale. 

hilton

Hilton, a board member of Yachad UK and a New Israel Fund UK Fellow, like so many of her political fellow travelers in the US and UK, believes the root cause of most of what plagues the region can be explained by Israel’s 50 year occupation of  the West Bank – a theory of political causality so absolute that it necessarily usurps all other particulars, and negates the role of individual actors.  

The occupation, according to Hilton, is what drives Israeli soldiers to shoot incapacitated Palestinian attackers and what drives Palestinian terrorists to stab Israelis in the chest.  Except that, even here, in what she would likely claim was an expression of empathy towards the occupier, the precise words she uses in her opening are quite revealing. 

Five decades of occupation is what led an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, to shoot an incapacitated Palestinian man lying on the ground in the head, with 67 per cent of the country now supporting a pardon for his conviction. It is 50 years of occupation that drives someone to take a knife and stab a person in the chest while they wait for their friends by the walls of Old City. It’s what leads to a truck being driven into a public bus stop killing four people

In all three examples, only in the first, where the Israeli is the instigator of lethal violence, is the national identity of the actor revealed.  Whilst an “Israeli” soldier killed a “Palestinian” man, “someone” took a knife and stabbed a “person” in the chest, and a “truck” was driven into a public bus stop killing four “people”. 

Though some of her prose seems intentionally vague in an attempt, perhaps, to display fairness, expressing her generation’s dismay over a “slew of violence” and the “cycle of oppression, violence and retaliation”, most of it betrays her proclivity towards viewing the Palestinians as victims only.

My generation hasn’t lived through an existential threat to Israel’s existence. For me, my relationship with Israel began with the Rabin assassination, the second intifada, and two wars in Gaza – all episodes of extreme aggression that, in my view, seem underpinned by the dehumanisation of Palestinians.

For Hilton, two wars against a very specific antisemitic extremist group, and five years of coordinated Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians, is alternately generalized “aggression” or conflicts reflecting the denial of Palestinian humanity.  Of course, Hilton seems breezily disinterested in the ‘relationship’ of most Israelis to these fateful years – a tale involving a Oslo generation once hopeful about an inevitable peace, only to be traumatised by an unending war.  

Britons of Hilton’s generation can’t understand the current Israeli political milieu without appreciating how the decidedly inhuman terrorist violence of the second intifada, in response to an Israeli peace offer which included a contiguous Palestinian state, shattered their grandest illusions.

Similarly, those in her London political circle who understandably have grown weary over the continued occupation can’t truly comprehend Israeli political caution over efforts to achieve two states without appreciating the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal – in which an occupation was ended, and yet, not peace, but extremism, terror, and war followed.

Indeed, further in her op-ed, Hilton explains that the occupation is sustained by the belief “that the people you are ruling over are going to try and hurt you”, suggesting, it seems, that the fear of Palestinian extremism, incitement and violence is not based on a sober understanding of actual Israeli experiences since Oslo, but on some irrational phobia of a benign minority.

In her penultimate paragraph, Hilton boasts of the time she spent last summer in the West Bank “with a Jewish group carrying out solidarity work with Palestinian communities”, demonstrating, she explains, “the power of human relationships in challenging narratives that are created around the other”.  

However, by turning a complex and vexing political dispute into a binary moral paradigm, reducing the historical and diplomatic complexities of a more than 100 year-long conflict to one territorial dispute, and dismissing authentic, historically-informed Israeli fears of Palestinian intentions as nothing more than a failure of empathy and imagination, Emily Hilton is certainly not “challenging narratives”.  

Rather, she’s coldly ignoring the reality of Israeli and Jewish experience, illiberally denying Palestinian agency and predictably reinforcing her own political community’s echo chamber.

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