By Yonatan Mendel
London Review of Books Blog
‘We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,’ Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that it isn’t killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.
Dream on. Since 1948 Israel has refused to deal with the refugee question: the very existence of UNRWA schools and camps in Gaza is a direct result. It is Israel, not Hamas, that is occupying the West Bank and building illegal settlements (more than 120 to date). Since Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the occupation has been replaced by a sort of internment: Gaza is like a large prison, or a sprawling conurbation under siege. Despite the falsehoods of Israeli demagogues it isn’t Hamas that has laid siege to Gaza since 2007, it is Israel. Most world leaders have acknowledged it: in 2010 even Cameron said that the ‘Israeli blockade has turned the Gaza Strip into a prison camp.’ Was Israel ‘forced’ to quarantine Gaza? On the contrary it took the decision to do so, having calculated that by tightening the screws on 1.8 million people already living under the harshest conditions in the most densely populated place on earth, it would ensure peace and stability for Israelis. Strangely things haven’t gone to plan and once again Israel is ‘forced’ to kill civilians and children while hiding the truth from itself that its policy in Gaza was a choice. In this moment of terrible delusion it is worth repeating the point: Hamas is not laying siege to Gaza or bombing it from the air.
Living in Israel during the last three weeks has been political hell. I won’t say ‘Isra-hell’, a word posted on Facebook by the Israeli actress Orly Weinerman: she was attacked by a mob of Israeli artists who called on her to leave the country and denounced her personal life. Others in the performing arts have run into trouble for voicing doubts about the latest onslaught. A group of Israeli directors who called for an end to the war at the Cinémathèque festival in Jerusalem were also heavily criticised; the minister of culture called them a ‘disgrace’. Anti-war demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa have run into violence from ultra-nationalistschanting ‘Mavet la-Aravim’ and ‘Mavet la-Smolanim’ (‘Death to the Arabs’ and ‘Death to the leftists’). People I know are afraid to speak against the war in their workplace.
Thirty Israeli soldiers have died so far, and these deaths, too, have been ‘forced’ on us: they have nothing to do with Israel’s non-approach to Hamas, its non-negotiations with the Palestinians, its non-recognition of the Palestinian unity government, or its inhuman siege. The minister of foreign affairs Avigdor Lieberman has said Hamas are like the Nazis, the minister for the economy, Naftali Bennett, has threatened to leave the government if the attack doesn’t penetrate deeper, the justice minister Tzipi Livni has said that Hamas is a terror organisation, and Labor, the great Israeli opposition party, says there is no right and left in Israel today: it supports the killing without any reservations.
And all the while more of this ‘forced to’ discourse. ‘There is no country in the world that would stand by and allow rockets to fall on it’ – as if all countries in the world had a conflict with the Palestinian people, as if all countries in the world are in a longterm war situation and refusing peace talks. Hamas, it’s been said, has violated the ceasefire agreement. But in order to violate a ceasefire one needs first to have agreed the conditions. Hamas never did. The broker of this non-agreement was Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, an enemy of the Hamas regime who has vowed to destroy it and took no account of Hamas’s demands. Perhaps more disturbing is the Israeli argument about morality. Sentences that start with ‘the fact that only xxx have been killed’ remain popular among Israelis, even as the figure rises, as according to their logic Israel could have also killed 5000 or 10,000 or a million Palestinians had it wanted to.
Finally we keep hearing that ‘there is no one to talk to,’ ‘they do not even acknowledge our existence’ and ‘they are a terror organisation.’ Someone should remind us that the PLO didn’t acknowledge Israel and now it does; someone should remind us that you don’t make peace with your friends, but with your enemies. Arafat was considered a terrorist, but his successor Mahmoud Abbas is probably the most moderate Palestinian leader Israel could have asked for. We ‘cannot talk with Hamas’, they are not nice people – did we expect a generation of Nobel laureates to emerge from years of occupation and blockade? – yet how is it that there was never a breakthrough with Abbas? Someone must have ‘forced’ us to turn our backs on peace. In Israel the spirit of Golda Meir is alive and well.