Lost Tribe

By Eiran, Ehud | Newsweek, June 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Lost Tribe


Eiran, Ehud, Newsweek


Byline: Ehud Eiran

Are Israel's battles costing the country its soul?

I am in love with Israel. yet the events off the shores of Gaza last week, in which Israeli commandos stormed a blockade-busting aid ship and killed nine activists, were a painful reminder that I also belong to a class of Israelis that is deeply concerned about the direction of our country. Increasingly, our conflict with the Palestinians is separating us, not only from our moral faculties, but also from the rest of our senses.

The patterns are clear: more people are getting killed in shorter periods of time, and we care less and less. According to Israeli data, it took 22 days for the Palestinian death toll to hit 1,100 in the last big round of violence between "us" and "them," the 2008-09 Gaza incursion. The same number of casualties accumulated over a full five years in the first Palestinian uprising (1987-93), which was then the largest Israeli-Palestinian clash since 1949. Over time, our hearts have grown harder. In the first intifada, Israeli military police launched internal investigations whenever Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Yet there have only been a handful of such investigations during the last decade, and none is likely to take place over last week's killings.

Israel's almost complete lack of empathy for the "other" has not always been the case. In a noted 1923 article, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of Israel's hardline revisionists, effectively acknowledged the logic of Palestinian resistance to Zionism. He wrote that the Arabs, like every other indigenous people, "view their country as their national home--and will not willingly agree to new landlords." Sixty-three years later, in a similar vein, Ehud Barak admitted that if he'd been born a Palestinian, he would have joined "one of the terrorist organizations." Yet no contemporary Israeli leader, Barak included, would dare to show similar understanding of the Palestinian plight today.

This hardening of the heart is not limited to our leaders. They, after all, merely reflect popular attitudes. In September 1982, after Christian militiamen slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, 10 percent of Israel's total population took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest Israel's indirect responsibility. Only a few dozen Israelis demonstrated 26 years later, when the Israeli military was directly responsible for a similarly large number of Palestinian civilian casualties in the 2008-09 Gaza conflict.

It is not only the spread of moral insensitivity I fear. As Dean Acheson observed, there's something worse than immoral policy: erroneous policy. The apparent inability of Israeli leaders to connect our goals and our means puts the country in long-term jeopardy. Our most profound problem is that 130 years after young Zionists began immigrating to Palestine with the hope of creating a safe place for Jews, we're still relying on force to secure our existence. Ironically, more Jews have been killed since 1945 in this "safe haven" than in any other place. A future Iranian nuclear device, which may be hard to stop if Israel can't muster international support more effectively, will take this Zionist failure to new lows. …

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