Jewish Israelis see no solution to their conflict with the Palestinians living alongside them, and wholly approve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s aggressive response to Gaza.
That was the takeaway from interviews I did with about three dozen Jewish Israelis this past week on the street in Jerusalem and in towns hit by rockets from Gaza. Like American soccer moms who voted for George Bush in ’04, these Jewish Israelis overwhelmingly support their government’s militant answers to a horizon crowded with ominous forces.
But when asked what the solution was to the Palestinian political issue, the people I talked to shrugged. None of them paid even lip service to the two-state solution. Many expressed fears of Islamists taking power in the Arab spring.
“In my life I don’t see a solution with the Arab,” said a young woman server at the Aroma coffee shop in Kiryat Gat, which has been struck by rocket fire.
“A solution? I hope– next generation,” said a father in Sederot, walking to his car.
And shockingly, several Jewish Israelis I spoke to called for genocide in Gaza. “Kill them all,” said Chen, 23, in Ashkelon.
My survey was hardly scientific, but it suggests that even if a Labor coalition can oust Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition in the January elections, its policies in the West Bank and Gaza will be no different. The interviews left me despairing about the Israeli Jewish public. They are separated from Palestinians, have no sense at all of Palestinian grievances, and would much rather bash Palestinians than even think of sharing power with them.
Only one person I spoke to had a humanistic approach to the Gaza siege – “The only solution is to make a real peace. They have to be able to get in and get out of Gaza,” Ingbal, a mother of three in Ashkelon, said.
But everyone else was for war. “We need war to get peace… quietness,” Elraz Azran, a restaurant owner in Sederot, said. “They [Gazans] need to know who is the owner.”
And what about the seven or eight wars that Israel has fought before this one, also to give it peace? The Israelis I spoke to seemed to look on war as their condition, and just let us be sure and deliver more violence than we receive.
Several people offered genocidal statements unprompted. What is the solution to Gaza? “Long term? I don’t think you should write it down,” Debbie, an Australian who had emigrated to a town near Gaza, said. “Push delete on Gaza,” said a 22-year-old man standing on a hill in Sederot overlooking Gaza.
“Gaza need to disappear,” said Chen, 23, a clerical worker in a doctor’s office in Ashkelon. “Disappear?” “Yes, kill them all. Of course. One time, and that’s it.” She dusted her hands together. “Nobody’s good there.” Her coworker, Miri, 52, nodded agreement.
These vengeful Israelis live near Gaza, but even “leftwing” Israeli Jews are hardened. Shulamit, 62, a Jerusalem artist, her neck strung with colorful beads, said she had often voted Meretz (a leftwing party) but was leaning toward Netanyahu’s Likud party this time round.
“Netanyahu, he’s thinking very well with Gaza,” she said.
I asked her about Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s warning five years ago that Israel is “finished” if it does not get out of the West Bank and allows an apartheid struggle to begin.
“I agreed with him at the time. Now– there has been some changes… in the surroundings,” Shulamit said. Obama has a “beautiful soul,” but he had made a terrible mistake with Egypt in encouraging Mubarak to leave and Islamists to come in. The Middle East is not ready for democracy, she said.
Shulamit was typical of Jewish Israelis who have been made to feel insecure by the Arab spring. The two state solution is a dead letter to them.
“The world and Israeli also, we give [Palestinians] hope… we will leave … [the] West Bank. This hope is a mistake,” Maer, 30, an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem, said. “We are here. This is the security principle, we can’t leave the West Bank, because the geographic area is so small.” He said Israel needs to hold the West Bank as a bulwark against Islamist radicals.
My sense of the deadend on the Jewish street is echoed by today’s frontpage New York Times story where Ethan Bronner openly despairs about Israel’s lack of vision: “Many analysts and diplomats outside Israel say the country today needs a different approach to Hamas and the Palestinians based more on acknowledging historic grievances and shifting alliances.”
Amazingly, Bronner quotes Rami Khouri criticizing “maniacal Zionists.”
It is a good thing that the New York Times is putting Zionism on the front page. My interviews left me with the sense that out of a core commitment to Jewish sovereignty and a Jewish majority, the Jewish Israeli collective now contains widespread hatred of Palestinians. Almost all the Jewish Israelis I spoke to have no desire to live with Palestinians or to figure out how to go forward. They only want to punish Palestinians for resistance.
But note that the Times front page is talking about Palestinians’ “historic grievances.” Israel was created in 1948 by expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians– many of whom ended up in Gaza.
The Jewish Israelis I spoke to are not interested in the causes of resistance or in human rights. They see themselves engaged in an existential struggle that demands the law of the jungle, again and again. Who cannot observe these attitudes and wonder about the wisdom of establishing a Jewish state.