Six Palestinian churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffered damage and arson attempts in reaction to the words of Pope Benedict XVI. Palestinian spokesmen of all stripes condemned these attacks and said that the Palestinian nation – Christians and Muslims alike – is one, and is united in its struggle against the occupation. Reports on the attacks in the Palestinian media described the perpetrators as “unknown.” In the Palestinian subtext, “unknown” implies “of suspicious identity,” a phrase that borders on a half-concealed accusation that Israel’s Shin Bet security services sent agents provocateurs.
In Tubas, where an attempt to set fire to a church failed thanks to the residents’ alertness, people said openly that the thrower of the Molotov cocktail might be connected to the Israeli occupation. But the mayor of Tubas, Oqab Darghmeh, who raised this possibility, also proposed another option: Perhaps the perpetrator acted out of ignorance.
Most of the critics, however, did not point an accusatory finger at the Shin Bet. They cannot deny the ills that have become so widespread in Palestinian society: criminal behavior and hooliganism masked by the images and jargon of a national struggle, and the growing use of weapons in personal and public conflicts, with the encouragement of Palestinian political actors, who are in need of the atmosphere of chaos in order to be seen as “strong.”
But is it possible to separate these ills completely from the Israeli occupation?