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When I was recently in the Middle East, I was privileged to be able to meet with leaders on both sides of this conflict: Israeli and Palestinian. Unfortunately, I noticed some disturbing trends. I made a point of asking those on both sides, “Have you made mistakes, and what are some of the biggest ones?” Israelis, from the most hawkish to the most dovish, believed Israel had made mistakes in its history and was not a perfect country, and they provided specifics. Even a very patriotic and high-ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he thinks Israel gets it right “only 75 percent of the time.”

However, when I spoke with Palestinian leaders, their response was that the Palestinians had NEVER made any mistakes, and every single one of them, Muslim and Christian, justified suicide bombing. One leader of Fatah quite cleverly said, “I do not condone suicide bombing, but neither do I condemn it.” When I asked them how they could justify such bombings and attacks on civilians, they literally shrugged their shoulders and said, “What else do you expect them to do?” Shocking.

Universally on the Palestinian side (in my experience), there was nothing except blame of Israel. There was no self-reflection, no nuance, and everything was black and white. The Palestinian leaders have adopted, without question or hesitation, the attitude of victims, and they teach and indoctrinate this attitude among their people constantly. No matter what happens, no matter what decisions they made, no matter what decisions Israel made, they were always the victims, and they thereby excused themselves from self-criticism and answering the question “How can I make this situation better?” If it is always the other guy’s fault, why bother?

This made me remember a man who is one of my greatest heroes, but who is typically not thought of when it comes to Middle East politics. His name was Booker T. Washington (Booker, for short), and he was a former black American slave. His autobiography, “Up From Slavery,” is, in my view, one of the most important books ever written, because it is the testament of a man who could have used every excuse in the book – who could have justified failure, and a mediocre life – who could have blamed others for racism, oppression and imposing disadvantages upon him – and yet, he did none of these things, despite the fact that many would have accepted them from a former slave and would’ve likely joined him in lamenting his status as a victim. But if they had done this, the first person to have disabused them of this misplaced affectation would have been Booker T. Washington himself.

So what would Booker have had to say to the Palestinians about this mentality of theirs? Perhaps this:

“Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded.”

I would argue that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are the greatest persecutors of the Palestinians; others would argue the Israelis are. But the brilliance of Booker was that this question did not particularly matter to him. He did not see disadvantages brought on by persecution as an excuse for throwing away the obligations of being a meritorious individual. His call to would-be victims was simple: Exhibit merit, add to the value of your community, and make yourself useful to the world. This is the antithesis of the victim mentality.

How about this one:

“I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.”

“But,” some will say, “you just don’t understand. The Palestinians are oppressed by the Israelis.” Even if that were true, Booker had an answer to the self-justifying Jew hatred with which the Palestinians are constantly indoctrinated in their media and education system:

“With God’s help, I believe that I have completely rid myself of any ill feeling toward the Southern white man for any wrong that he may have inflicted upon my race. I am made to feel just as happy now when I am rendering service to Southern white men as when the service is rendered to a member of my own race. I pity from the bottom of my heart any individual who is so unfortunate as to get into the habit of holding race prejudice.”

That’s right, a former black slave knew that in order to achieve his God-given potential, he needed to dispense with the all-too-easy hatred of the white man, even when he had every emotional justification not to. He realized that his greatest enemy was no longer the white man, but the self-imposed limitations brought about by hatred and the victim mentality. The solution was to leave behind his “ill feeling” toward the Southern white man, not feed, pamper and justify it. After all, as Booker noted, “Few things, if any, are capable of making one so blind and narrow as race prejudice.” The same is true of the Palestinian leadership, whose race prejudice against Jews (something they indoctrinate their population with) is precisely what has made them so blind and narrow, completely unable and unwilling to see how their own decisions have impacted their situation. In Israel you see the freest, most prosperous and most successful Arabs in the Middle East. In areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, Jews could not step one foot inside for fear of losing their lives.

Finally, Booker was instrumental in establishing the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college that sought to empower the former slaves with practical skills with which they could improve themselves and their community. At Tuskegee, race hatred was absolutely unacceptable. Rather, Booker’s goal, in the spirit of Jesus, whom he called “the Master,” was to enable his graduates to be useful to everyone in their communities, even their former enemies. He spoke with pride of these graduates:

“What is equally important, they are exhibiting a degree of common sense and self-control which is causing better relations to exist between the races, and is causing the Southern white man to learn to believe in the value of educating the men and women of my race. … Wherever our graduates go, the changes which soon begin to appear in the buying of land, improving homes, saving money, in education, and in high moral characters are remarkable.”

Is what the Palestinian leadership doing leading to anything of the sort?

So in answer to the Palestinian leadership’s question about suicide bombers, “What else do you expect them to do?” I answer this: Read, learn from and adopt the attitudes of Booker T. Washington, a man who eschewed excuses, rejected hatred, recognized that true slavery is a product of the mind, not circumstances, and embraced his former enemies, thereby improving the world for both white and black. It is within your power to do the same for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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