Few people are instinctively cruel and sadistic, so we need to look elsewhere for an explanation. We believe the answer lies in two factors:
- a dominant belief system that renders many (possibly a majority of) Israelis insensitive to the impact of their actions, and;
- western hypocrisy and complicity.
We now discuss each of these in turn.
As regards belief systems
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, says Israelis believe they are religiously entitled to the whole of the historic Palestine, and want to dominate the land by a system of apartheid, “forever suppressing what is soon to be the majority”.
The roots of this belief system go back to the birth of the Zionist movement, at the turn of the 20th century, a period when Jews had been suffering under the Russian pogroms, and Europeans were prepared to displace native peoples in the interests of colonial expansion. Israeli leaders have managed to perpetuate this thinking into the 21st Century, by telling their people that they are permanently under genocidal threat, a highly questionable claim given current realities, including attitudinal changes in the outside world and the fact that Israel is a heavily armed (indeed nuclear) power enjoying massive international support.
The writer Robert Cohen is unambiguous in attributing the problem to Zionist doctrine, which he says Jews need to ditch, even in its “liberal” variant. Zionism was conceived at the end of the 19th century, and sought to allow Jews to break free from centuries of oppression and discrimination, to find safety and security and to lead a normal life in a place that could be called ‘home’.
In practice however, it had created a brand new set of questions:
- What happens when the Jewish people become colonisers?
- What happens when we create a State that constitutionally discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens (the Knesset has just disqualified a bill seeking equal status)?
- What happens when we become occupiers?
- What happens when we besiege and annex another people’s land?
Zionism was originally a secular doctrine, but had ‘merged’ with Judaism, such that it is now understood as the natural heir to three thousand years of Jewish religion, history and culture. However events like the Nakba, the Occupation and the siege of Gaza had tainted Judaism with a colonial project and compromised its ethical tradition. In view of all this, Cohen thinks Israel should stop being an ideology and start being a nation of all of all its citizens, with equal national, civil and religious rights.
There is much potential for positive change, and this is underlined by Richard Forer, formerly a staunch defender of Israel, but now author of “Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”
He tells us how learning a more accurate history of Israel-Palestine has helped him relinquish his enemy images and relieved him of one-sided beliefs that blinded him to the humanity of the other.
Glenn Greenwald, Robert Cohen, Richard Forer, and many Jewish people illustrate a growing awareness of the need to revisit and reform the belief systems that drive Israel forward, but they face a massive propaganda machine that has most Israelis and sympathisers in its thrall. Under such circumstances, the responsibility for solving the problem lies primarily with the international community, particularly the UK, which is responsible for creating Israel and empowering it in its current form, and has failed in its “sacred trust” towards the Palestinians.
As regards the western countries
Greenwald decries the hypocrisy in their approach to the Middle-East, on the one hand urging “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq, Libya, Syria etc., while at same time arming Israel, sending it money and intelligence, providing diplomatic cover and treating the Gazans simply as agents of Hamas. This makes our Governments complicit in everything that Israel is doing to the Palestinians, including the violent suppression of non-violent protest.
The largest single act of complicity is President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv. It has greatly heightened Israel’s sense of impunity, and dashed any remaining hopes among Palestinians that they might win some concessions with US support. More recently, the USA vetoed a Kuwait-sponsored statement at the UN Security Council that called for international protection of Palestinians. It also brought its own motion condemning Hamas for escalating the violence, but was the only country to vote in favour.
Hypocrisy and complicity are also evident in Britain’s approach, which SNP Friends of Palestine recently described on Facebook in the following terms: “the UK government happily sells the arms to Israel (sales are at a record level) and then makes a show of helping provide treatment to some of the victims, maimed by the very weapons they sold. BUT the same UK Government abstains on a vote by the UN Commission for Human Rights UNCHR to investigate possible Israeli War Crimes… and then, votes AGAINST sending a World Health Organization (WHO) fact-finding mission to Gaza”.