This was authored during my internship with the Palestine Israel Journal. All views are my own.
The Jerusalem Experience: Fighting for Survival
Most folks I meet are sick of people like me. Sick of the middle-class westerners who arrives on their doorstep thinking they’ve got it all figured out. People who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. We know what equality and freedom look like and when we witness its absence, we are quick to roll out the Apartheid accusations. We know of the concept of proportional response and when we witness its blatant disregard, we are quick to label them barabaric. We can’t understand how Israel doesn’t see their relationship with the Palestinians as we do, as that of the Siamese twins whose individual survival is dependent on the other. We can’t understand how Israel pursues its freedom by trying to rid itself of the face of the other, instead of realising that they can only ever be truly independent and legitimate once the Palestinians are truly independent and legitimate too.
This is the very progressivism that a weary people hear all too often. We tell them that all they have to do is to honour a full right of return, dismantle all settlements, return to the 1967 green line, and give them East Jerusalem as their capital, and lasting peace will be reciprocated. Of course, these are all difficult concessions but unless they are honoured they will simply remain flashpoints for the very resentment that breeds another generation of freedom fighters.
And they say bullshit. Even if they gave them everything they ever wanted and more, there would still remain a toxic element that sees their very presence as the ultimate insult. Far from creating a safe and secure Israel, all they are doing is creating a viable enemy on their doorstep. Just as the town of Sderot has become the landing zone for Qassam Rocket attacks from a ‘free’ Gaza, so will West Jerusalem experience the same house warming present from the newly liberated West Bank – a land where destructive ideology will finally have room to flourish. Many Israelis will say that even though both parties are to blame, the fundamental difference lies in how far each would go if given the opportunity. If the Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Saudi, and Jordanian armies were to disband tomorrow morning, do you really think Israel would use it as an opportunity to extend total dominance over the region? Now turn the tables and imagine if the IDF and America took even a three day hiatus. How do you think Arab nations would respond to such opportunism? More than likely there would be blood flowing in the streets of Tel Aviv with the idea of being driven into the sea becomes an all too fearful reality.
This isn’t a simple case of post-holocaust fear mongering, for they are surronded by enough present day examples. They look to the north at a Hizzbullah who fire rockets blindly onto the suburbs of Haifa with only one intention in mind: Destroy as many Israelis as possible. They remember what it was like to wake up and wonder whether it would be their bus that would be blown up during the Second Intifada. They wonder why they should ever make peace with a people who only fire and hope, making no effort to discriminate between soldiers and civilians or adults and children. So when Ahmajinejad proclaimed at a rally in Tehran: “We ask the West to remove what they created sixty years ago and if they do not listen to our recommendations, then the Palestinian nation and other nations will eventually do this for them,” Israelis tend to take him seriously – and so they should.
So what to do when only supreme vigilance guarntees your survival? Do you maintain the status-quo even though it’s a defacto policy of oppression? Many say that if it is has to be a trade off between their diminished livelihoods and our survival then so be it, one is far more important in the hierarchy of needs. So While 80% of Israelis (and the rest of the world) agree with dismantling the settlements, it is worth remembering they are actually a cornerstone to their survival. They give Israel an opportunity to monitor villages and towns from a panoramic height while preventing their sprawl into conurbations – the logic is clear, keep them small and in bird’s eye view, and you diminish the threat. Now why would anyone relinquish such an ability? Oh, because it’s morally injust and a source of resentment. But the reality is that Israel need not worry about how the Palestinians feel. They only have to concern themselves with preventing the ability to communicate such feelings. And when your are the dominant power, that is easily achievable; from covering protestors in shit, to targeted assasinations. As for morality, it seems to go out the window when you percieve yourself as being backed into a corner..
But apart from the unexpected positive implications, the nuance continues, with Israelis having almost as much to fear from their absence as their presence. Imagine when the times comes to honour a meaningul peace agreement and actually evacuate the settlements. Many of the people who reside there are those who have freely opted to live in a war zone surronded by a majority that hate them. They risk the very concept of a good life for a higher purpose, to fufill their Torah obligations and inhabit the lands of Eretz Yisrael. Consider also that most are legally armed with assault rifles and enough ammunition to keep surronding Arabs at bay. Do you think they will go quietly into the night? Imagine the scenario of teenage conscripted soldiers having to take hill top positions and remove their own people from a land promisd to them by god. Imagine them having to kill and be killed by their own people?? And even if they succeed despite the bloodshed, where will these settlers be relocated? And what is stopping them from launching their own terror campaign against a nation state that has lost all credibility in their zealous eyes? When people envisage peace deals, I wonder do they imagine a tomorrow more sinister than today, where one brand of fundamentalism replaces the other.
And this is why they look upon the outsiders with contempt. Because we can never appreciate the complexities that passions bring to the fray, nor the nature of the enemy they have to deal with. For the enemy they face is not a conventional one (although they have faced those on five occasions), it is one that moves within the people, acts through them, and remains inseprable in identity. I have berated Israelis on their laissez faire attitude toward collateral damage, but when your left in a a catch 22 situation between taking the ‘strategic asset’ and risking the possibility of civilian casualties, or, letting him off to strike another day, what do you do? It’s also worth remembering that this isn’t a situation that Israel invites. By and large, Hamas and Hizzbullah will fire their rockets from civilian populated areas, effectively using their communities as human shields (I must note that there have been many allegations that Israel employed a similar tactic during the 2003 incursion into Jenin).
Instead, Israel says that rather than the world criticising them for their use of asymmetric warfare, why not ask what you would do as a commander with a mandate to protect your people when faced with this situation? Why don’t you criticise the Arab communities for allowing a situation where their own people put their own people in such grave danger. The 2006 Lebanese war was lost in the media and not out on the battle field for this precise reason. Israel was forced to desimate much of southern lebanon becuase Hizbullah militants used to fire their rockets into Israel from apartment buildings in the region. What are you to do when left in that situation? Do you just stand back and let your country be exposed to a volley of rockets? Israel opted to strike back, but found their hands soon tied by international condemnation. It seems that it is difficult to play by the rules when the opposition greets them with as much contempt as they do you.
So where to from here? It all depends on which you value more: a manageable paradigm of perpetual conflict, or an insecure climate of justice? It worries me that Israel will continue to opt for the former, because when it comes to future options, there is only one reality they have ever known.