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Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?

Bat-Hen Epstein Elias’s long article on Iranian Jews is interesting. Parts of it, in fact, are heartwarming. Yet, despite the lack of any serious evidence, the story is entirely framed in the language of fear.

Entitled, “All the Jews there live in fear that their telephones are tapped,” the story in ‘Israel Hayom’ peddles the idea that, although Iranian Jews seem generally content with their lives in Iran as an economically-privileged group, somehow, they are still afraid.

Or, perhaps, Israel needs them to be afraid, despite the fact that the Iranian Jews interviewed in the article expressed little or no fear sentiment at all.

One such character is ‘M’, who, like others asserted: “I never felt like I was being attacked because I was Jewish, or that my religious freedom was harmed.”

His narrative seems positive, if not altogether an encouraging model for co-existence.

For example, ‘M’ said: “I have a good friend, a Muslim, who takes care of me. He takes me to the doctor, and even to the movies and the park, and invites me for meals. Everyone is very good to me and helps me. Before I got sick, I had a lot of money. Medications in Iran are good, a little expensive, but they can be obtained with private insurance and government insurance.”

But then, the fear component is purposely pushed by the Israeli journalist with no clear editorial justification.

Referring to ‘M’, Elias wrote, “Like others, (‘M’) is careful when it comes to talking about the political situation, the nuclear program or the fear of an attack.”

Aside from the fact that Israel Hayom serves, along with other Israeli media, as a major platform for fear-mongering, the need to be afraid is a collective phenomenon in Israel, which it insists on imposing on Jewish communities around the world.

One could in fact argue that ‘fear’ in Israel is an official industry. It helps the government justify its military spending; it helps the military justify its wars; and it further cements the rise of rightwing, religious and ultra-nationalist parties, which now together, rule Israel.

In some way, this is an old, yet ongoing story.

When Israel was established in 1948, it called on all Jews to ‘return’ to the Jewish state, for they, allegedly, could not be safe anywhere else. While many Jewish immigrants throughout the years came to Israel seeking economic opportunities, many were compelled by fear.

That mindset has not changed at all. When militants staged several attacks in Paris in January 2015, Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called on all French Jews to migrate to Israel.

“We say to the Jews, to our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home and that of every Jew. Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” Netanyahu said.

The statement was strongly criticized by French officials. Many were befuddled by such opportunism during one of France’s most difficult moments in many years.

But for Netanyahu, as for past and present Israeli leaders, inciting or capitalizing on Jewish fears is nothing new.

However, peddling fear is now far more sophisticated, and is deeply embedded in the relationship between the state and Israel’s Jewish population. It has been so internalized to the extent that Israel is incapable of seeing the legitimate fears of the Palestinians and is only obsessed with its own self-induced fears.

A particularly telling story was reported in Israeli media earlier this month when Israeli police officers gave a group of elementary school children a demonstration on “how to kill a Palestinian assailant and verify that he is dead.”

True, the event which took place in Ramat HaSharon on May 8 was not welcomed by all parents, but it was, nonetheless, an example of the training in fear that takes place at a very young age.

Commenting on the story, Jonathan Cook wrote, “Half of Jewish schoolchildren believe these Palestinians, one in five of the population, should not be allowed to vote in elections.”

This, then, is the desired outcome of such methodology, which is constantly fed by the state. Cook adds, “This month the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called the minority’s representatives in parliament ‘Nazis’ and suggested they should share a similar fate.”

The use of the word ‘Nazis’ is not merely a widely inaccurate depiction, but such terminology is designed to constantly stir past fears to achieve racially-motivated political objectives.

Yes, Israelis are manipulated to be very afraid. But unlike occupied and oppressed Palestinians, the Israeli fear is self-induced, an outcome of an inherent sense of collective insecurity that is constantly fed by the government, political parties and official institutions.

Despite Israel’s massive military budget, nuclear arms and territorial expansion at the expense of Palestinians and other Arab neighbors, the sense of insecurity it engenders keeps on growing at the same rapid speed as its military adventures.

It is a vicious cycle.

When Netanyahu, for example, drew a red line in a graphic of a bomb during a speech at a United Nations General Assembly session in September 2012, he was, in essence drawing a new parameter of fear for his own society.

Yoav Litvin, a US-based Israeli doctor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, wrote convincingly on the subject.

His article entitled, “Independence on Nakba Day – Accountability and Healing as an Israeli Aggressor,” critiques the Zionist narrative, explaining how such deeply entrenched ideas of eternal victimization has led to Israel’s current state of permanent aggression and highly militarized society.

“We see that perspective represented by a long line of pro-aggression, exclusivist, expansionist and militaristic Israeli governments that instill and potentiate fear in order to control public opinion and facilitate their political and economic goals,” he wrote.

“In so doing, the Jewish victim narrative, a form of collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sustains the level of aggression and oppression that is a part of daily life in the reality of occupation.”

Writing in the ‘Haaretz’, Daniel Bar-Tal conveys a similar sentiment. However, for Bar-Tal, the Zionist narrative is itself designed, in part, to accommodate existing beliefs pertaining to a collective Jewish experience.

Bar-Tal rites, “Societal beliefs, vis-à-vis security, in Israel are based on past experience and on information disseminated via various channels and institutions, whether with regard to the conflict with the Palestinians or to relations with other actors in the region.” But equally important, “every member of society is also exposed to the collective memory of the Jewish people, by means of social, educational and cultural institutions.”

The Zionist narrative has purposely molded ‘past experiences’ into new political objectives and an expansionist ideology to harness the perpetual support of the Jewish people, in Israel and elsewhere. It has convinced them that their very survival is dependent on the subjugation of Palestinians.

This vicious cycle has, thus, become an obstacle to any peace that is predicated on justice and respect for international law and human rights.

The Zionist narrative, as championed by Netanyahu and Lieberman has zero margins for inclusiveness, and for that ideology to be maintained, fear in Israel must be infused.

However, the stronghold of fear must be broken.

Litvin courageously writes: “We, as Israelis, must break the parasitic bond that Zionist propaganda has created between the Israeli/Zionist collective narrative (the state) and ourselves so that dissent becomes both legitimate and even patriotic as a means of building an inclusive and just society in Israel/Palestine.”

In fact, there can be no other way.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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