Israel’s doctrine: Humane bombing and benevolent occupation

How Israelis moved from shooting and crying to shooting and laughing in Palestine.

Israelis sit on a hill, overlooking the Gaza Strip, as they watch the Israeli army's assault on Gaza on August 2, 2014 [File: Siegfried Modola/Reuters]

As Israel pounds the Gaza Strip in its fourth major military offensive against its mostly refugee inhabitants in the past dozen years, it is claiming a superior moral code of conduct.

As Israeli leaders would have it, the world should not be distracted by the images of death and destruction, for which Hamas should be held responsible, as it hides among the civilian population.

In fact, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden, “Israel is doing everything possible to avoid harming innocent civilians.”

Indeed, Israel sends warning shots to Gaza residents so they can narrowly escape with their lives just before it destroys their livelihoods with bombs. The Palestinians should be thankful.

Israel also claims that it targets specific terrorist installations, anything else is an unintended consequence. But what Israel calls “collateral damage”, the Palestinians call loved ones: the women, men, and children they mourn every day.

Netanyahu says that Israel targets Hamas for targeting Israeli population centres. But while that should not be condoned or excused, the reality once again tells a different story: there is a significant disparity between the death and destruction the Palestinians and the Israelis face.

Israel and its enablers also insist on its right of self-defence, when, in fact, Israel had forfeited that right by becoming an expanding occupying power.

They say Israel only aims to defend its citizens, when in fact it is defending the occupation and the subjugation of the Palestinians.

Israel insists it does not start wars. This is generally false, considering it started most of its past wars. It provoked war through assassinations, bombings, closures, evictions, land grabs, attacks on holy sites, and unrelenting illegal settlements, etc.

The decades-long military and civilian occupation in and of itself is a continued state of war and violence. Israel could stop the madness of war by simply ending the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians.

Israel claims it does not seek conflict, that it seeks peace. But throughout much of the quarter of a century “peace process”, successive Israeli governments have insisted on maintaining total domination over all of historic Palestine and expanded the illegal settlements for that purpose.

At any rate, these well-rehearsed, often repeated, “talking points” are nothing new. They have gone a long way in justifying Israeli aggression throughout its history, even though the tragedy of war transcends all spin.

But for a long time, they also reflected a deeper contradiction in the Israeli mindset. Indeed, since its inception, Israel has projected a conflicting image of being powerful but insecure, superior but needy, bloody but humane, violent but vulnerable, and ultimately a merciful warrior and a vicious peacemaker.

Israel has been a formidable military and nuclear power, superior to all its neighbours combined, and yet it is the only country that consistently obsesses about its survival.

It is because this type of insecurity is rooted not in the lack of strength but its lack of acceptability or fitting in as a settler colonial project in a predominantly Arab region, whose people overwhelmingly reject it.

Israel’s insecurity was born in sin – the sin of a state founded on the ruin of another people, the catastrophic takeover of Palestine and the dispossession of its inhabitants by malign violence in 1948.

Although the Zionist leaders at the time lied about the causes and the management of the war, they could not escape the truth of their doing. As Israel’s “new historians” have documented, Palestinians did not flee their towns voluntarily, nor were they heeding some Arab calls to evacuate their homes. Israel carried out a well-planned, wide-ranging ethnic cleansing offensive to ensure the Jewishness of the new state.

That made many Israelis uncomfortable and conflicted. After all, many of its early Jewish immigrants were themselves victims of horrible atrocities in Europe and elsewhere.

But while many Israelis felt justified, others expressed sorrow for the horrible things they “had to do”, although no one forced their hand to occupy Palestine or maintain their control for decades.

Indeed, more than a few early Zionists understood the horrific consequence of war and advocated peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians in one state for much of the first half of the 20th century.

The conflicted mindset was best understood in the old Israeli expression, yorim ve bochim, literally “shooting and crying”. It is as old and complex an expression as the state itself.

In his 1949 novel, Khirbet Khizeh, Yizhar Smilansky, an army officer and renowned author, depicted with shocking prose the preplanned and unprovoked destruction of a Palestinian village and the expulsion of its inhabitants across the border carried out by his military unit during the 1948 war.

As an intelligence officer, Smilansky knew all too well that this was only one of several hundreds of villages and towns destroyed by the Israeli forces. But like Micha, his novel’s protagonist, he joined his comrades in “finishing the job”, despite his guilty conscience.

The revisionist novel was made into a movie and a TV series, while Smilansky became a Knesset member from the ruling Mapai party in the 1950s, as it continued to dispossess the Palestinians of their basic human rights.

It is this type of confliction between Smilansky, the writer, and Smilansky, the politician, that shaped the writings of more than a few leading Zionist writers, notably Amos Oz, who influenced the views of millions, especially the “diaspora Jews”.

I took the time during the pandemic to finish two of Oz’s novels, Judas and Scenes From Village Life, and found them literarily interesting but politically hypocritical.

However, it was the late Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, who took the hypocrisy of “shooting and crying” to a whole new level of bulls***.

In one of her infamous racist zingers, she told the Palestinians, “We can forgive you for killing our sons, but we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.” That is chutzpah par excellance.

It follows, rather obscenely, that today, the Palestinians owe Israel a huge apology for its army killing so many of them.

The hypocrisy goes well beyond fighting war into waging of peace. In 1993, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin boasted of Israel’s generosity and its willingness to share a rather tiny part of “the Land of Israel” with the Palestinians for the sake of peace. Never mind, that it was the Palestinians who were making a historic compromise by recognising Israel stretching over four-fifths of their homeland.

But all that is now in the past. It is indeed, passé.

After years of acting with impunity, today’s Israelis, certainly most Israeli leaders, do not shoot and cry. They do not want to share the land or make real peace with the Palestinians. Most are more likely to shoot and laugh.

One of the most disturbing images I have ever seen in my lifetime was during the Gaza war in 2014. It was devoid of drama or tragedy, showing only a bunch of Israelis picnicking on the hills overseeing Gaza, eating popcorn and enjoying themselves, as they watched the Israeli bombardment of the densely populated, overly impoverished strip.

Why let the death of Palestinians ruin a great firework display?

In the past, certain Israeli leaders may have been disturbed by all that they have done, by the crimes they have committed, but they reckoned the ends justified the means.

Hypocritical? Perhaps. But unlike the new generation of fanatic leaders and their followers, they were at least conflicted and some even remorseful.

By contrast, today, Netanyahu’s minions and partners use words like regret and peace as props. Worse, they have an entire guidebook prepared after the first Israel-Gaza War in 2009, guiding officials on how to portray Israel as a peace-loving, well-intentioned victim of Palestinians’ aggression.

One could only roll one’s eyes watching Netanyahu warning Palestinians in Israel against using violence, when they are the victims of organised violence, when they are merely trying to defend themselves against overwhelming police brutality and lynching by mobs of Jewish fanatics.

I wrote about this hasbara deception masquerading as confliction, in a number of articles during the 2014 Gaza war here, here and here, for example.

What I found to be most instructive throughout my study of Israel’s war and propaganda is that Israel has brought nothing new to the art of deception, except, perhaps, a slicker delivery.

Most other previous colonial powers called their enemies terrorists, accused them of cowardice, and of using civilians as human shields, blah blah blah.

But what became of these colonialists and their propaganda?

It may be hard if not impossible to be optimistic about the short-term prospects of a solution. But when the dust settles on another sadistic Israeli war, Israelis will once again find themselves stuck with millions of Palestinians ever more determined to regain their liberty.

Like the dozen colonial states that preceded them, notably the white settler regimes in South Africa and Algeria, the Israelis will sooner or later have to make a choice: to live in peace or leave in humiliation.

There is no point in postponing the inevitable and suffering in the process.