Thursday’s release of the video documenting the alleged cold blooded murder of a wounded Arab assailant by an Israeli soldier in Hebron shocked many. To me, this act was the natural result of a process that has been germinating for many, many years; a process through which every enemy is turned into either Hitler or Haman and anyone who fights us is labeled a terrorist.
It’s not easy to put a finger on the exact moment this switch in mindset began. However, it was clear to me 35 years ago that we were heading in this direction. Even way back then, serving one month of Reserve Duty In Gaza showed me there was no way to occupy another people without considering them (in some way), sub-human, or minimally, less than you. Nearly four decades later, two incidents remain engraved in my mind like they happened yesterday. The first instance is the night one of our armored personnel carriers went over a mine. No one was hurt, but under the direction of the security establishment, we were told to wake up all the men from the nearby village (ages 13-75). We were instructed to have them stand next to a wall in the building that was used to administer that part of the district, and ordered to keep them standing until someone confessed, that lasted all night and no one confessed.
The second unsettling episode happened a few days later, when our squad was sent to ambush students suspected of attempting to raise a Palestinian flag over a school. We were told to shoot to kill. We solved our dilemma by placing our antennas as high and visible as we could, making sure our camouflage just did not work. From that date forward I opposed the occupation, not because the Palestinians deserved a state, but rather due to my fear of what the occupation would do to us.
It must be understood that the Occupation could have ended any time during the last decades – had the Palestinians been willing to accept a compromise. Yet, for whatever reason, compromise is not in their nature. This has left us with few good options.
In the last 40 years, a profound change has taken place in how Israel looks at herself, and this has further exasperated the situation. If in the first 30 years of the state Israel’s narrative was based on the early Chalutzim who settled the land, drained the swamps, defended themselves and created this state; today, our national narrative revolves around the fact our People survived the Holocaust. Our national goal seems centered on ensuring that the Holocaust will never occur again. Albeit for different reasons, as a result of this narrative shift American Jews and Israeli Jews now share another trait, i.e. awareness and commemoration of the Holocaust at the core of their identity.
By making the Holocaust central to our national identity we have transformed every enemy into Hitler. There is only one solution for dealing with a Hitler, and that is to kill him. There is no compromise with Hitler on a fight to the death. In parallel, to some of the religious, our external enemies are all Amalek, and therefore deserves the same fate as Amalek, which is death. Of course, our national discourse was not improved when some rabbis called politicians they opposed Amalek, (an admittedly separate, although related matter.)
Regardless of one’s political views, a few historic facts should be universally understood.
- Two peoples claim this land – Israelis and Palestinians.
- One of those peoples have been willing to make concessions; while the second group did not think they had any reason to compromise, and has not.
- The first group has won repeated military victories over the second group.
- Despite those victories – and much to our continued surprise – the second group has never been willing to make fundamental compromises recognizing our existence here are a Jewish State.
We have been occupying the Palestinians who live in the West Bank for almost 50 years. For our own reasons, (including our desire to maintain a Jewish majority in the only Jewish state in the world) we have never developed a coherent strategy on what to do with the West Bank and to a lesser degree Gaza. As a result, two generations of Palestinian children have been born and grown up into a world in which their rights are limited, where their policeman are often our young soldiers, and where their ability to control their destiny is limited.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses AIPAC and maintains that “the knife yielding teenager and the bombers in Brussels are the same”, it may sound good, and it may be self-satisfying; however, it’s not true. And when our Prime Minister continues, asserting that “neither have any legitimate claims,” he is being just a tad misleading with regard to the Palestinians. One may agree or disagree with Palestinian claims; One might contend we should withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, or conversely, that we should hold onto it until the end of days. Whatever your political views, you need to recognize that the young Palestinian who attacks our army personnel has a real grievance.
Moreover, it is time to stop calling everyone who attacks us a terrorist. Anyone who assaults civilians, wherever they may be – whether in downtown Tel Aviv or in a settlement on the West Bank, is indeed a terrorist. However, when someone attacks our soldiers stationed in the West Bank with a knife, that is not terror.
Please don’t misinterpret my words or intentions. I do not sympathize with the attackers. That soldier on guard could easily be my son or daughter; who, if attacked I believe should be free to use deadly to stop the attacker. At the same time, we should realize that that attacker is someone who opposes our Occupation, and is willing to give up his or her life to show their opposition.
We live in a world of endless shades of grey. Somehow over the past 48 years too many people have been conditioned to believe that if you oppose us, you must have no rights and need to be eliminated. This is how groups such as “Breaking the Silence” (“Shovrim Sh’tika”) become branded as traitors; and everyone who attacks one of our soldiers or even violently protests is deemed to be a terrorist.
It seems despite the weighty emphasis on Holocaust education in this country over the past two score one of the most important lessons of the Holocaust has still failed to be learned. When one demonizes a people, (like Jews were demonized), it is possible to justify doing almost anything to them. It is time we learn this important lesson. We must understand we have enemies, and rivals, and people who do not like us. However, that does not make these adversaries inhuman; it does not make them all Hitler or Amalek. Whether you believe in two states for two people or a one state solution, the Arabs of the West Bank are not going to disappear. Regardless of whatever solution you believe in, we will need to live together or minimally beside them in peace someday. We need to act accordingly.