Good people with good intentions, with no nerve for the horrible images coming through the heart-breaking Breaking News (Breaking News that keeps flowing from our region when the dead are ours, Israelis), good people want Israelis and Palestinians to live together, of course. Why can't they live together? (so good people with good intentions ask themselves). Yet, good people should know: Israelis and Palestinians do live together, have lived together for a very long time, and it has always been the same story with the same end, wherever you slice the story (for the final scene has not yet arrived) and whatever the excuses and the arguments and the legal explications are, the result has always been the same: through a long historical process Israel has been uprooting the Palestinian people from its land and settling its own people there instead. Wherever you slice the story.
Maybe this is where one finds the crudest form of common Israeli aggression: when facing a photograph, or a segment of a story yet untold, a story that could have been told but was suppressed in Israeli culture. This is how Israelis do not really know what is happening at a five minutes' drive from their homes, what an inferno is taking place right next door. For Israelis demand defence from photography, and from stories of personal tragedy, and from stories in which they are not the victims. This is why most of the cable subscribers lost their BBC World channel in the wake of the Iraq War1. Even CNN is considered hostile here, because they show pictures without supplying our narratives to shield the viewers , without drowning the stories (shots, pictures).
But still, Israelis do see horrible pictures from the Occupied Teritories, reaching our living rooms either through our own press or on foreign television stations. How do Israelis defend themselves from the horrors of those images? By legality. When it comes to the question of Palestine, Israelis are shielded by the Law. Israeli life might sound like an American crime movie, where Justice prevails, but Law is the logos, Law is the argument, Law is the justification that comes between us and the reality over there. It has become increasingly acute as Israeli policy has become more cruel, but as a matter of fact it has always been like this to some degree. We were always taught to think of our Being as attached to legalistic documentation. Please note that Israel, like any modern nation, needed always not only to look good (to that noble end the State has for years employed - among other agencies - its own photographers; photography played a major role in Israel's narrative, to the point where corpses of victims of a terrorist attack [17.3.1954] were driven back from the morgue to the site of the disaster because the official photographer had arrived too late at the crime scene), but also to feel good, to be armed with legal justification 2.
The Bible has always served as a legal affidavit, with the Covenant at its core. After the 1967 Occupation, the Bible began to play an even bigger role, for there was no other logos to justify, toward the end of the 20th century, a conquest that echoed ancient times. As a letter of credential delivered by God Himself, what could be better than the Bible, widely respected among the Christians? Even the most secular Zionists would not dare refute the historical truth of the Bible, for this is our raison d'êre. But there is aditional legal evidence of our ownership of land and property and unknown sacred sites, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and of course UN Resolution 181 from November 29th 1947, which used to be the real source of legitimacy for us, as young citizens of a young country with a progressive agenda.
On the other hand - and this is the same mechanism - Resolution 181 spoke of two states in Palestine, one which was supposed to be Jewish, the other Arab. We never thought of that division as impossible -- from the Arab point of view -- in terms of the nonnviable borders it drew for the Arab state. But this is not the main point. We always learnt, as part of our narrative, how the Palestinian rejected that resolution. More important, no one knows, and no one talks about the fact that the resolution is unrealized as long as the other state does not exist. This is exactly where Israeli legalism becomes argumentative: "They" rejected it, says the narrative, hence "they" are... guilty, and "they" deserve all that they have been through. Who are "they" in the first clause? The Palestinian leadership, of course, or the Arab states, or Arab monarchs. Who are "they" in the last clause, who are the subjects of the verdict? The suffering Palestinian people who appear for a moment on television screens, or in the weekend magazine. This is the real defence shield of Israelis concerning the human disaster across the road. It was always legalistic only in the manner of court litigation. The human disaster is ours, your Honour, and if they suffer, it is because they are guilty. What prevails, your Honour, is the rule of Law, which is the rule of the rulers, your Honour. UN reslolution 194, for example, the one that has been calling for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands was always ignored, never taught, never narrated, never gained the status other UN resolutions had.
In fact, the other side of the same legalism was the description of the Arabs' "moral failiure" to have good politicians, who could bargain better deals for the Palestinians. Israelis still talk about the historical injustice that was done to the Palestinian people by their state with a school-master's logic, or the logic of a military sergeant-major who explains to his soldiers why they are going to lose their promised leave for some misbehaviour. This is a very popular theme among Israeli mainstream columnists. They were bad boys, the Arab leaders, they were silly, they missed every historical chance, hence "they" (this time it is "they, the Palestinians") lost their right to exist (at least as a free nation). However, never, in any part of that discourse, which frequently appears among dovish writers, can one find a single example of any real option which Israel, or the Zionist movement, left the Palestinians to accept as a free nation. It was always an offer they had to refuse. The whip was the next disaster. The carrot was the former one. It is always the same desire: forget your homes, take what we offer you, tomorrow we won't offer you a thing.
But the harder the legal case becomes within the International community, the less such legal arguments appear in Israeli discourse. Religous stories might do. Not only is the Bible being read as a justification for the sheer cruelty of the occupation, but also a vast literature of a religous nature is being disseminated and learnt among the growing religious segments of the Israeli school system. This will not make Israeli crimes of war sound better in secular circles either here or, even more so, abroad. Israeli military seniors are true candidates for the court in the Hague. Our old sources of legitimation have been diminished over the years. UN resolutions have lost their popularity here, first with 242 (calling for full withdrawal from the 1967 Occupied Territories) and then 495 (calling for full withdrawal from Lebanon and ignored for years) among others. No wonder Israelis were so enthusiastic when Bush and Blair broke every international rule and invaded Iraq. We are not alone. Might is right. We are part of the master race.
But since no nation can live without a belief in its own justice, and since the majority of our nation do need some sort of explanation for the horrible images that come through the airwaves, the Internet, the newspapers, some sort of explanation for their many dead and ours, their wounded and ours, their bereaved and ours, their waste of human lives and resources and ours - our symbolic life is shattered, running between self-pity ("They want to kill us all, the Palestinians ", and here photographs of our victims play a major role) and a kind of jargon that has nothing to do with explaining the horrors (caricatures come in handy here, with Yasser Arafat as the protagonist of racist representation). What do we do with photographs that tell another story? We dismiss them. The people of Tulkarem are suffering from hunger? Well then, why did "they" reject Israel's generous offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000? The death toll of women in labour at the military checkpoints is rising? So why did they reject a peace agreement in their summit in Khartoum in 1969? In short, Israelis cannot tolerate human suffering which is not theirs, but their neighbours'. Do we lose our sense of human understanding, busying ourselves with suppressing so many destroyed human lives? Is this the real explanation for the growing power of our own Thacherism during the last year? Is this the reason that we are able to harm each other, having practised on our subjugated Palestinian blood wells?
We defend ourselves from crimes around us, from photographs, and stories, and babies' cry, dying villages, and from any piece of information. We defend ourselves from moral accusations and demands for Justice: they made mistakes, the Israelis say, as if the uprooting of the Palestinian people from their land is a chess game, where the world is being asked to keep silent while the black pieces move toward their doom, as if the pawns and the bishops and the rooks were getting it wrong and now they have to be dragged silently off the board as punishment, bowing to the superiority of the white pieces. Israel is uprooting the Palestinian people from its land. This is the only truth worth gleaning when one comes to sum up the pros and the cons.
Complacency is Israel having its day as if the clock of History is ticking only for us, not for "tem ". But is it really so? For how long can we zigzag between arguments, changing tactics of propaganda, inside and outside, changing genres, from cruel Western to kitchy melodrama, without losing our own sense of justice? How long can we be the victimizer without becoming victims of our own cruelty? For how long can we run a democracy by imposing a cruel military dictatorship over an entire nation?
Good people with good intentions should know: there is no escape from political and historical analysis. It is not a conflict between religions, though there are those who would gladly turn it into one. There is no escape from politics, in its broad and deep definitions: the excuses will disappear like smoke into the air and what we are left with is our new apartheid, with daily evils inflicted upon masses of simple people, with maps that generals play with, and politicians exchange, where a village of a thousand families looks like a dot, though there were happy people there, proud of their olive trees and olive oil. Will we be allowed to release ourselves with friendly talk? . The answer is no, for disaster is knocking on our thick doors.
Tel Aviv, 2.6.2003