Over the last week, pedestrians and drivers in Tel Aviv caught a glimpse of an especially disturbing billboard that had been posted across the city. The billboard, erected by the far-right group, Israeli Victory Project, showed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blindfolded and on their knees on a backdrop of destruction. The caption read: “Peace is only made with defeated enemies.”
By Sunday morning, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had ordered the billboards taken down, saying the images “incited the kind of violence reminiscent of ISIS and the Nazis.” But what was actually disturbing about the billboard was not the incitement. Israel does not need cheerleaders when it comes to the violence it metes out against the Palestinian people. What is particularly nauseating is the way in which the billboard lays out for all to see the darkest, sickest aspects of Israel’s collective gaze vis-à-vis our neighbors.
Firstly, the text itself. “Peace is only made with defeated enemies.” Anyone who hopes to bring his enemy to his knees (and blindfolded, no less) has no interest in a peace deal — he is solely interested in submission. That is the bitter truth at the heart of all the “peace talks” and negotiations with the Palestinians: Israel wants to bring Palestinians to their knees and force them to accept disgraceful deals of defeat, all while thanking the Israelis for the “painful concessions” we have been forced to bear.
That Abbas is seen raising his hand in defeat, like something out of an execution scene, reveals yet another truth: Israel has never truly distinguished between the various Palestinian political streams or their approach to the Israeli occupation. To Israel, there is no real distinction between the leader of a movement that believes in armed struggle and one who ensures the continuation of security coordination with Israel in order to prevent buses from blowing up in the heart of Israeli cities.
The truth is that everyone must be brought to their knees. All must submit.
After 50 years of brutal military occupation and over 70 years of oppression, what is the significance of the defeat that the Israeli Victory Project believes Israel must aspire to? The total destruction in the background provides the hint. Defeat means the Palestinian people must wallow in death and decimation while the “most moral fighter jets” in the world circle above them. This, according to the sign, is Israel’s strategic goal. And if this is the goal, then the valley of death that Israel has established in Gaza is a resounding success.
And yet the Palestinian people refuse to submit and continue to fight for their liberation. At what point, then, does Israel decide that the Palestinians have been defeated enough to “make peace?” And how does one achieve this final, absolute defeat? Is it through the ongoing murder of unarmed protesters near the Gaza fence? By continuing the policy of home demolitions? By accelerating ethnic cleansing in the West Bank? By multiplying the number of Palestinians in administrative detention? By continuing to destroy the Palestinian economy? How many more Palestinian children have to sit in Israeli prisons — some without trial — so that Israel can officially announce the defeat of the Palestinian people? How many more Palestinian children must lose their eyes for us to bask in the defeat of the enemy?
When absolute defeat is the goal, all means are justified. This was precisely what settler leader Uri Elizur had in mind when he wrote his now infamous article — in which he essentially advocated the genocide of the Palestinian people — and which Ayelet Shaked, who was only months away from being appointed Justice Minister, shared on her Facebook page in 2014:
The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people… What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy. A declaration of war is not a war crime. Responding with war certainly is not. Nor is the use of the word “war”, nor a clear definition who the enemy is. Au contraire: the morality of war (yes, there is such a thing) is founded on the assumption that there are wars in this world, and that war is not the normal state of things, and that in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.
After we get rid of an entire people — including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure — perhaps then we will conclude that they have been “properly defeated” and we can finally make peace.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.