It’s been some time since I read Michael Oren’s Six Days of War, a truly fascinating account of that pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people. It’s also been some time, sadly, since I stopped being surprised by his willingness to delegitimize and dismiss the aspirations of Palestinians for self-determination and dignity, the same self-determination that the Jewish people won in 1948. Or, at least, I thought my store of surprise had been exhausted.
This week it came to light that Dr. Oren, graduate of Columbia and Princeton, former IDF spokesman, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, and now a Member of Knesset, led a Knesset Subcommittee investigation into whether the Tamimi family of Nabi Saleh, in the occupied West Bank, was “a real family.”
The Tamimi family is well-known for its highly public forms of resisting and calling attention to the occupation. As it turns out, Oren convened his super secret inquiry two years ago, even before the latest incident involving 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, in which she slapped an Israeli soldier in the face, an offense for which she now sits imprisoned and awaiting trial.
There are legitimate reasons to critique members of the Tamimi family, including for terribly offensive things some have posted in the past on social media. One can voice objections to these hurtful expressions, while still acknowledging the Tamimis are people. Real people, living in extraordinarily dangerous and oppressive circumstances, acting to resist an occupation that grows more entrenched and onerous by the day.
Oren could seek to grapple with this obvious reality with all of the tools at his disposal – the powers of a deputy minister, diplomatic experience and a microphone at the ready. Instead, he undertook an investigation into whether the Tamimi family is “a real family” based on the working theory that they are some kind of propaganda creation — perhaps the Kardashians of the occupation. According to Oren’s subcommittee, suspicious things about the family included Ahed’s fair hair, blue eyes, freckles, and– I kid you not– her baseball cap worn backward, Ken Griffey style.
When Oren and others like him, in their zeal to win the war of public relations, refuse to recognize the humanity of Palestinians, it is their own basic humanity that is undermined.
Of course, this is not the first time Oren has propagated conspiracy theories. In 2014, when unarmed Palestinian teenagers, Nadim Nawara and Muhammad Salameh were killed in Beitunia by Israeli soldiers, Oren took to CNN to tell Wolf Blitzer that he doubted their deaths. He felt the way the teenagers fell to the ground after being shot was suspicious. Oren and others like him called these supposedly staged deaths “Pallywood” – their own early version of “fake news.”
Oren must know the actual truth. He’s an intelligent and highly educated man. He knows what motivates a 16-year-old Palestinian girl to take issue with soldiers trespassing in her home. He knows that Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin Mohammed had his skull fractured by a rubber-coated bullet during a confrontation with the IDF just an hour before her famous slap. He knows how day-to-day life in the West Bank really works.
Oren must also know that it is the ongoing occupation and Israeli-Palestinian conflict that presents the true threat to the future of Israel and the safety of its soldiers, not the actions of people like Ahed Tamimi. But if he were to admit that, he could not continue to defend and champion the policies of occupation and annexation being carried out by the Israeli government coalition that he belongs to. And so instead, he resorts to vile, conspiratorial thinking — there is no occupation, its victims aren’t real and their humanity doesn’t matter.
When Oren and others like him, in their zeal to win the war of public relations, refuse to recognize the humanity of Palestinians, it is their own basic humanity that is undermined. When they refuse to face up to the ongoing moral crisis and shame of the occupation, they bring shame on themselves. They do a lasting disservice to the country and the people they represent.