Former Israeli soldier, now author, Assaf Gavron, has a great editorial in the Washington Post today. Below is a slightly edited version:
“I was an Israel Defense Forces soldier in Gaza 27 years ago, during the first intifada. We patrolled the city and the villages and the refugee camps and encountered angry teenagers throwing stones at us. We responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Now those seem like the good old days. Since then, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen stones replaced with guns and suicide bombs, then rockets and highly trained militias, and now, in the past month, kitchen knives, screwdrivers and other improvised weapons. Some of these low-tech efforts have been horrifically successful, with victims as young as 13. There’s plenty to discuss about the nature and timing of the recent wave of Palestinian attacks — a desperate and humiliated answer to the election of a hostile Israeli government that emboldens extremist settlers to attack Palestinians. But as an Israeli, I’m more concerned with the actions of my own society, which are getting scarier and uglier by the moment.
The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it’s recently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice, orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, beamed to all corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all the others. Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it — to ask questions, to protest, to represent a different view from this artificial consensus — are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked at worst.
Since the start of last year’s Gaza war, there have been several incidents of anti-leftist violence to go along with the attacks aimed at Palestinians: Left-wing protesters were assaulted at antiwar demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa last summer, during the war; left-wing journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz was accused of treason by a Knesset member, a crime that during wartime is punishable by death. He’s since hired bodyguards. This month, people in Afula attacked an Arab correspondent for an Israeli TV network and his Jewish crew while they reported on a stabbing attack. On Friday, a masked Jewish settler attacked the president of the leftist group Rabbis for Human Rights in a Palestinian olive grove in the West Bank.
Facebook pages calling for violence against left-wingers and Arabs appear frequently, and any sentiment not aligned with the supposed consensus is met with a barrage of racist vitriol. One Facebook group discussed how to disrupt a wedding between an Arab and a Jew, posting the groom’s phone number and urging people to call and harass him.
There have been calls to kill attackers in every situation, in defiance of the law or any accepted rules of engagement for the military. Such sentiment has led to incidents like the death in East Jerusalem of Fadi Alloun, suspected of a knife attack but shot by police as they had him surrounded. Sometimes, it backfires: This month, a Jewish vigilante near Haifa stabbed a fellow Israeli Jew he thought was an Arab. Late Wednesday, soldiers killed an Israeli Jew whom they mistook for a Palestinian attacker.
The increasingly intolerant, boiling, racist tone of the Israeli conversation is a result of 48 years of occupying another people: of Israelis receiving a message (or at least understanding it as such) that we are superior to others, that we control the fate of those lesser others, that we are allowed to disregard laws and any basic notions of human morality with regard to Palestinians. The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely disturbing. We seem to be in an alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.
Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with. No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have security; meanwhile, we’ve become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, and racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we’re the more powerful side, we call the shots, and we can’t go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now.