The latest disgraceful Israeli attack at a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians is one more indication of Israel’s lack of moral compunction in the killing of innocent civilians, particularly children. At least six UN schools and shelters have been attacked, and more than 140 Palestinian schools have been struck in a campaign to terrorize the people of Gaza.
The many Israeli wars against the Palestinians and their aftermath in recent years have demonstrated Israel’s ease in destroying homes and olive groves, but the increased killing of children raises serious questions about the absence of any moral compass among Israeli leaders, both civilian and military leaders. It is long past time to address Israel’s mindset.
There is no question that the Holocaust plays a direct role in Israel’s emphasis on self-defense and self-reliance. The Holocaust is a regular reminder of the evil acts carried out against European Jewry and that no nation and no group of leaders can be counted on to help or to challenge such evil. The Palestinians, of course, had nothing to do with these events during World War II, but the Israelis have conflated the German threat to European Jews into the challenge from their Arab neighbors, including the stateless Palestinians.
The Holocaust has given the Israelis a siege mentality that includes the need for an “iron wall” between themselves and the Arabs. The wall that meanders today through the West Bank is a key part of that mentality. Despite their overwhelming military superiority in the Middle East, the siege mentality remains supreme and prevents any sign of compromise or conciliation that the Israelis believe the Arabs would view as a sign of weakness. This mentality has produced an extreme intransigence, and there is no better example of this intransigence than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In comparing the Israelis and the Palestinians recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed to a “deep and wide moral abyss” that separates the two sides. According to the Israeli leader, “they sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.” He should try explaining these remarks to the hundreds of Palestinian parents who have lost their children to Israeli rockets and artillery.
There are other elements of Israel’s sanctimony that permit Israeli leaders to pursue military actions that can only be described as immoral and unconscionable. A key factor is the view that Israelis have expressed to me that Moslems kill Moslems regularly, but it is only when Israelis kill Moslems that there is an expression of outrage. A recent email exchange that I had with a very successful Israeli businessman was typical. He referred to the absence of any international concern for the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan; the killings in Syria and Iraq; and the regular attacks in Nigeria. Israelis seem to believe that it is only when they are responsible for the deaths of civilians, which they have convinced themselves to be unavoidable, that there is any international revulsion.
Israelis also believe that continued anti-Semitism in Europe and even the United States justifies the extreme measures that they take against the Palestinians. Israelis who travel regularly will tell you that only Jewish places of worship or education have security, even armed guards, and that no other religious denomination has such concerns. Again, these views appear to rationalize, even justify, the extreme measures that Israelis believe they must pursue against defenseless Palestinians.
Finally, there are those Israelis, such as the current Israeli Ambassador to the United States, who genuinely believe that only Israel exercises restraint and genuine humanity in its pursuit of war against the Palestinians. Ambassador Ron Dermer, who is extremely close to Prime Minister Netanyahu, suggested last week that the Israeli Defense Forces should be given a Nobel Peace Prize for its use of “knock on the roof” warning shots before they destroy homes that often house numerous members of extended families that are simply seeking shelter.
Israelis don’t believe that they can have a “rational dialogue” with the Palestinians, and they don’t even want to pursue a rational dialogue with their only ally in the international community–the United States. Unlike the European states, where there is increased opposition to Israeli intransigence and militancy, the United States has shown great forbearance toward Israel, repeatedly proclaiming that the Israelis have a right to defend themselves. As a result, Israeli excesses have been largely ignored, and the few steps that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made to arrange a dialogue have been dismissed or ridiculed.
The United States doesn’t even challenge the obnoxious personal attacks on its leaders by Israeli officials. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called Secretary of State Kerry “obsessive and messianic” in pursuit of a peace agreement. Israeli intelligence chief Yuval Steinitz called the secretary’s comments “offensive, unfair, and insufferable.”
The sad fact is that American presidents have for the most part given Israel carte blanche to pursue heavy-handed actions against Lebanon, the West Bank, and particularly Gaza, which has been correctly described by the British Prime Minister as an “outdoor prison.” Occasionally, Republican presidents such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, and Richard Nixon have applied some pressure on Israel that mollified its policies, but Democratic presidents have been largely unwilling to do so. It is long past time for the United States to demonstrate openly and emphatically its revulsion over obvious Israeli war crimes and to end U.S. military and economic aid that makes it so easy for Israel to pursue its cynical policies.
Melvin A. Goodman (and Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl) are the co-authors of “The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze” (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997). Goodman is also the author of National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013).