In 1955 the dovish Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharett wrote in his diary that his countrymen had transformed revenge into a ‘sacred principle’ and worried that such tendencies ‘ must make the State appear in the eyes of the world as a savage state that does not recognize the principles of justice as they have been established and accepted by contemporary society.’
Sharett was a rare voice in the heroic era of ‘gun Zionism’, in his condemnation of an act of vengeance carried out by off-duty paratroopers, who responded to the killing of an Israeli soldier by an unknown Jordanian assailant by carrying out an impromptu raid in which they cut the throats of five Jordanian Bedouin. Since then Israel has carried out far bloodier acts of revenge that have confirmed Sharett’s observations, and which have radically contradicted the Israeli Defense Force’s repeated definition of itself as a uniquely ‘moral army.’
Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza is to some extent a confirmation of the tendencies that Sharett once criticized. In the beginning at least, it was clearly seen by many Israelis as revenge for the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, following a stunningly cynical hate campaign orchestrated from the upper echelons of the Israeli government, which aimed to convince the Israeli public and the outside world that Hamas was responsible for it.
26 days into the war however, it is becoming horrifyingly clear that Israel’s war aims have moved beyond revenge and its usual policy of collective punishment, towards a more conclusive resolution of its Palestinian problem. Day after day the IDF has targeted private homes, schools, hospitals, power and sanitation plants, rehabilitation clinics, mosques, and now the Islamic University of Gaza, remorselessly destroying the essential foundations of Gazan society.
In a territory that already has some 1.7 million people crammed into a tiny territory that is little more than seven miles wide, Israel has driven more than half a million people from their homes and is in the process of depopulating a three-kilometre-wide buffer zone around the whole of the Gaza Strip.
If this assault continues, it is simply a matter of time before the whole of Gaza strip is reduced to rubble and rendered unlivable, and its population killed or driven out. Regardless of what Israel and its supporters may say, this not being done to stop Hamas firing rockets. Had rockets really been the issue here, there are many other things that Israel could have done to prevent them, such as allowing the national nnity government to take its course.
In the current issue of the London Review of Books, the International Crisis Group analyst Nathan Thrall gives a fairly comprehensive summary of the chain of events that preceded the war. But Thrall’s suggestion that ‘the current war was one that neither Israel nor Hamas sought’ is misleading.
On the contrary, everything the Netanyahu government has done, from its destructive role in the ‘peace process’, its bitter hostility to the unity government, its stunningly dishonest and manipulative response to the Israeli teenager murders,to the horrific violence that it has unleashed on Gaza, suggests that it wanted this war, and opinion polls continue to demonstrate that a majority of the Israeli public wanted it too.
And the longer the war continues, the more the physical destruction has been accompanied by the expression of overtly genocidal fantasies and statements from within Israel itself and from its supporters which suggest that the liberal trappings of Israeli society are being stripped away.
On 24 July the Jerusalem Post published an op ed by Martin Sherman, founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, entitled: ‘ Into the fray: Why Gaza must Go.’ Quoting Churchill and Albert Einstein, Sherman argued that Israel’s ‘left-wing elites’ have hitherto been excessively constrained by ‘moralistic masochism’ and their political commitment to a two-state solution from responding to Hamas with the requisite degree of force.
In Sherman’s view, this had resulted in an ‘unworkable paradigm’ in which ‘left-wing elites perpetuate bout after escalating bout of violence, callously sacrificing ever more lives on the altar of the false deity of two states- for-two-peoples.’
In these circumstances the Israeli policy of ‘mowing the lawn’ with periodic but inconclusive attacks on Gaza was a form of ‘intellectual surrender’ which prevented the implementation of ‘regrettably harsh but essential policies’ in which ‘The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.’
Dispensing with metaphors, Sherman proposed that
‘The problem of Gaza cannot be solved by persisting with ideas that created it – i.e. persisting with a plan for Israel to provide the Palestinian Arabs with land for self-governance….The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.’
The idea that the physical expulsion or killing of whole populations can be ‘humanitarian’ is a recurring trope in the genocidal imagination, and the Jerusalem Post clearly saw no problem in publishing these recommendations .
Never mind that most of Gaza’s population is descended from refugees who were already expelled from Israel in 1948 in Palestinian diaspora that Chaim Weissman called ‘the miraculous simplication of Israel’s task.’ Never mind that there is nowhere for the Gazans to go. Never mind that Sherman’s policy of expulsion violates a whole corpus of international law.
On Friday the Times of Israel published an article on its website by New York writer Yochanan Gordon, which made not entirely dissimilar recommendations and asked whether ‘Genocide is Permissible?’ in Gaza.
Where Sherman blamed Israel’s ‘left-wing elites’ for constraining Israel, Gordon claimed that Israel’s hands ‘are being tied by world leaders who over the past six years have insisted they are such good friends with the Jewish state.’ Since Israel faced an enemy (Hamas), that ‘ idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life,‘ Gordon argued, ‘ What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than to obliterate them completely?
And by the same logic:
‘If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?’
The Times of Israel took this post down within a minute of putting it up. But by then it had been made its way out through the twittersphere and social media.
Israel’s supporters may well insist that such views do not represent state policy, which is true on a rhetorical level at least. But Netanyahu has said clearly that he does not want a Palestinian state.
In this case, Israel has three choices 1) to crush Hamas in the hope of continuing with the Bantustan-type arrangements under the Palestinian Authority that would grant the Palestinians little bits and pieces of a state 2) to absorb the occupied Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza nto a single state – something that has Rabin and others recognized would mean the end of the Jewish state or 3) to drive the Palestinians out once again from the territories they now inhabit and annihilate them as a people.
The response of Israeli society to the Gaza onslaught points increasingly towards the third possibility. Unwilling to grant the Palestinians a state or even a modicum of justice, and equally unwilling to allow them to live within its own borders as equal citizens, and unable to suppress the resistance to the longest military occupation in history in the lands that its leaders still covet, the Israel political leadership – with the full support of the Israeli population is moving inexorably towards the legitimization of genocidal solutions straight from some of the darkest pages of human history.
This is why Likudnik Moshe Feiglin has just called on his Facebook page for the IDF to reconquer the Gaza Strip and concentrate its population into ‘tent encampments’ in the Sinai desert, in order to ‘turn Gaza into Jaffa, a flourishing Israeli city with a minimum number of hostile civilians.’
Such proposals require not only the physical ability to expel or kill unwanted peoples, but the ability of a particular society to depict an entire population as a subhuman and demonic entity that is antithetical to its own existence. Jews ought to recognize these components when they see them, but too many of today’s Israelis and too many of Israel’s supporters appear to be blind to them, and not only the maniacal settlers who terrorize Palestinians out of the land that they believe God promised to the Jews, or the ultra-orthodox rabbis who incite racial hatred or command Jews not to sell or rent land to non-Jews..
On July 17 Ayelet Shaked, the glamorous Israeli MP and former computer engineer from the ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious Jewish Home Party, posted the following comments on Facebook, on July 17:
‘ Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.’
The doe-eyed Shaked epitomizes the generation that is now taking Israeli society towards fascism even as it unproblematically massacres Palestinians in Gaza, a generation that is cool, hip, and sexy, and increasingly comfortable with genocide.
These tendencies are reflected in Internent ‘hate selfies’, in which polished teenage girls with immaculate hair post messages proudly proclaiming their hatred of Arabs; in which soldiers parade their muscles and guns and boasting of killing children; in which Israeli women eroticize mass killing, posting semi-naked pictures of themselves to ‘encourage’ Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza; in which crowds of hip youths chant soccer slogans celebrating the killing of Gazan children.
All this are expressions of the collective moral sickness that is leading Israel and the Palestinians towards the abyss, and which is – despite the protestations of Israel’s liberal supporters – a logical expression of the Zionist project and the notion of permanent war that is also part of it, and which has now transformed Gaza into a free fire zone.
The cure – if there is one – will not be generated from within Israel itself, not without massive pressure from the outside world, of the same kind that once brought apartheid to an end.
And if this doesn’t happen, it is very difficult to imagine what will stop an Israel that is intoxicated with its own power and permeated with hatred, from continuing to act as a ‘savage state’ and seeking to turn a population of refugees into refugees once again.