Israel V The rest of the world, Nov 2000

The most popular Israeli pop song in the 1970s was entitled: “The World is against us”. To be perfectly honest, it was not exactly a masterpiece. The rather simplistic message was accompanied by an equally banal tune, the usual tiresome combination between Russian folk music and pseudo oriental sound. These were the halcyon days of PLO in the international arena and the 1975 resolution in the General Assembly of the United nations, which defined Zionism as a form of racism. The resolution  provoked tremendous surge of bitterness and self-righteousness in Israel, and crtitics of Israel were castigatd here as the enemies of the Jewish People.

The song was often mocked by the elite, but was still quite successful as an expression of none too subtle injured innocence. It betrayed, perhaps somewhat inadvertently, the strong narccissitic streak in our society. The hostile world, which remained callously indifferent during the holocaust, was once again prepared to stand behind the enemies of the Jewish State.  This was sad, but also sweet and oddly convenient. The shadow of Golda Meir (resigned in April 1974) still loomed large, and the double standards were taken for granted. We occupied not only the West Bank and Gaza, but the Golan Heights and the entire Sinai desert as well. Yet, we nurtured the sense of being the underdogs, the oppressed rather than the oppressors. This collective inner consciousness was cultivated with dramatic success. Those of us who questioned this formula, let alone rejected it, were cast aside as a fringe group of half traitors.

Much of this curious and dangerous sense of isolation and persecution almost disappeared in 1993. The marketing of Oslo by Israel was impressive, and most impartial observers in the West were deluded by the early demonstrations of Israeli-Palestinian accommodation. The United States had been pro-Israel even before Oslo, but the transformation in Europe was really striking. The world has adopted the Israeli-American interpretation of the agreements including the highly explosive idea, that the two parties are now responsible for the fate of the conflict, and any outside intervention could destroy the delicate balance between them. This premise completely ignored the lack of real equality between a mighty occupying power, aided and abetted by the US, and the poor, oppressed, newly emergent entity, devoid of any real leverage to attain its objectives. It was an expedient state of affairs from the Israeli point of view, and the effect on the national psychy was massive.

Yitzhak Rabin and his partner Shimon Peres reassured the Israeli middle classes, that peace and prosperity would follow the agreements, and pointed out, with ample justification, that Oslo favoured Israel and constituted a major breakthrough for the Jewish State.    But the over-elaborate implementation of Oslo, especially the various withdrawals from occupied territories that were “agreed upon”, caused disapointment and frustration in the Arab world. Rabin’s most important achievement, the commercial and diplomatic ties with some conservative Gulf and North-African Arab states, was threatened by the developments on the peace front. But for at least three years the Israelis were impressed by the breakthrough. That is to say, the thriving sectors in Israel were impressed. The general public reacted to the Hamas terrorist activities, especially the bomb outrages, by electing Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud-led coalition into power in 1996.

It is significant to stress in this context, that most Israelis have wanted to keep the peace process going, and even Netanyahu had to commit himself to Oslo in order to get elected four years ago. The image of Israel overseas played a part in their considerations, but most have simply opted out for the persuit of happiness as opposed to terrirorial expansionism. The settlers kept a very hostile posture to these develpments. For them, the equation has always been crystal clear: normalcy, smooth international relations and quiet living have no place in their world. They thrive on conflict, pessimistic outlook and xenophobia. These are the vital assets for forging a sense of national destiny and casting aside factional differences. Hence the irony of the situation: the settlers lost their former positions in the society but the establishment, Labour and Likud alike, did their utmost to keep them going. The unprecedented expansion of the settlements and the complex network of special roads at the expense of the Palestinians have taken place despite the decline of the settler cause within the Israeli political culture.

I have tried to explain in this column that the settlements have become a sideshow for a very long time, due to deliberate endeavours by Labour politicians to belittle their role as a major obstacle for the attainment of a just and lasting peace. Yossi Bielin and his colleagues sold the Oslo process to the Israeli political centre by assuring its rank and file, that the Palestinians are ready to accept 70% of the settlers on their territory. This stance also helped to remove the settlement issue, at least temporarily, from the international agenda. This writer was accused by a settler, in a live transmission of the Israeli State TV, that he is more of a hardliner on the settlement issue than Yaser Arafat is. The incident, which took place only three months ago, reflected the fact that most Israelis considered the settlements problem as obsolete, and accused local leftists for keeping it alive.

Now it is quite plain that the settlements are the most important issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s PR abroad is dependent upon solving it successfully. In general, most Israelis think that their cause is not getting enough attantion internationally, and accuse the international media of being hostile, once again, towards Israel. It is a bizzare reaction, since most Europeans consider the Israeli propaganda as highly successful, against the backgroung of so many civilian casualties among the Palestinians. The average Israeli thinks that news organisations such as CNN and the BBC are infested with antisemites.Some former doves who defected and joined forces with the establishment are as shrill in their accusations as the traditional right-wingers.

And what about the actual  facts? How do the Israelis reconcile the 200 dead Palestinians and 6,000 wounded with their soft self-image? They Arab casualties hardly exist in the collective consciousness of the Israeli public. The racist notion that Arabs care less about their dead than the Jews is prevelant, coupled with the official version that the palestinians send their children to riot in order to get them killed and to gain points in the international public opinion. One must admit, that the Israelis are quite skillful in the marketing of this idea. The general public in the West is accustomed to treat the death of a “European”, in a different way to the death of a “native”. Thousands tendentious films have created this mentality, (some of it is, of course, sub-conscious). Much of the bitterness of the Palestinians stems from this phenomenon.

Nevertheless the Israelis fail to understand why the outside world does not romanticise them anymore. “We love ourselves so much, that we are not capable emotionally of returning this love with the same intensity”, quipped a friend of mine. There is a grain of truth in the joke, but the world still gives us the benefit of the doubt. The country that supresses the Palestinian people for 33 years and has killed hundreds of civilians since 28 September 2000, is still widely accepted in enlightened quarters, and the Palestinian victims are often reviled by critics who should know better. This is due to the colonialist mentality in the West, which has been weakened in recent years, but not perished.

הדפס /  Print הדפס / Print