Understanding Israeli mindset.
THE eyes of the world this past week were on the Israeli beast devouring Gaza, where more than 300 Palestinians have so far been killed, all in the midst of our blessed month of Ramadan. Property damage in that unimaginably impoverished strip of land, whose people had suffered shortages of food, gasoline, power, medical supplies and building materials during a stringently enforced eight-year siege, was extensive. But taking Israel to task for its savageries amounts to blaming the beast of prey for being a beast of prey. Beastly behavior after all is in the nature of the beast.
Israel has always been a brutal entity in its ideology as in its military campaigns, stretching from 1948, when it was grafted on Palestine, to its intense 8-day aerial attacks on Gaza in 2012. It was born shedding blood and went on to make its survival contingent on the infliction of pain on its victims. The conventional wisdom is that Israel's brutalities, from ethnic cleansing to wars of aggression, are a consequence of the ascent of several rightist-dominated governments in recent years. Wrong. Rightist-dominated governments, such as those of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and, more recently, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have through their excesses stripped away whatever remained of Israel's fig leaf as a putative "democratic state," but their brutalities were a matter of national policy, one whose goal was to consolidate a system of apartheid.
Israelis, irrespective of their ideological bent, have always applauded, some say hungered for, an iron-fisted strongman who would "finish the job" for them once and for all -- that is, deal with the "Arab problem." Social critic Akiva Eldar commentating on a ground-breaking survey of Israeli attitudes, conducted by Prof. Daniel Bar-Tel of Tel Aviv University in the wake of that dreadful assault on Gaza in 2008, known as Operation Cast Iron, wrote: "There was almost unanimous support of the war [on Gaza] and very few members of this society ... expressed any type of misgivings about the way that this was handled when so many were killed." Unanimous indeed.
And why should Israelis have been expected to express remorse about the way their governments have conducted business? That's the way Israeli society was born -- in blood and fire. That's the way Israeli leaders, whether rightist or leftist, have acted from day one. Israel was to be founded on the ashes of Palestine and through the ethnic cleansing of its people.
Exactly 66 years ago this month, in July 1948, a commander of the elite Palmach forces entered the twin Palestinian cities of Lydda and Ramleh, where tens of thousands of civilians huddled in their homes. That commander then rounded up the inhabitants -- every single man, woman and child -- and then sent them on a trek to Ramallah, on what came to be known in the history books as the "Lydda-Ramleh Death March," during which hundreds died. One Palestinian doctor, trapped in his home in Lydda, saw his own sister die before his eyes, but not willing to bury her in the town's cemetery and risk getting shot at, ended up digging a grave with his own bare hands in the backyard of his home to do that.
The commander of the Israeli forces that day who perpetrated the carnage in the twin cities? None other than Yitzhak Rabin, the political leader whom the world identified in 1993 as the "man of peace" and whose death was mourned -- and funeral attended -- by many world leaders two years later. And the young doctor who was driven to dig a grave for his sister in their backyard was none other than George Habash, head of the PFLP, a PLO faction that led a relentless armed struggle against Israel for several decades before his death in 2008. He was never to set foot in his homeland.
What Israel is doing to Palestinians in Gaza today is par for the course. That, I say, is the nature of the beast, and the beast will continue to prey on its victims until it is slain. As simple as that.
After days of round-the-clock bombing of Gaza homes and infrastructure, Gazans continued to bury the victims of yet another murderous Israeli assault. Another victim, or loser, in this war is one whose fate has gone largely unnoticed -- the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a government that appeared to teeter on irrelevance, with its leaders relegated to bystander status as Gaza sank to its doom. During the carnage, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas directly addressed Hamas, seemingly berating it, not Israel, for all the suffering. "What are you to achieve by sending rockets (flying into Israel)?" he said on Palestine TV last Friday. "We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics."
But what happens when communicating with the beast by resorting to "wisdom and politics" doesn't work, and has not worked for the last seven decades? You change course.
If wisdom it must be, then how about a bit of folk wisdom from William Arthur Ward, one of America's most quoted writers of inspirational speech? "The pessimist complains about the wind and the optimist expects it to change," he said, "but the realist adjusts the sails." Let's be realistic: Israel will not settle up with Arabs until their rights have been whittled down to a fragment -- and it will resort to violence to achieve that end. Will we allow that to happen?
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