He is bare-chested, muscular and not unattractive. A Palestinian flag blazes in one hand, a slingshot is strained taut in the other. All around him is smoke and press photographers. Aed Abu Amro, a 20-year-old Gazan, is rioting on the boundary between the Hamas-run statelet and Israel's southern frontier. The terrorist organisation has been fomenting disorder there for months now, a function of its viral victims strategy: provoke the Israel Defence Forces into retaliating and let images of dead Palestinians zip their way onto every smartphone on the planet. If only Hamas put that kind of ingenuity into governing, Gaza might not have a 44 per cent unemployment rate.
As a live Palestinian, Amro, who was snapped mid-rampage on Monday, will not have the same impact on low-information media consumers. He has, however, stirred that morbid romanticism which draws Western progressives to the Palestinians, ever since Laleh Khalili, a professor at SOAS, tweeted the photograph and the words 'Holy shit what an image' on Tuesday. Khalili's tweet has been retweeted 48,000 times and liked 124,000 times.
Newsweek gushed of 'the now-iconic photo' that 'some [are] suggesting the image is reminiscent of the Biblical story of David and Goliath’. The New Zealand Herald wrote it up under the headline 'Palestinian goes viral while leading the people' and told its readers the image had 'drawn comparisons with the iconic French Revolution painting, Liberty Leading the People, by Eugene Delacroix’. It topped The Guardian's best photos of the day gallery and The Atlantic's photos of the week list. Social media is awash with the picture and there is scarcely an anti-Israel agitator who has not tweeted, Facebooked or Instagrammed it. A student dorm room poster has been born.
Depictions of heroic resistance arouse Rousseauian passions in certain sections of the left, a predilection for radical chaos and contempt for liberal reform. This impulse rewrites the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a romantic epic in which crudely sketched characters are swept up and righteous victims ennobled by their oppression at the hands of inhuman tormentors. The left has spent so long making icons of the Palestinians that it scarcely remembers they are human beings. ‘If I get killed, I want to be wrapped in the same flag,’ Amro told Al-Jazeera. This is not an image to rush to the T-shirt presses; it is a tragic tableau of suffering and pride and hatred and fear.
Amro is the new Ahed Tamimi, the 17-year-old Palestinian jailed for eight months for assaulting Israeli soldiers. She has become an anti-occupation celebrity not just for Palestinians but for their Western idolators. In a series of interviews with Tunisian media at the beginning of the month, she said:
'We should always be slapping soldiers, wherever they may be, regardless of whether they did anything or not. Ultimately, these are occupying soldiers. They occupied our land, and they shoot at little children and target homes and people. So this is a natural reaction to the presence of the occupation, to the presence of soldiers on my land. Everybody should be slapping soldiers.’
What did the Jeanne d’Arc of faculty lounges across the West mean by ‘my land’?
The following day, she told another interviewer:
‘The previous generation fought, died as martyrs, were wounded and imprisoned, for the sake of the two-state solution. They placed their trust in the world and in the international institutions, but they did not reach this solution. We, the [new] generation, will not repeat this. We, as a generation, will fight for the liberation of Palestine in its entirety.’
Tamimi will fight for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state, which is located, for those who still inhabit the fact-based community, not on ‘her land’ but on land to which Jews are indigenous, in which they alone have ever been sovereign, from which they were expelled, to which they returned, and upon which a rival Palestinian nationality so defined has staked a claim to nationhood for little more than a century and to statehood for around half that time.
Despite all this, the Jewish state is willing to cede yet more land for the creation of a Palestinian state, a set-up in which, according to ‘moderate’ Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas — the quote marks are intended as sarcasm but he really is what passes for a moderate in Palestinian politics — 'we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands’.
Amro and Tamimi are the cultural successors to Abbas, Palestinians whose preference for rejectionism over coexistence is not only indulged but sentimentalised in alt-left kitsch.
Western leftists have little time and even less comprehension for Palestinians who seek comity and compromise, who acknowledge Israel as the state of the Jewish people, who recognise Israel's legitimate security needs and who spurn the self-harming violence of their fellow Palestinians. The peacemakers exist but they do not capture the imagination of remote revolutionaries. They are the wrong kind of Palestinians.
Instead, Aed Abu Amro will be the face of Palestine and Tamimi its voice. As Israel forges once inconceivable ties with Saudi Arabia and Oman, as the Palestinian state runs perilously low on sand in the hourglass, those who claim to stand in solidarity with them will continue to objectify, fetishise and patronise the Palestinians. They have no interest in actual liberation; a Palestinian state would rob them of their little morality play in the desert.
The Palestinians will go on being pin-ups and go on being stateless.