What’s Wrong with the Discourse About Throwing Rocks?

[This piece was originally published on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion Blog]

The first time I saw a house being demolished in the West Bank village of Al-Khalayleh, I wanted to pick up a stone and throw it at the bulldozer. The first time I went to a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, the week after Mustafa Tamimi was shot at close range with a tear gas canister that ruptured his eye and his brain and ultimately took his life, I wanted to hurl a rock at the IDF jeeps. I did not know the family in the small Palestinian village whose house was being demolished because of arbitrary administrative Israeli policies—I only saw them standing there, watching silently, the smallest boy clutching a Spiderman doll almost as big as he was. I had never met Mustafa Tamimi—I only saw pictures posted on Facebook of a young man, about my age, lying on the road with blood pouring out of where his eye used to be. I am a proud Israeli and a religiously observant Jew and a functional pacifist. And the first time I saw a house being demolished, I wanted to throw a stone.

A Palestinian protester throws stones towards an Israeli bulldozer during clashes following a protest against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel on May 24, 2013 in the village of Kafr Qaddum, near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / Getty Images)
The debate about stone-throwing was recently reinvigorated by Jodi Rudoren’s New York Times article about the Palestinian “culture of stone throwing.” As Noam Sheizaf articulated in his critique in +972, Rudoren’s article was a bizarre piece of non-contextual journalism that focused on the act of stone throwing without explaining the systematic violence that provokes it. Which is to say, it painted Palestinian youths as “culturally violent” while largely ignoring the actions (and the culture) of the most violent player in the arena: the Israeli state and its action arm, the IDF.

I am opposed to throwing stones at people or at moving cars because such actions can and have hurt people and, on a few occasions, have even killed. In other words, I am against acts that hurt and kill people, i.e. “violence.” There is certainly a place for candid discussion about stone-throwing in the context of a broader discourse about violence and pacifism and the ethics of both. But that is not the context in which stone throwing is generally discussed. Instead, stone-throwing is often characterized as a unique Palestinian phenomenon. It is wielded as part of a discourse that deems Palestinian violence against Jews categorically unacceptable, yet accepts and even commends Jewish violence against Palestinians when it is perpetrated by the state and the IDF.

In Open Zion, Micah Stein—with whom I had a supremely relevant exchange in these pages last year about why I refused to serve in the IDF and why he did not—responded to Rudoren with a piece titled, “What’s Wrong with Throwing Rocks?” In it, Stein writes that Palestinian culture “encourages violent and dangerous behavior by children” and that Palestinian stone throwing stems from a “mindset passed from father to son.” Maybe he’s right: from what I have seen and experienced, there are absolutely parts of Palestinian culture that glorify violence. But is that really the issue he is addressing? Is Stein opposed to Palestinian violence because it is violent, or because it is Palestinian?

If we as writers and peace-seekers are looking for a “Culture of Violence” that “encourages violent and dangerous behavior by children,” let us begin by criticizing the elements of Israeli Jewish culture that not only tolerate but often rejoice in the army’s recruitment of hundreds of thousands of kids to fight and kill. Violence done in uniform is no less deadly and brutal than violence done in jeans and a t-shirt. And violence done with tanks and fighter jets and M16s is far more deadly and brutal than violence done with rocks and stones. Or, we could start even closer to home: let us begin by critiquing the American Jewish summer camps in Wisconsin and North Carolina where Israeli soldiers come to guide young American Jews through simulated army exercises; or the vacations in Israel where young American Jews are sent to pretend-army for a month; or the culture of militarism that permeates Birthright trips; or organizations like the New York-based non-profit Friends of the IDF, that send millions of tax-exempt dollars to support Israel’s military; or our general culture that extols American Jews, especially American Jewish boys, who move to Israel in order to join the IDF.

A Palestinian protestor prepares to throw a stone towards Israeli security forces during clashes at the entrance of the Jalama checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Jenin, on February 24, 2013. (Saif Dahlah / AFP / Getty Images)

If a writer wants to criticize violence in the Israeli-Palestinian context, I am all for it. But it should be a critique that is honest and proportional (it is nothing short of obscene that a 12 year-old Palestinian can be sentenced to months in Israeli prison for throwing rocks, whereas a man responsible for the massacre of civilians can become Prime Minister). A critique of violence in Israel-Palestine can certainly incorporate criticism of stone-throwing, but it ought to recognize that a culture is no less violent for its fancy uniforms and the “official” manner in which it kills and maims. If it fails to account for and address the constant violent and deadly actions carried out by the IDF, then this is not truly a critique of violence. Rather, it is a critique of Palestinian violence. How dare we tread that path? How dare we call a Palestinian boy who throws a rock a criminal and call an Israeli (or an American) boy who aerially bombs a village a hero? How dare we lecture Palestinians about adopting nonviolence while continuing to encourage our youngsters to adopt violence? How dare we wax holy about “their” culture of violence while pretending to be oblivious of our own? How dare we?