As a New York Times correspondent who was, no doubt, sent out to the pavement of a Jordanian town in search of the mythical "Arab street," discovered, there was no shortage of locals willing to see Israel as somehow at the bottom of a horrific crime committed by Muslims in the name of their interpretation of Islam.
Like the seemingly imperishable canard that no Jews died in the Sept. 11 attacks because their brethren were the perpetrators, it didn't take long for the denizens of the "street" to reassure each other that it was the Jews who massacred a wedding party and other innocent Arabs.
The fact that Al Qaeda had already claimed responsibility didn't really diminish the willingness to blame Israel, nor did the capture of one of the members of the gang whose bomb had not exploded.
Immutable Rules of Hatred
The immutable rules of the Middle East cannot be altered for facts, logic or even the faintest trace of common sense. Since the revival of Jewish sovereignty in a part of the otherwise all-Arab region is a terrible humiliation for Muslims, anything can be blamed on it.
But the truth is, many in the West no longer pay much attention to the ravings of the "street." That's why the enormous growth of anti-Jewish incitement and hate education (specifically in Palestinian schools) has always been a minor issue for the American foreign-policy establishment and many of the other bright lights who opine on the region for a living.
But this week, we got a hint of yet another cause for the lack of outrage over the canards about Israel that have become so ingrained in Arab political dialogue. The clue came during the discussions over the negotiations about the opening of border crossings to Gaza that were concluded this week.
During the course of the talks, Israel sought to limit and control entry to Gaza while the Palestinians, strongly supported by the United States and the European Union, sought to minimize Israel's involvement.
In the end, Israel buckled and, despite some symbolic gestures aimed more at bolstering Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's domestic support than anything else, the Palestinians got their way.
But what was really interesting about the commentary on the talks was the way mainstream American publications were willing to paint Israel's position in the worst possible light.
According to Philadelphia Inquirer foreign-policy columnist Trudy Rubin, the fault for the failing Gazan economy was solely Israel's. She wrote on Nov. 9 that even after Sharon's unilateral withdrawal of every last Israeli soldier and settlement, Gaza was a "huge prison."
Unless, Gazan "tomatoes and peppers" were freed from the heavy hand of Israeli oppression and allowed to proceed unhindered to market, peace was surely doomed, she claimed. But the question of how entry to Gaza would be managed was not merely one of economics or logistics; Israel's interest in access to and from Gaza stems directly from the fact that the area is an armed camp bristling with terrorist arms and explosives.
Even though Palestinian demands for an Israeli pullout have been satisfied, terrorists are still trying to infiltrate the border to cause mayhem and bloodshed in the parts of "occupied Palestine" that even the United Nations recognizes as the territory of the State of Israel. And the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel has only paused because of the direct threat that Israel will reoccupy the area.
But the harbingers of a new intifada that come so closely on the heels of the old one that it's hard to tell where one stopped and the other will begin does not impress the likes of Rubin, or even American officials who are otherwise sympathetic to Israel, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and administration Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn.
Their focus in the talks seemed to be entirely on pressuring Israel to give in, so as to pump up the Palestinian economy. That is, on the face of it, a reasonable argument since development of the territories is rightly thought of as integral to the peace process.
But what Rice and Wolfensohn forgot amid their posturing about the controls imposed on access to and from Gaza was that the only real obstacle to economic progress comes not from Israel, but from the Palestinians themselves.
Looking the Other Way
If there were no Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israel - and the terror groups were not using the Israeli withdrawal and cease-fire to strengthen their "military positions" - then there would be no Israeli demands for tight controls on the borders.
But just as the State Department is prepared to keep looking the other way about the Palestinian Authority's continued use of mosques, newspapers and its television station to continue incitement of hatred against Jews and Israel, just as damning is the willingness of some in the press to ignore the reality of Palestinian intentions and behavior.
Rubin, in the course of her polemic against Israel's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to halt the use of the Gaza-Egypt crossings for importation of arms and terrorists, was even willing to falsify the recent history of Palestinian tomato production, of all things.
While carrying on about the dire fate of those wilting vegetables - which were being forced to wait in the sun while wicked Israelis refused to let the flow of Palestinian traffic proceed unimpeded - she forgot to mention a salient fact.
Though she noted that Wolfensohn had donated $500 million of his own money to purchase the greenhouses built by now-evacuated Israelis, she forgot to mention that most of those facilities that were purchased by the cash of the envoy and other high-minded American Jews simply went to pot.
Rather than profit from the jobs and the produce that the Israeli-built farms could give them, Palestinian mobs destroyed most of them.
Contrary to Rubin, the moral of the story wasn't that Israelis are causing Palestinian tomatoes to rot because of foolish fears of having their families slaughtered. The moral is that Palestinians - or at least the scoundrels they still allow to lead them - would rather starve than make peace. So ingrained is the reflex to cast guilt on Israel that even the most reasonable of demands for security are automatically put down as heartless.
All of which means that columnists and officials who blame Israel for this situation aren't a lot better than the idiots on the "street" who blame it for the Amman bombings.
The fact that they will, unlike the Arab mobs, lament the Israeli casualties that will inevitably result from their diplomatic labors on the Palestinians behalf does not make them less culpable. Nor will it provide the scapegoated victims with any but cold comfort.
Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: [email protected] .