What For?

I have an old aunt in Lithuania. During her lifetime she has lived under four regimes, and has seen it all. She is a fountain of wisdom.

Once I asked her: Why did Russians wage war on Chechnia? They let go of much richer republics–Ukraine, Georgia. What is so important about Chechnia?

The usual answer which you get from citizens of the former USSR is a speech on the “strategic importance” of the Caucasian mountains. But not from my aunt. She said “Vitochka, haven’t you read Tolstoy? Fighting Chechens is a long standing Russian tradition!”

Recently, and for similar reasons, my country Israel chose to forgo a historic opportunity for peace with the Palestinians. The Palestinian President Abbas was willing to make a compromise, based on reasonable principles. Moreover, at the beginning of his term, Abbas enjoyed the broad support of the Palestinian public. Yet my country chose instead a policy of making life of every Palestinian a living hell. People are being subjected daily to preposterous and sadistic harassment, which will eventually bring on us, in the words of Amira Hass, “a tsunami of hatred”. What for? The Occupation already costs us poverty, unemployment, plunging education levels, unsolved ecological problems, and more.

Sometimes my country seems to be overtaken by suicidal frenzy. For example, recently, naked Palestinian prisoners were paraded in front of TV cameras in Jericho. This act cannot possibly bring any military advantage to the State of Israel. It can only make us hated by millions of Muslims all over the world. However, this act was carried out to enhance the popularity of the mainstream Kadima party before the elections. Have mainstream Israelis gone mad?

But, as detective Hercule Poirot wisely said, calling people mad is uninformative. Apparently insane people are usually quite logical, if you take into account their peculiar basic premises. Thus, as a key to understanding their behavior, one needs to comprehend their basic point of view. In my opinion, it all begins with “a long standing Zionist tradition”. That tradition is based on two main premises:

(a) Israeli Jews are a peace-loving people. In recent times, they have been regretfully forced to fight for their very existence, with the help of a moral and heroic army.

(b) Palestinian Arabs are a natural born threat to the existence of Israel, and thus a pest to get rid of, from Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea. Nothing Palestinian leaders may say or do should alter this point of view, since (in the words of Sharon) “Arabs are not to be trusted”.

The two premises do not seem quite consistent with each other, however, the Israeli public is equally addicted to both of them. These are two distinct addictions, practiced in two different ways. The first is practiced openly and vehemently–this is what patriotic mainstream Israelis feel obliged to say. The second, equally strong, corresponds to what is being done on the ground by the State of Israel; however saying it loudly is still considered “bad taste”. This is why settlers are not very popular, while Sharon, with his speeches on ending the Occupation, and concurrent entrenchment of the apartheid system in the West Bank, was very popular and respected.

However, you may object, recent elections brought to power Kadima, a party which renounced Greater Israel. The election campaign maps issued by Kadima [1] indicate as a target annexation of large chunks of the West Bank, but by far not most of it. The same can be said of programs of other parties, which are likely to participate in the forthcoming government, including the party of Avigdor Lieberman, a resident of a West Bank settlement [1].

However the different party maps have nothing to do with reality, a fact well known to the people who drafted them. The maps were produced to feed addiction (a) of the populace. This is virtual reality. The actual reality on the ground has been created continuously, consistently and deliberately, since 1967, by all Israeli governments, Labor, Likud and Kadima. The present status is reflected by a different map, published recently by Haaretz, and entitled “More than a third of the West Bank–out of reach for Palestinians” [2]. A similar map was published by Le Monde [3]. The eastern part of the West Bank is, for all practical purposes, appropriated by the State of Israel, and the snaking Annexation Wall in the west slices off additional prime real estate. In between, the map is pockmarked by Israeli settlements, and criss-crossed by settler roads. One glance at the map indicates the true objective–colonization and annexation of the entire West Bank. In this context, let me quote Ariel Sharon, circa 1973: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them [Palestinians].. we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.” [4].

But, you may argue, this was Sharon in 1973. Sharon circa 2005 was an entirely different person, and so is Olmert. After all, Israel did remove the Gaza Strip settlements, and disengaged from Gaza. And Olmert speaks of disengaging from further occupied lands in the West Bank, and removing some 50,000 settlers. To answer that, let me recall the course of events in Gaza, and their outcome. I believe that something similar is in progress in the West Bank.

Before the second Intifada, during the Oslo years, Gaza did not constitute any obvious danger to the State of Israel. Gaza was fenced off along the international borders. Palestinian Authority maintained law and order, and very few terrorists arrived from there to Israel. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the Intifada, Israel embarked on systematic destruction of the Strip. Once every a few weeks, a different part of this densely populated area was invaded by the Israeli army. The inhabitants were subjected to days of terror, with no place to run or hide. Roads, bridges, infrastructure and factories were demolished during the invasions. (Aren’t all Palestinian factories producing bombs? Aren’t all Palestinian towns “nests of terror”?) At the same time, more than half of Gaza`s fields and orchards have been destroyed. In the Rafah refugee camp, large scale house demolitions took place, and thousands of people became homeless. Take a look at the photographs of the ruins [5] – how does smuggling of some rifles through tunnels justify this extent of destruction by the best-armed country in the Middle East?

All of the above was done in the name of Israel’s state security. The wholly predictable results were obviously detrimental to the state security, and included destruction of law-and-order in the Strip, rise of extremism, desperation, armed bands of people roaming the streets, and uncontrollable Qassam rockets falling across the border. The State of Israel then proceeded to remove 8000 Gaza settlers, with great media fanfare. Since then, the Qassams have continued to fall, and Gaza continues to be starved and demolished. The Israeli military leaders are drooling for a large scale invasion of Gaza [6]. As the Israeli parlance goes–“whatever is not moved by force, will be moved by more force” (“ma she-lo holekh b’koah, holekh be’od yoter koah”). This is another long standing, and thus immovable, “Israeli tradition”.

A similar approach has been pursued in the West Bank, with the one major difference – here real estate is a prime target, in addition to the destruction of Palestinians. Internal expulsion of Palestinians to fenced-off enclaves is promoted. Gradual but systematic destruction of these enclaves is carried out by military invasions and economic strangulation. Concurrently, massive investment is made in the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure. To confuse the public, mirages of future settlement removal are being projected by the politicians. Occasionally, as a response to internal and US pressure, minor settlements are being removed with a great media show. Please note that Olmert speaks of removing 50,000 settlers, while at present there are some 430,000 settlers beyond the Green Line, including Jerusalem. Their number has been rising continuously [7].

It is clear that massive violence is brewing–a totally predictable outcome of the above policies. These policies do not make any sense to somebody who, like myself, believes that Israel’s state security requires establishing peaceful coexistence with Palestinians. Destroying the lives of millions of people, and bringing them to desperation, cannot possibly bring us security. However, the basic premise of the Israeli officialdom is quite different. For them, Palestinians are not people to coexist with, but a natural-born threat and pest. You do not negotiate or coexist with pests. You spray them with pesticide whenever an occasion comes. This is a brief summary of the ethos of the Israeli establishment, the way I see it.

Now what about the average Israeli? Most of them are not blood-thirsty, many are nice people. Nevertheless, they do as they are told. Their children man checkpoints, carry out invasions, provide military cover for most extremist of settlers. Subsidized housing beyond the Green Line is populated by mainstream people, not only extremists. Most of the Israeli public is quite unaware of the true objectives of these policies, drugged to oblivion by propaganda mantras on security needs. Everything is covered by “security needs”: The Wall that cuts off the best land from its Palestinian owners is explained by security needs; shooting children, security needs, enclaves, security needs, harassment and humiliation at checkpoints deep inside the West Bank, security needs, sending people with agricultural products impossibly long way so that product marketing becomes impossible – security needs, and so on. The notion that Palestinians should be treated with any decency is out of fashion. Racism has become so entrenched that any form of collective punishment of innocent people is justified in the eyes of the Israeli public. The daily horror in the Occupied Territories is called by Israelis the “fight against terror”, or, by the better lot, “a tragedy”. Rarely–“robbery in broad daylight”.

Mainstream Israelis are not any different from any other people, at any other time and place at which colonial or racist villainy came to power. The French were convinced that Algeria is an integral part of France. The Brits proudly took up the “White Man`s burden” “to serve their captives need” in India and elsewhere [8]. For a long time, most of white South Africans justified apartheid. And recently, when President Bush chose to attack Iraq, most US citizens imagined themselves as knights-in-shining-armor, about to bring democracy and freedom to the Iraqis. “Long standing national traditions” of occupiers are rooted out only with great difficulty.

VICTORIA BUCH is an Israeli academic and anti-occupation activist. She is available at vvbb54@yahoo.com


[1] Le Monde, 27.3.06 The map with accompanying text translated to English by A. Milet: http://www.kibush.co.il/downloads/trans1.doc

[2] Haaretz, 24.03.06. A scanned copy can be found at http://www.kibush.co.il/downloads/MAP.jpg.

[3] Le Monde 27.3.06 (published before Israeli elections) The map with accompanying text translated to English, by A. Milet: http://www.kibush.co.il/downloads/LeMondeMap.doc

[4] From George S. Hishmeh, Special to The Daily Star, July 18, 2002: “Winston S. Churchill III, grandson of the famed British prime minister, recalled last October at the National Press Club here a telling encounter he had had in 1973 with the hawkish Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli prime minister, about Zionist objectives. “What is to become of the Palestinians?” Churchill asked. “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them,” Sharon said. Churchill responded, “What?” “Yes, we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

[5] See photos by Dinarzhade, Feb. 2005 at http://www.kibush.co.il/downloads/gaza1.pdf

[6] Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot Saturday Supplement, 14 April 2006. English translation by M. Marshall http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=13341

[7] Nadav Shragai, Haaretz, 7.2.06; IMEMC, 8.2.06; the pertinent articles can be found at www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=11956; www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=11992 See also the excellent Settlements section of the Peace Now website http://www.peacenow.org.il/

[8] The White Man`s Burden By Rudyard Kipling, McClure`s Magazine 12 (Feb. 1899); see www.boondocksnet.com/ai/kipling/kipling.html for the full text of the poem.