Lately commentators have spent time reflecting on the prominence of hate in Palestine/Israel. They write that we’re approaching the “Point of no return;” the juncture after “The window is closing” but still a ways from “What have we done?” and “How has it come to this?” Flat thinkers rue the loss of a halcyon, mythical Zionism, hardly realizing how old it’s gotten for the rest of us. Narcissism represses the capacity for self-awareness, it seems.
A lot of the commentary has been written in response to one murder. So, what was different about Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s death? He was murdered, but that’s not special; lots of Palestinians have been murdered. He was young – fifteen is a wrong time to die. Yet many, many Palestinian children have been killed and are being killed. Was it because he was burned to death? No. The notorious white phosphorous massacres of 2008/2009 produced the same nasty, deliberate result. Frankly, it’s a brutality we’ve come to expect.
So what was it?
For Palestinians – nothing. Mohammed’s death was nothing special. His life had meaning and value, but his death was a matter of course. The latest astringent droplet in the fight to abolish Zionism. One of 1,530 doses administered in fourteen years (What were their hopes and dreams? Who are their families?).
But for some Zionists the murder appears to have caused some discomfort. It will undoubtedly pass, like gas or bloating, but the fact that it occurred at all provides a sharpened insight into their society: murder is acceptable, dampened, kneaded and rounded out, but only when it’s perpetrated by an agent of the state, as in Gaza right now (or at the periphery, by settlers with guns for instance).
In Israel, the zealous, worshipful regard for tzahal – often described as the most moral of the world’s criminal syndicates – means that murder is palliated by an official pronouncement. A man with a dun badge begins to speak and the military correspondent at Haaretz, Yediot Ahronot, Maariv or the New York Times loosens his gizzard in preparation for the deluge. Children are not children, they are rioters. Stone-throwing is not an act of defiance, it is an act that showcases murderous intent. Collective punishment is not a war crime, rather, it is standard operating procedure in a hazardous operational theater. Best intentions are imputed to “our boys” and “terrorists” abound.
When, for instance, Israeli snipers murder two boys near the Ofer prison camp, a wooly character – Michael Oren in this case – is invited to squat heavily, langorously on the truth. Despite his heft, it wends its way through his porous trunk and eventually emerges. But for Jewish-Israelis, the mere fact of its now-yellowness is enough to relieve, absolve and forget – at least for those who paid attention in the first place. Michael Oren said Pallywood; we are left only to offer the boys congratulations on an authentic performance. The performance of a lifetime.
The contrast between the two scenarios, Mohammed’s murder and the murders of Nadim Nuwara and Mohammed Salameh, compels one to ask a set of questions: What is it that Michael Oren and Peter Lerner act so indispensably to produce for lay Zionists – those not directly involved in the killing and demolitions? Why is their role – shoddy obfuscation, muddlement and distraction – so important? After all, they fail to convince anyone who genuinely wishes to question; they are more leitmotif than effective hasbara at this point.
The answer goes directly to group identity and national mythology, the stories people tell about themselves. The foundational Zionist tale is a grainy mash of hokey idealism, exceptionalism, collectivism and jingoism tightly wound and propelled forward by the irresistible power of fate.
But more than that. Zionism is shot through and electrified by a profound sense of victimhood. Prospective victimhood leers in the rearview mirror and lurks around the next bend. It’s the hook that ensnares American and French Zionists and causes them to move to Palestine. Simultaneously, Zionism imbues its adherents with a belief in permanent victimness. The bullies in the schoolyard are anti-Semites. Iranians are Amalekites. Barack Hussein Obama is an uppity kushi and a Muslim. Hajj Amin Hussein conspired with Hitler, Hamas is a death cult and the world will always be against us and so forth. Thus, victimhood is a collective memory, a potential state-of-being and a permanent frame of mind. It is the singular quantum of identity, spinning wildly and everywhere at once.
In that context, smearing shit on the walls of a family’s home in Gaza is eminently permissible, but only if it occurs at a distance, and through the organized hasbara bloc of the Israeli arms apparatus. No vigilantism please. Coprophilia, but only the state-sanctioned type – and for self-defense, only.
This structural understanding makes it easy to know how Mohammed’s murderers transgressed. It had nothing to do with the sanctity of human life or an aversion to overt acts of cowardice. Mainly, the murderers failed to submit themselves to the Collective Action Plan. And by doing so they stripped their co-ideologists of the sticky gauze holding the jumbled self together. Oren could not be deployed. “Self defense” could not materialize and “terrorist threat” evaporated. The hallowed Zionist tradition of Shoot-and-cry could not be evoked and a self-righteous moralistic self-regard could not be distilled from the circumstances. Tattered Victimhood was left to flit and flutter without its host.
And the wounded bleating commenced. But only for a little while, and only as interlude.