Israelis and Palestinians Need Outside Help

Any attempt to understand the current mess in Israel and the Palestinian territories requires the ability to hold at least three seemingly incompatible concepts in one’s head. All at the same time.

Much of the world, regrettably, appears to have lost the mental flexibility necessary for complex thinking. That is probably due to the culling effect of social media on human cognition and the spread of the pernicious identity theology from colleges into the wider society. Sheer exhaustion with the never-ending conflict also plays a part.

Whatever the causes, ossified thinking and a lack of historical awareness have left most people incapable of formulating coherent responses to the slaughter in and around Gaza. That is as true of the Israeli generals running the show and their senior Hamas opponents as it is of the protestors from both sides on the streets of London and New York.

These are the three requisite concepts:

One, the Hamas massacre and mutilation of civilians on October 7 was barbaric and demented.

Two, the Hamas attack, however dreadful, was the bastard offspring of two generations (if not more) of occupation, abuse, humiliation and dehumanization.

Three, the Israeli retaliation against the civilian population of Gaza may have been less personal than the Hamas atrocities, but it was no less savage and depraved. Both sides have committed obvious and appalling war crimes.

If there is room left in your head for a fourth, critical concept, it is this: generations of intractable warfare and fear have left the populations of both sides with severe psychological damage. Both as individuals and members of collectives, each with its own dominant ethos, Israelis and Palestinians are today incapable of thinking rationally.

It’s worth remembering that in 2005 The International Journal of Psychiatry published a study into the trauma suffered by different populations under war conditions. The most traumatized of all, according to the study, were the children of Gaza – and this was before Hamas even took over the territory.

Israelis ask themselves where the rage of the Hamas murderers came from. It came from that trauma; from decades of suppression and torment. No-one should be surprised. And pointing out this trauma and its sources should not be regarded – as it usually is in both Israel and the Jewish diaspora – as justification of the Hamas massacre.

It is nothing of the sort.

None of the four points listed above exists in isolation. They’re like the co-dependent pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, each of which needs the other to make sense. Without every piece, the picture is incomplete.

There are, of course, other realities that add detail to the picture, such as the Netanyahu government’s disastrous decision to bet on Hamas while driving a wedge between the Palestinian factions. And the sheer corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority, which is happy to act as Israel’s security subcontractor in the West Bank.

Not to mention Israel’s burgeoning messianic right-wing, which has been taking advantage of the chaos in Gaza to launch its own ethnic cleansing project in the West Bank. And the jihadist political theology of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which makes it very difficult for others to view them as legitimate freedom fighters.

There are several conclusions to be drawn from the current cock-up, the most important of which, in my view, is the fact that Israelis have been living in lala land since 1967, if not before. Israeli pundit Eliezer Ya’ari put it like this (my translation from the Hebrew):

“For the past generation the leader of the state of Israel has been a political Bernie Madoff. The Israeli Ponzi Scheme has been based on selling a continuous illusion of dizzying success – and that in defiance of all the statistics and odds. Investors were promised never-ending returns – economic, technological, political and military – when, at the core of the business, was a grim reality of growing corruption, the destruction of the public service, never-ending control over the Palestinian people and the forceful suppression of their desires.”

I have not seen it put better, though I would take issue with Ya’ari on when the Israeli Ponzi Scheme began. He attributes it to Netanyahu. I would date its inception to before the founding of the state in 1948, though there is no doubt that it reached its apogee during the Netanyahu era.

Until October 7, Israelis were highly satisfied with the supposed security and the material returns they were enjoying from the Ponzi Scheme – Israel came ninth in the 2023 Happiest Countries in the World survey – and didn’t bother to give a thought to those under brutal military rule only a couple of kilometres down the road.

They didn’t want to know and most of them truly didn’t know – and still don’t. Like people everywhere, Israelis have precious little historical awareness. Lulled into an ahistorical stupor by Zionist myths and propaganda, Israelis were truly surprised that some Palestinians hated them enough to kill, rape and mutilate them.

They shouldn’t have been.

There’s a lot going on right now – the latest speculation is that Israel is considering the expulsion of senior Hamas figures from Gaza, à la the relocation of Yasser Arafat and his colleagues from Beirut in 1982 – and the state of mind of Israelis on the eve of October 7 might seem like a side issue.

It isn’t. Israel remains a democracy of sorts, despite Netanyahu’s concerted attempts to destroy what’s left of the country’s democratic institutions, and the voters will eventually decide what path the country takes.

To be clear: unless the occupation ends, without ifs, buts and nit-picking Talmudic exegesis, the bloodshed is going to continue. The events of October – both the dreadful Hamas massacre and the even more dreadful bombing of thousands of Palestinian civilians – will repeat themselves again and again and again. Just look at the history.

As of now, far too few Israelis – among them all the country’s leaders – are troubled by the iniquity of the occupation to vote for the radical change that is needed. They are also too traumatized to do the right thing – as are the Palestinians. Each community is damaged in its own way.

Change, it is clear, is not going to come from either side to the conflict.

Which means that the countries which see value in a peaceful Middle East – primarily the United States – need to pick up the slack. What is needed is tough love. Not Biden’s undying Zionism coupled with carrots and sticks behind closed doors, but a serious reality check.

Only when Israelis understand that both actions and inaction have consequences – such as trade embargoes, travel bans, disinvestment and overall alienation from the West – will they grudgingly wake up to reality and finally do the right thing.

I am not a medical professional but it seems to me that self-care is not sufficient to heal serious illnesses. Israelis and Palestinians are very sick; they need outside help.





3 replies on “Israelis and Palestinians Need Outside Help”

That there is historical context seems to me to be so obvious as to be kindof silly to bring up. But I am, apparently, just a self-hating woke anti-Semite… so what do I know?

One of the problems today is that western leaders are weak and have no backbone. I am reminded of Sunak telling Netanyahu “I hope you win”. Does “winning” mean the slaughter of another 15000 innocent civilians?

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