Gideon Israel
Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center

Know thy Neighbor

Two days ago, Hamas gunmen killed six of its own brethren suspected of collaborating with Israel.  According to Hamas, these people were followed and their behavior gave Hamas gunmen some type of sign or implication that they were indeed collaborating with Israel.  We will never know if it’s true or not.  There was no trial, or there was a trial and the enforcer was also the judge, witness, investigator and prosecutor.  What’s interesting is what transpired after the men were killed.

They were shot dead one by one in the middle of Gaza.  After that, angry mobs trampled on the bodies, some spit, other’s cursed and one of the bodies was even attached to a motorcycle and completely disgraced as it was dragged through the city.  This could be written off as a barbaric incident committed by a few thugs, an act to instill fear in the masses, but that might be oversimplifying the issue.

In October 2000, at the beginning stages of the Palestinian violence against Israel, two IDF reservists lost their way back to their base and ended up in the outskirts of Ramallah.  They were apprehended by Palestinian policeman, taken to the station in Ramallah, and when news spread that IDF soldiers were in Palestinian custody, the mobs overran the station and brutally beat the soldiers to death.  That’s fine (in terms of war).  We are their enemies, and according to them we are occupying their land and so forth.  Yet, what happened next offers Israel a better glimpse as to the nature of its neighbors.

The two soldiers, though having already been murdered, continued to be beaten by the Palestinian mob.  And when those on the second floor of the police station had satiated their appetite, the bodies were dumped from the second floor window of the building to the angry mob waiting in the streets.  After the bodies fell, Palestinians resumed beating, mutilating and committing other various acts that angry mobs inflict on a dead body.

What motivates someone to mutilate a dead body or continue pulverizing a human body after all signs of life are gone?  In the past, this wasn’t abnormal.  During wars between rival Indian tribes in North America, tribal wars in Africa, African wars with European colonists – this type of behavior was the norm.  In some societies today, mutilating bodies and other types of gruesome acts are also mundane.  However, in yesterday’s case and the lynching of two Israeli soldiers, barbarism, while the apparent way to dismiss the problem, is the surface level problem.

In wars, soldiers kill soldiers, enemies kill enemies, because those are the necessary steps taken to halt an enemy’s advance, conquer the enemy, or win a war.  However, when an enemy feels compelled to mutilate a body it shows that stopping his enemy or removing the danger wasn’t the only issue at hand.  There is something else.  The enemy doesn’t only hate his enemy, but he has a problem with his identity.  The only thing left of a dead body is his identity while he was living.  Who he was, what nation, religion or family he belonged to.  What were his principles, the way he lived.  That is what’s represented by the body.

When people see others stomping, spitting, mutilating or disgracing the body of a human killed – deep down they have a problem with the identity of the body that lies in front of them.  His identity is so appalling and such an abomination that even for his face or limbs to stay intact is a disgrace for that person.

When Israelis see on TV mobs beating and mutilating dead bodies as what happened in 2000 or what happened two days ago in Gaza (these are the only examples that immediately come to mind, though I’m sure a search would reveal other instances)– they can know that it wasn’t about killing collaborators nor is it about killing IDF soldiers.  It’s the fact that for many Arabs/Palestinians the Israeli/Zionist identity is intolerable and an abomination.   For if it was merely about removing the Zionist enemy – since according to them we have taken their land, then when the collaborators were killed or the soldier beaten to death – the work was completed, the threat was removed and  time to move forward.  Yet, when mobs feel the need to bludgeon dead bodies of people who are Israelis or associated with Israelis – it should send a message to our leaders, and world leaders, to not be mistaken who are the people who sit opposite us at the negotiating table.  Suits, ties and European perfume can only temporary disguise the true nature of the people that we are dealing with.  Behavior like this is not something that is corrected through a peace treaty or a cooling off period.  It takes a generation, if not more.

Thus, our neighbors are either of barbaric nature or simply can’t tolerate a Zionist/Israeli identity. Either way, these aren’t the type of neighbors who can be trusted with power, territory, or weapons.  And in general, it’s always a plus to know the nature of one’s neighbor.

About the Author
Gideon Israel is the Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center which focuses on strengthening US-Israel relations through mutually beneficial policy projects.