On January 1, a frail 16 year-old girl stood in a military court. This is how Israel welcomes the new year. Surrounded by soldiers a child mustered all that she had to look up and to look ahead, not to let them see her weakness, not to cry. She knows these sham courts boast 99% conviction rates. All the world’s cameras glared at the accused and we never saw the judge. The cameras snapped the Palestinian, but I wanted to see the Israelis. What the Israeli state and public craved when they hauled Ahed Tamimi before a uniformed judge was humiliation – a journalist hinted that she should be raped. The mind summons endless images of settlers taunting Palestinians, mocking the natives from the other side of barbed wire fences in Hebron while a whole military apparatus with guns and America’s money leers happily beside them. We watch a girl on trial for running at a soldier after soldiers shot her cousin in the face, a girl who slapped the people who have kicked her since the day she was born while settlers receive state subsidies for the rocks they throw at Palestinian kids.
What is required in the face of this? Not regret or pity or sorrow, the hope that all sides can come together. That is Oslo’s dead end. A diagnosis would be better: the recognition that Israelis are stuck in a trance, a desperate lust for violence to remind them of their own power though the reminder can never work; they are never convinced; the whole structure of their state and their politics demand that they are never convinced. A Palestinian friend tells me everyone in Palestine needs an analyst, that everyone is driven miserably insane by miserable humiliation, but it seems to me the more interesting patient is Israel. Schizophrenic, Israel boasts of its immense might and superiority over the backward locals while insisting those locals might shatter its whole edifice at any minute. Fear of others, projected eternally into the past and into the future, is the glue that binds together disparate settlers to hone a coherent national identity. Framing all history as fear is what allows modern, secular, political nationalism to tie itself to Messianic conceptions of peoplehood – from Moses to Moshe Dayan and beyond, says Zionism, the world is necessarily, unalterably driven to loathe us and our sense of self and politics must follow from that axiom. This is the paranoid premise Israel can never shake off. It is the ultimate essentialism. It functions simultaneously to deny and to defend colonial superiority, to feel constantly weak and threatened in the pursuit of brutal strength. It collapses Eichmann and Ahed Tamimi into one phenomenon; there can be no ethics, no questions about Israeli crimes, since the world is and always will be stacked against us so overwhelmingly that nothing we do can possibly make them hate us more. Salvation lies only in the chase to kill them first, and because the whole world will never die salvation is elusive.
What is required is the defeat of that way of life which must compulsively colonise every last drop of water, which cannot live except by spreading terror. It is as if perhaps Israeli society sees in grotesque violence some small glimpse of hope, that passing the terror around will finally free them of their own terror. This is Zionism, it has been like this since 1948 or earlier. Only the naïve think there can be any accommodation with this worldview, that Zionism can persist and can coexist with Palestinians. The truth is that for anyone in the holy land to have any hope Israelis must cease to be Israelis, they must become the citizens of a cosmopolitan state and not the gun-toting sheriffs of a settler state. The Boers had to learn that lesson. Alas there are no short cuts, no alternatives to confronting the very existence of a state whose logic is paranoia and a death drive. So many see it around the world but in the West (how unsurprising) so few politicians want to diagnose the colonial condition. Jeremy Corbyn retreats from backing BDS.
People don’t want to address this head on, to say Zionism is profoundly ill and to say the only human thing to do is to resist it, even where that looks hopeless, because there just is no other way to love and to preserve human dignity, to refuse humiliation. Watching the Israelis humiliating Ahed Tamimi we all think of the others – how many parents in Palestine tend to children’s graves. I keep thinking of these famous words Palestinians might reclaim with good reason: “We can forgive the Israelis for murdering our children but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to murder their children. Peace will come when the Israelis love their children as much as they hate our children.” They only know how to hate.
(Photo courtesy of Haim Schwarczenberg, https://schwarczenberg.com)