On a visit Tuesday to the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Acre, where Palestinian rioters had torched Jewish property the previous day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the incidents reminded him of “sights from our people’s past, and we cannot accept that.”
I understand him. When I see TV clips of Gaza going up in flames from Israeli bombardment – foreign news clips, to be clear; Israeli TV is entirely focused on Jewish suffering – I am also reminded of sights from the Jewish past.
I see the burning buildings and wailing children of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Jewish revolt of April-May 1943 – the savage, sadistic German response to a futile rebellion by desperate people who had no future and were prepared to sacrifice their lives to preserve whatever scraps remained of their own dignity.
It’s a harsh analogy, to be sure, and not one I make lightly. But in the destruction of Gaza I see a barbarous response to the desperation and despair of helpless people.
Netanyahu made no bones about it during his visit to Acre. Israel, he vowed, would “bring back sovereignty to Israel’s cities with an iron fist if necessary.” In other words, it will do as it has always done – counter despair with force.
That blinkered, knee-jerk callousness was also the order of the day when the prime minister – still! – and his chief lieutenants addressed the nation late on Tuesday night, following the first barrage of Hamas rockets against the Tel Aviv area.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad have already paid and will continue to pay a heavy price for their aggression,” Bibi said. “Buildings that are used by the terrorist leaders are crumbling around Gaza and will continue to crumble,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “This is just the beginning.”
Chief of Staff Avi Kochavi: “We have attacked and killed dozens of terrorists, including leaders, and we’ve destroyed buildings and infrastructure. I’m telling you that on the other side, in Gaza, the reality is hard… The terror organizations in Gaza will pay an even heavier price than the one they have paid until now.”
Had the TV replayed the speeches from the start of the 2014 attack on Gaza, few people would have noticed the difference (though Gantz was CoS then and there was a different defense minister.) Israeli machismo, arrogance and obliviousness never change.
As always, the speakers stressed that, as Bibi put it, Israel “stands united in the face of an evil enemy.” That rhetoric is also par for the course, though, unusually, it was soon disproved in the streets. While the press conference was still in progress, Jewish and Arab Israelis (Palestinians living within the Green Line) were attacking each other in various parts of the country with rocks, knives and, in some cases, guns.
The town of Lod was put under curfew on Tuesday. On Wednesday night, marauding gangs of Jews – recruited over social media and including members of the racist football fan club known as La Familia – attacked Arab shops and assaulted drivers who they pulled from their cars in Bat Yam, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Lod and many other places. It looks a lot more like civil war than unity.
The rockets from Gaza and the internecine violence within Israel proper – both of which seemed to come as a surprise to the rudderless and self-absorbed Israeli government – are different phenomena stemming from different experiences. But both are the fruit of over a century of Zionist wishful thinking, self-delusion and appalling decision-making.
Let’s face it, Israel has never had any intention of giving the Palestinians full equality, never mind independence, sovereignty, freedom of movement, control over resources and everything else we associate with democracy and freedom.
From the late-19th century “land without people for a people without a land” fabrication to the fiction of “Jewish labor”, the Oslo hoax, the siege of Gaza since 2005 (implemented under the guise of withdrawal from the territory) and until today’s conflict, Israel has never wavered in its commitment to Jewish rule over the entire territory and all those who live in it.
The 2018 Nation State Law – enacted as a Basic Law in the absence of a constitution – holds that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” It also establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value.” Netanyahu described the law as “a defining moment in the history of the state.”
And then we’re surprised that they fire rockets at us and protest violently in the streets of Israel?
For well over 70 years, the Palestinians have made it clear that they won’t accept Israeli apartheid (yeah, yeah, I know, we don’t make them sit on separate park benches.) Now they have run out of options. They know full well that they cannot counter Israel’s overwhelming military strength, yet they still fight.
Their rockets are the handful of pistols and Molotov cocktails wielded by Mordechai Analewiecz and his brave friends in the face of German machine guns and flame-throwers. They know they can’t win, but they’ll die trying.
Israel is at a crossroads – one it has been denying and avoiding for decades. It has to stop lying; stop deceiving itself. It has to take a long hard look at the reality it has created and figure out whether Jewish supremacy is worth all the bloodshed and loss.
Personally, I can’t see it happening. Israel is too enmeshed in its messianic fantasy world, too convinced by its own myths, to do what is right. The current conflict, however it turns out, is no more than a harbinger of worse to come.