When Palestinian women took part in a march with Israeli women for peace this week, they were condemned in the harshest terms by many other Palestinians, who called for their punishment. The Palestinian women who participated in the October 8 event, organized by a group called Women Wage Peace, have been denounced by many of their own people as and "traitors" and "whores."
Conversely, when Palestinian Authority (PA) officials held "reconciliation" talks with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and Egypt during the same period, many Palestinians praised them as "heroes" and "brave."
Judging from the reactions of many Palestinians, especially on social media, they prefer peace with Hamas rather than with Israel.
The thousands of Palestinian women who participated in the march with Israeli women are being accused of promoting "normalization" with Israel. This, in the eyes of their critics, is an abhorrent and despicable act, tantamount to "high treason" -- an offense punishable by death.
Prior to the women's march, Palestinian activists waged an online bid to stop the Palestinian women from taking part in the "shameful" event. It was a vicious campaign that lasted for several days and that accused the Palestinian women of treason for promoting "normalization" with the "Israeli enemy." One group, The Women's Campaign for Boycotting Israeli Merchandise, said in a statement that the planned march was "hurtful to Palestinian and Arab and international efforts to boycott and isolate Israel." The group pointed out that the march coincided with a "Zionist-imperialist onslaught to undermine the Palestinian national project."
Exactly which "Zionist-imperialist" conspiracy these protesters are referring to remains unclear.
Such rhetoric, however, reflects the mindset in the Arab and Islamic world. The most widespread conspiracy theory, which has been floating around for decades and can be heard in almost every coffee shop on the streets of Cairo, Amman, Ramallah and Beirut, is that Zionist Jews, together with American capitalists and imperialists, have a secret plan to take control over the Arab and Islamic countries and their resources.
What does a peaceful march of Israeli and Palestinian women have to do with Zionism and imperialism? How exactly are the "Zionists and imperialists" trying to "undermine" the Palestinian "national project"?
And what, precisely, is this project? Is it the project of Hamas and many other Palestinians that seeks the destruction of Israel? Is it the project that still talks about a phased plan to destroy Israel by demanding a Palestinian state next to Israel so that it would be used in the future as a launching pad to eliminate Israel?
Palestinian and Arab leaders have long advanced anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Western conspiracy theories. Why do these leaders do so? For one purpose: distraction.
The corrupt Arab and Palestinian leaders spread such rumors to divert attention from problems at home, such as corruption and dictatorship. These leaders want their people too busy hating Jews and Westerners to demand reform, democracy and transparency from their leaders. Those valuables, of course, are what Arab and Palestinian leaders still refuse to offer their people.
Back to the controversial women's march.
The abusive comments hurled against the Palestinian women who took part in the march are frankly embarrassing to read. Even the PLO committee that permitted the participation of the Palestinian women in the march is being pilloried by many Palestinians, with some calling for holding the PLO officials involved accountable.
The verbal abuse is reminiscent of the experience of teenage Palestinian girls who recently participated in a summer camp with Israeli girls in the US. The Palestinian girls endured a massive smear campaign for attending the summer camp, which was organized by Creativity for Peace, an organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Like the women from the march, the teenage girls were also cursed on social media and dubbed as "sluts" and "traitors." The abuse reached the parents of the Palestinian girls, for allowing their daughters to commit the sin of dancing and mixing with Israeli (Jewish) girls. The girls, like the women, were also accused of promoting "normalization" with Israel.
Sadly, only a handful of Palestinians have thus far dared to come out in defense of the summer camp girls or the women who participated in the October 8 march.
While many Palestinians may be opposed to the brutal and senseless attacks on the girls and women, they are terrified of voicing their views in public. No one wants to get targeted by the abusers, especially if some of these people are affiliated with terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Palestinians have an unfortunate habit of allowing thugs and terrorists to intimidate them, control the discourse and set the agenda. This is certainly not new. Most Palestinians prefer to sit on the fence instead of speaking their minds. This is what happens when you live under ruthless dictatorships such as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that suppress freedom of expression.
Yet this most recent exhibit has an ironic twist. Just as the women were shamed publicly for taking part in an event with Jewish women, many Palestinians were celebrating the "reconciliation" between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip took to the streets to express their jubilation over the "accord," and when the PA Prime Minister and his delegation arrived in the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, scenes of kissing and hugging were easy to spot.
What does all this teach us?
First, that many Palestinians continue to consider any form of contact with Jews and "normalization" with the "Zionist entity" an act of treason.
Second, that Palestinians do not hesitate to designate their own women as prostitutes and traitors for engaging in the most basic activities with Jews. Such disrespect for women is not, by the way, something that should surprise us about conservative Arab and Islamic societies.
Third, that for many Palestinians, the priority remains making peace with Hamas and not Israel. Why do they prefer peace with Hamas? Because they identify with Hamas's dream of destroying Israel and killing Jews. It may be an unpleasant a truth, but that is the bottom line.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.