Politics, being the art of deception, must certainly recognize Israel as its Da Vinci. Its smug self-portrait as a ‘civilized democracy’, rendered with brushes dipped deeply in the oil paint of antipathy for Arabs, has won much admiration among impressionable Americans. Galvanizing and amplifying latent Western hatred of Muslim Arabs in order to rally the West under the banner of ‘Judeo-Christian civilization’, and intimidating doubters by abusing the memory of the Holocaust to claim special ‘unique victim’ status, Israel intones, ‘Stand with us because we are white and bomb towel-heads in F-16s just as you do, and don’t dare stand against us because you once persecuted our forefathers and should atone for your sins – by abetting ours.’
The result of this most cynical ploy is that the Palestinians, dark-skinned victims of Israel’s perpetual campaign of ethnic cleansing, torture, theft, and humiliation, are always grotesquely caricatured as mindless savages with a fetish for suicide attacks. There is, however, one major credibility problem with this racist rhetoric: Israel itself is in the process of committing suicide.
The trouble hardly stems from any defect in Israel’s elaborate propaganda campaign. To the contrary, its message has been widely accepted with fawning awe and reverence by all dominant presses, pundits, and politicians, whose necks and knees strain from displaying the proper respect accorded to the lies of the powerful. The Israeli narrative, preserved, polished, and peddled by the generously-funded pro-Israel lobby and various sycophants, has easily withstood the fleabites of facts and evidence presented by critical Jewish- Israeli scholars, historians, journalists and commentators, which go unnoticed in mainstream discourse.
No, Israel’s crisis has not emerged because its packaged lies have been unwrapped for the public by sentimental sectors of corporate capital moved by the plight of the oppressed, but rather because the oppressed themselves, viciously maligned and virtually alone in their struggle for survival, have refused to bow to the logic behind those packaged lies; that is to say, they refuse to be exterminated, disappeared, destroyed, or spirited away, as Zionism has been demanding of them for one hundred years. As one Palestinian recently wrote in response to Ben-Gurion’s famous quip on expelling Arabs, (“The old will die and the young will forget,”): “The old are dying, and the young are dying too, but no one is forgetting.”
What is therefore falling to pieces is not Israel’s ‘smug self-portrait’, but rather the cheap, crumbling edifice of arrogance on which it and all the other aspirations of Israeli colonialism are mounted. Propping up this arrogance in the past was the basic assumption among Israeli elites that after enough murder, rape, torture, bulldozing, looting, and expropriating, the Palestinians will break. This prognosis has failed miserably. Compounding the original crime of mass expulsion with more violence has not allowed Israel to escape its consequences. Zionism’s “original sin”, as one Israeli historian calls his nation’s original 1948 expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians and massacre of hundreds more, is the basis of both Israel’s existence and the continued non-existence of the more than four million caged, dispossessed Palestinian victims who demand justice.
This demand for justice expresses itself in continued endurance and resistance, separate forms of defiance with interdependent consequences – consequences that Israeli society cannot cope with and sees as its greatest threat.
Endurance means, first and foremost, staying in place. Its greed for land and settlements partially hindered by Palestinian presence, Israel has responded by robbing the natives of any legal, political or human rights, and has constructed what Israeli anti-occupation activist Jeff Halper calls a “matrix of control” to stifle their lives, including settlements, military checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, embargoes, and detention centers. But merely living in this hellish scenario constitutes a victory against the root logic of Israeli colonialism, which is to ‘purify’ the land by removing its indigenous population.
Resistance, on the other hand, refers to active measures against the occupation. In the first Intifada and in the beginning of the second Intifada this almost always took the form of unarmed protest or stone-throwing, but Israel responded by mowing down hundreds of Palestinians with machine guns and breaking their bones, bringing in bulldozers to demolish homes and tanks to enforce even harsher living conditions. Their restraint further rewarded with an atrocious death ratio of 25:1, Palestinians tired of digging rows of graves for their children and patriots just to be patted on the head by a few polite Western liberals, and turned to armed struggle, the most extreme form of which now manifests itself in suicide bombing.
The remarkable reality of sustained Palestinian endurance and resistance in the face of overwhelming power has precipitated two crises for Israel so entwined that they are best referred to as a dual crisis: that of its political legitimacy and self-proclaimed moral purpose.
Because Palestinian-Arab population growth in historical Palestine (Israel, Gaza, West Bank) greatly exceeds that of the Jewish population, Jewish majority status in the area - assiduously obtained through a century of mass murder and mass expulsion - will be imperiled and surpassed within a mere two decades. That these growing Arab millions stand stripped of elementary rights and suffer the deprivations of a racist military machine undermines Israel’s claim to the mantle of democracy. Panicked Israeli protest to the effect that Palestinian growth is some sneaky maneuver to “destroy” Israel only reinforces its status as an apartheid state, since a democracy which fears the democratic enfranchisement of half its population is no democracy at all.
Furthermore, Israel’s viciously disproportionate use of force against all forms of Palestinian resistance to the occupation has created a maximum escalation of violence in which any citizen of Israel is now a potential target of weaponized desperation – suicide bombing. Rocking Israeli cafes, discos, and streets at will, this tactic has narrowed the 25:1 death ratio to almost 3:1, and exploded Israel’s basic founding ideal – that it is a safe haven for Jews. Indeed, Jews are now safer in almost any place in the world other than Israel.
In responding to this dual crisis, some in Israeli circles of power have expressed quite reasonable ideas. Last September, Israeli politician Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, declared his country was resting “on foundations of oppression and injustice” and advocated full withdrawal from the territories to create a Palestinian state. The same month 27 air force pilots, considered the military’s elite, refused to implement assassinations, describing them in a letter as “illegal and immoral attacks.” In November, four ex-chiefs of Israel’s vaunted internal security service, Shin Bet, jointly declared themselves against Sharon, the apartheid wall, and their country’s “disgraceful” and “patently immoral” behavior against Palestinians, prompted by concerns that “Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people.” In December, 13 reservists (including three officers) of Israel’s top commando unit joined hundreds of other Refuseniks in refusing to serve in the occupied territories, saying that they “have long ago crossed the line between fighters fighting a just cause and oppressing another people.”
But flirtation with reasonableness by these small few stands in stark contrast with Israel’s long-time marriage to racism, colonialism, and growing “fascist tendencies,” to borrow Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling’s words. Representing these tendencies are rightists at the helm of Israeli society - the settler movement, military, and right-wing parties, spearheaded by prime minister Ariel Sharon, a war criminal responsible for several bloody massacres that have left hundreds of civilians dead.
Sharon’s ‘solution’ to the country’s dual crisis is in the tradition of Revisionist Zionism, founded in the 1920’s by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, an admirer of Italian fascism who wrote honestly but with the aspirations of a conquistador-cowboy that Palestinians “look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie.” One disciple of this doctrine was Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, who admitted, “There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population,” and advocated the following method to expand this theft: “[Israel] must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and to retain its moral tension. Toward this end it may, no - it must - invent dangers.”
The assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin epitomizes and exemplifies this strategy for addressing Israel’s dual crisis. While the murder of a blind, crippled, wheelchair-bound quadriplegic outside a place of worship appears cowardly, and the inevitable blowback against Israel gives the impression Sharon has lost his mind, the strike is part and parcel of a consciously calculated game plan that is perfectly rational within the framework of Zionist logic. For the assassination of Hamas’ main symbolic leader is designed to provoke it into an extreme ‘mega-terror’ act or a series of terror attacks, severe enough to marshal chauvinist-Israeli support for a final solution to the Palestinian problem – complete ethnic cleansing and removal of all Arabs from historical Palestine.
This is not some imaginary scenario, but a definite escalation of existing Israeli tactics. An attack of September 11th or similar proportions would allow Israelis to heighten their coveted ‘special victim’ status, bolster their image as fighting for the ‘Judeo-Christian’ cause of the ‘war on terror’, and purge the re-demonized Arabs without international interference. In one fell swoop, Israel would be able to complete what it started in the 1948 war and its dual crisis would be solved.
No serious person denies that Hamas will retaliate; the organization has vowed to attack any Israeli from Sharon on down and political analysts even within Israel recognize that it is only a matter of time before it strikes. Nor is Israeli provocation which aims at or leads to getting Israelis killed unprecedented. In fact, it is commonplace. On July 22, 2003, the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronot reported that the heads of Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, approved a unilateral cease-fire, and that former Palestinian Security minister Dahlan had met Sheikh Yassin, who agreed to the cease-fire principles. 90 minutes later, the same paper reports, Israel assassinated militant Salah Sheadeh, “in the course of which dozens of civilians were killed and wounded as well.” Israeli writer and professor Ran Hacohen noted that in November 2001, “the assassination of the Hamas activist Mahmoud Abu Hanoud was carried out just when the Hamas was respecting for two months its agreement with Arafat not to attack inside Israel,” and that “in January 2002, the assassination of Raed Karmi ended a few weeks of relative quiet in the territories.” All of this obviously had disastrous consequences for Israeli civilians.
Then there are those infamous media-created ‘periods of calm’ during which no Israelis die but dozens of Palestinians are murdered and thrown into the trash heap of forgotten history, such as August 1st, to September 1st, 2002 when 39 Palestinians were killed; 18 days later a suicide bomber exploded in Israel – a ‘shattering’ of the ‘lull’. (Haaretz, September 2, 2002). Even more telling is a study conducted by the Israeli weekly, Ha’Ir, of ten Israeli assassinations against targeted Palestinian activists that followed periods of relative calm (a revelation in itself), from July 31, 2001 to September 9, 2003. The results? In retaliations immediately following the deaths of the ten targeted militants, a total of 180 Israeli civilians were killed. (Ha’Ir, September 25, 2003)
This makes the results of recent Israeli polls all the more remarkable, for they show not only that 80% of Israelis believe the Yassin assassination will increase Palestinian terrorist attacks, but that 62% of Israelis support it. (AFP, March 23, 2003). Even a generous interpreter would have to admit that a significant portion of those who predicted dire consequences from the attack nonetheless approved of it. That Israel’s political strategy involves the jeopardizing and killing of its own citizens, apparently with loud approval from some of its own population, speaks volumes about its moral bankruptcy.
Along with this bankruptcy comes a high degree of irony, since Israeli propagandists never tire of demonizing Palestinians based on suicide bombings. Their smugness precluding any possibility of sincerity, Israeli pundits ask, ‘Why do Palestinians blow themselves up just to kill us?’, and always answer themselves (who else is there?) in a somber tone as if they are suddenly concerned with Palestinian well-being, ‘They place no value on their own lives.’ If given a chance, the Palestinian native would respond, ‘If you would be so kind as to donate us those tanks and helicopters you safely slaughter us with from afar, we would be happy to spare you the agony you undoubtedly feel about our deaths.’
But it turns out that Israel is now neither safe nor far from the reach of its victims, and that its main strategy for addressing its problem involves exposing all its citizens to injury and death just to whip up enough self-righteousness and hate to repeat the cycle all over again until the conditions are ripe for mass expulsion. In this sense Israel is akin to a guilt-ridden wife beater; acutely aware of its own immorality, it provokes its victim into some futile kind of resistance to inspire itself with enough hatred to justify continuing the beating, awaiting all-out world war to finish the job without eliciting much protest.
Many IDF officers probably do not even see the demented logic of their own strategy and have convinced themselves that it is beyond reproach. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon and his crew proudly announced that they plan to ‘liquidate’ the entire Hamas leadership, removing those who train suicide bombers, and thus rid Israel of Palestinian terrorism once and for all. What these fine gentlemen fail to understand is that they will accomplish absolutely nothing of the sort. In the Israeli daily Haaretz, September 14, 2003, it was pointed out that in the past two years, the IDF had claimed to have killed or captured the Hebron “head” of the military wing of Hamas no less than five times – and each time it was a different person. Moreover, the notion that bombers need to be ‘trained’ is absurd: how much practice does it require to put on a bomb belt, walk into Israelis, and explode? All the ‘training’ required is amply provided by the daily supply of Israeli atrocities that make one final death appear preferable to a humiliating life in which one’s dignity and hope are killed a thousand times over.
Ya’alon himself must know this; a few months ago he declared that Israeli tactics were only creating hatred. It is worth quoting one of the former Shin Bet heads, Major General Ami Ayalon, on the subject: “Terror is not thwarted with bombs or helicopters. Why does this increase terror? Because it is overt, because it carries an element of vindictiveness.” Israeli elites who hope to snuff out the Palestinian demand for land, freedom and justice by crushing the Palestinians themselves should take heed: their history of vengeance is no match for the vengeance of history.
For it is precisely the vengeance of history that haunts Israel today; conceived and inserted into the heart of the Islamic world at a time when Europe looked highly upon colonialism, the memory of the Holocaust fell heavily upon its conscience, and Muslims were politically weak and motionless, Israel’s confidence appeared justified. But now, Europe has largely abandoned its colonialist attitudes, Israel’s abuse of its vast military power has earned it the label of the world’s greatest threat to peace within Europe and inverted its image from underdog to occupier across most of the globe, and the first signs of Islamic awakening and resistance, though often primitive and backward-looking at the moment, are emerging.
Israel’s reliance on the waning forces which precipitated its creation in its war against the very people who were dispossessed during that creation has locked it into a self-destructive dynamic. Its set of solutions consist only of increasing: (a) colonial brutality by killing more natives, (b) sympathy for and anger over Jewish suffering by getting more Israelis killed, and (c) prospects for an intensified ‘war on terror’ in which anything goes and actions (a) and (b) would be justified in the long run.
Plan (c) is certainly the clincher in Sharon’s vision of purging the Palestinians, as he always justifies his atrocities as complementary to the American-led ‘war on terror’ and constantly advocates bringing this war to Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. Thus from the Zionist viewpoint, America replaces Europe and its crusade against terrorism substitutes for colonialism, allowing Israel to thrive again. But Israelis who cling to this new savior fail to see that this is only an escalation of and not an escape from the self-destructive dynamic. Sharon’s decision to follow Dayan’s directive to “invent dangers” by inciting and exacerbating the Islamic threat along with America means that the whole nation’s very existence will be imperiled, not simply that of a few dozen Israelis every few weeks, as is presently the case.
For assuming our ‘war on terror’ is still raging two decades from now as desired by Sharon and company, what will Israel do when it is surrounded by over 300 million neighboring Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide? Does a sane nation of a mere few million place its hopes for survival on the permanent subjugation of a quarter of humanity that surrounds it? Israel on its current path is like a man who swims off the coast into the ocean and happens on an island, only to complain of being surrounded by water. Its citizens should start asking themselves and their leaders, ‘What will we do when the typhoon comes?’
M. Junaid Alam, 20, Boston, co-editor and web-designer of new leftist journal for American youth, Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org).