Nothing prepares you for your first physical encounter with a terror attack.
Walking up Jaffa Street, the main thoroughfare in the heart of downtown Jerusalem on January 27, 2002, I happened to bump into a friend. As we chatted, the shockwave of an enormous explosion made us instinctively cower. And then the surreal second of complete silence as the world seemed to come to a complete halt. A couple of hundred meters ahead, a ball of flame and a thick cloud of black smoke rose into the air.
And then the screaming. The audible screams of fear from fellow bystanders and no doubt, the screams of pain and anguish from some of the 150 people injured as Wafa Idris, the first female Palestinian suicide bomber murdered an 81 year old man and created carnage as she detonated herself.
I was reminded of this deeply horrible incident after reading that a Fatah-affiliated youth center in the Ama’ari refugee camp south of Ramallah has named a sports event after Wafa Idris. While this strikes a personal chord, all of us should be outraged that the lauding of terrorists and the related incitement against Israel and Israelis is still deemed acceptable in Palestinian society and the Palestinian Authority.
We should also be outraged that, despite the sterling work of organizations such as Palestinian Media Watch in exposing the incitement, the mainstream Western media still has a blind spot on this issue.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, at the time of the bombing, the media preferred to write full-length features about Wafa Idris herself, described by the New York Times as “a volunteer medic who raised doves and adored children” while the BBC interviewed Idris’s mother in an attempt to “explain” the terrorist’s motivations.
I am also reminded of a press conference I attended in 2003, organized by some so-called human rights non-governmental organizations as well as the Palestinian Red Crescent. The assembled media gorged itself on the usual fare of alleged IDF abuses of Palestinians in the West Bank, including stopping Red Crescent ambulances at checkpoints. In the absence of any hard-hitting questions, I confronted the PRC director with the case of Wafa Idris who had entered Israel in the back of a PRC ambulance and how I had nearly experienced a close encounter with her in Jerusalem.
There was a stunned silence from the press corps. How could someone have changed the narrative from one of Palestinian suffering to legitimate Israeli concerns about security and terrorism? The PRC director responded with a frantic rant aimed in my direction prompting some personal apologies from some of the event’s organizers at its conclusion. Still, had I been in Ramallah and not Tel Aviv, I would have feared a lynch mob.
And yet, several years later, the mainstream media will not ask the difficult questions and confront the important issues. As the Mideast convulses with revolutionary fervor, arguments abound as to the apparent moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood who are only “moderate” when compared with the nihilism of Al Qaeda.
Likewise, despite holding terrorists such as Wafa Idris on a pedestal, the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are variously described as moderates in the Western press, particularly when compared with Hamas. Meanwhile, Israeli politicians are variously described as “hard line” or “extreme”.
Perhaps Wafa Idris’s despicable actions did not, by themselves, present a clear and existential threat to the State of Israel (although they did certainly present an existential threat to my own life at the time). But there is a clear thread that runs through the terrorist atrocity of January 2002 all the way to the Palestinian sanctification of Idris in 2011 and the surrounding war of incitement and demonization that has put Israel on the back foot.
Palestinian incitement isn’t only confined to sporting events in the West Bank. This week sees the launch of the annual hate fest across North American and European university campuses that is Israel Apartheid Week. This is but one example of the Palestinian-backed campaign of demonization and delegitmization that finds expression in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the diplomatic efforts to isolate Israel in international bodies such as the UN.
How quickly the media forgets. The period of daily terror for Israeli citizens has thankfully passed and we no longer have to wonder whether a bus journey or a drink in a café could be our last. Instead, those measures that have saved thousands of lives, such as the security barrier and IDF operations to bring terrorist rocket attacks to an end, are endlessly assaulted in the media and through the use of “lawfare”.
As the veil is lifted from the decades-long abuses that various Arab regimes have carried out against their own people, it is becoming clear that for all the attention directed towards the Palestinian cause, Israel is not actually the center of Mideast instability as the prevailing wisdom of the media suggested.
The Palestinian tribute to Wafa Idris is but one nasty little blotch on the Palestinian copybook. It’s time that the Western media also shine the spotlight on the PA and the society it purports to lead.