Despite the fallout from the State Comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza war, we must remember that the violent atmosphere it created was a boon for an Israeli Right that fosters nationalism, racism and persecution of the Left.
By Alon Mizrahi
1. Throughout my life, I have witnessed Israel take part in a long list of military operations and wars. I have also seen a great deal of terrorism. There was the First Lebanon War, the First Intifada, the Gulf War, the Oslo Accords, the Second Intifada, Operation Defensive Shield, Operation Cast Lead, and Operation Pillar of Defense. Like every Israeli, I was raised in an atmosphere in which war could break out any moment — and, in fact, that happened fairly often.
But never in my life has my society frightened me as it did in the days of Operation Protective Edge. Even today, every time I recall that period, that familiar feeling of dread comes back. The thirst for revenge and the mass funerals, the desire by top government officials for more blood and killing, the violence in the streets, an apocalyptic feeling on social media. The call by Jews to take the law into their own hands and begin the slaughter.
It was that summer I understood that what I had believed my whole life — that we are the good guys who never choose to go to war if we can avoid it — is a lie. According to the conclusions of the recent State Comptroller’s report on the government’s handling of the war (which affirmed what many Israelis already knew), this war could have been prevented. Israel, however, chose differently.
2. Protective Edge was pure political profit for the Right. Internet-based search and destroy units formed against leftists. The calls to commit a Holocaust against leftists and annihilate Gaza suddenly became legitimate. The crazed, racist demon that lies deep within every society everywhere, yet is censored and balanced out by a large dose of top-down restraint in every culture that cherishes life, was given center stage. We have yet to put that genie back in the bottle.
Netanyahu won big following that war. Remember that.
The trick: Small wars
3. Terrifying as it may be, the Israeli Right has no political interest in preventing small wars at particular times. Right-wing propaganda, which told us that we were on the brink of a Holocaust and that there is no alternative to war, could not provide a better public atmosphere for an “operation” in which soldiers die, civilians live in fear, and Arabs are killed in the thousands as their homes are destroyed. This is the Right’s political sweet spot: arguments for war are made forcefully, and any opposition is — of course — considered treason against the homeland, God, and the nation.
Perhaps we do not give enough thought to the fact that the absence of peace is in the political interest of the Right. The Right, after all, is nourished by panic and an atmosphere of “no alternative.” Peace and reconciliation contradict its core principles.
The sobering effect of larger wars means that they pose a danger to the Right. Aside from the mass casualties, any unnecessary burdens are liable to be thrown overboard — such as French colonialism in Algeria, the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and — potentially — Israel’s occupation of every inch of the West Bank.
Small wars. That’s the trick to maintaining a national spirit that insists on its own stupidity. So perhaps we should not be surprised when Education Minister Naftali Bennett predicts that we are headed toward another war this spring. The last one created a culture that legitimized the persecution of leftists, reminiscent of the most egregious, fascist regimes on earth. Who knows what the next war will bring.
4. We cannot forget the general context. Operation Protective Edge began after Hamas fired rockets at Israel in response to Operation Brother’s Keeper, in which Israel sent thousands of soldiers into the West Bank in order to ostensibly search for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, but carried out what was undoubtedly collective punishment on Palestinian society in the occupied territories. A number of Palestinians were killed in demonstrations against Operation Brother’s Keeper, which included raids and arbitrary arrests, some of them likely planned in advance and which had nothing whatsoever to do with the kidnapping.
The Israeli leadership wanted to create a facade of a brutal operation and revenge, perhaps because this is what its right-wing voters were expecting (which is always politically profitable, remember that). Or as Uzi Benziman wrote in Israeli media watchdog The Seventh Eye:
As opposed to its stated goals of managing the crisis responsibly, the country’s leadership has been exposed — through its public declarations — as being knocked off balance by the reality on the ground. And if the practical results are depressing (the three boys have yet to be found, as have their captors), they are a by-product of a harsh objective reality full of obstacles. After all, the problematic consequences for our image are the result of the words and deeds of state leaders and their spokespeople.
Israel was dragged into Protective Edge after completely ignoring political alternatives, and all while deploying great amounts of violence without any forward-looking plan. It is necessary to understand the background for the war, the strategic backdrop that made calls for revenge possible, and the terrifying violence that we saw among the Israeli public, on social media, and in reality, which hit a fever pitch with the burning of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. None of this can be chalked up to fate. It’s not simply part of life here, as the Right likes to claim.
We must remember how Protective Edge began: with a violent campaign in the West Bank, where Palestinians live without political rights under the control of a state that has ruled over then for 50 years. In effect, Israel is telling them that it will never grant them their independence.
Protective Edge began with the monstrous kidnapping and murder of three innocent teenagers, sons of families who were sent to live in the West Bank with the explicit goal of preventing the Palestinians from gaining independence. It continued with rockets from Gaza and another military operation in the besieged enclave, which came following decades of a violent military regime (a regime that I had a small role in). The oppression stems from the same original sin: the desire for geographical expansion while entirely ignoring the local population.
Ending the settlement addiction
It is madness, of course, to keep millions of people in this condition and live among them in villas. And yet Israel stubbornly insists on sending families to dispose of Palestinians and erase their existence in the West Bank.
This kind of enterprise cannot exist without real violence from both sides, and it comes from the Palestinian side because no people on earth would agree to be treated the way Israel treats the Palestinians. Yet the occupation and settlement expansion cannot continue without actively refueling hatred and existential fear among Israelis. In order to allow our government and the settler movement to continue settling the West Bank, we must hate Arabs to the point that we completely dehumanize them and fear them enough to justify every action against them.
In this sense Operation Protective Edge is the perfect embodiment of the rightwing-settler worldview. It does away with the question marks vis-à-vis Palestinian humanity, rendering unnecessary any discussion on their future as a free people, or of their present as human beings deserving of respect. Moreover, it unites the Right’s rank and file in an even more intense struggle against the Left, creating heroic tales that will spur future generations to enlist in the IDF without hesitation. For the Right, there is nothing more perfect than that.
But every political camp in Israel that is not willing to dedicate all of the country’s resources to the settlement enterprise — with all of its catastrophic consequences — needs to decide, finally, that this situation must come to an end.
With Netanyahu’s political career drawing to a close, which will inevitably weaken the settlers’ grasp on Israel’s corridors of power, every non-settler political actor needs to make the important and fateful decision that Bennett’s Jewish Home party must not be part of any future coalition. The damage done to Israel’s spirit and norms after seven years of a coalition with Bennett may still be repaired, but only if Israel decides to put an end to its settlement addiction and come to the conclusion — without which there will never be peace internally or externally — that the Palestinians are part and parcel of this land, and that they are entitled to a life of dignity and equality.
Either that, or we can prepare to deepen the internal fascism and violence, we can prepare to turn the IDF into a Falangist militia, we can prepare to destroy our relationship with Jewish communities worldwide, and we can prepare for many more front pages of newspapers full of young, smiling Israelis. And dead ones, too.
Alon Mizrahi is a writer and a blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.