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On ‘retaliatory strikes’ and ‘Israeli fear’

Media Analysis
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As Israel escalated its structural oppression of Gaza through renewed military attacks this week, the Israeli military has killed at least 34 Palestinians, and exterminated a complete family. Following traditional patterns, these actions have been rationalized and euphemized throughout Western media, which tended to center the discourse on Israel’s fears.

The BBC has perfectly exemplified this phenomenon, when it labeled Israel’s attacks as “retaliatory strikes.” It further reported that 63 people in Israel “have been treated for injuries and stress symptoms,” highlighting that “[a]n elderly woman was slightly wounded by broken glass after a rocket hit a house in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.” Israeli paper Haaretz wrote that four Israelis were treated for anxiety.

Reactions from the U.S. Political Elite

U.S. politicians echoed the centrality of anxiety. This latest episode reiterated that every major U.S. lawmaker and presidential contender would work towards shielding Israel from both significant criticism and Palestinian resistance.

Bernie Sanders tweeted:

“Israelis should not have to live in fear of rocket fire. Palestinians should not have to live under occupation and blockade. The U.S. must lead the effort to end the crisis in Gaza and the persistent violence that threatens everyone.”

While, within the United States, Sanders’ views on Palestine are oftentimes considered more progressive in relation to the political spectrum in that country, Sanders’ criticism of Israel has always been limited to the framework of an unbreakable U.S.-Israeli bond. Applying the same rhetoric, Joe Biden, known for his unapologetic support for Israel, tweeted:

“Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist threats. It is intolerable that Israeli civilians live their lives under the constant fear of rocket attacks. That’s why our administration was such a strong supporter of Israel’s life-saving Iron Dome.”

That Palestinians are not only living in constant fear of rocket fire, but also experiencing structural violence of genocidal dimensions, is not acknowledged. In fact, the daily struggle for survival of Palestinians in Gaza in the face of a brutal Israeli siege by land, water, and air, rarely makes any headlines. When Palestinian responses disturb Israeli comfort, U.S. media and politicians do get vocal – mostly to proclaim solidarity with the occupying power.

Opposing Realities

Indeed, daily life seemed slightly disrupted in Israel. An article in Haaretz, titled “No Casualties but Plenty of Confused Tourists in Tel Aviv,” soberly depicts how unusual that particular day was experienced in Tel Aviv.

“A stroll through the streets of central of Tel Aviv early Tuesday morning revealed that this was clearly not a normal workday. Traffic was not as heavy as usual; the number of commuters passing through the turnstiles at the Hashalom train station — a major public transportation hub — was unusually low for this time of day; and there was none of the usual hustle-bustle in the streets.”

The reader further learns that a major street was so quite, “it felt almost like Shabbat,” that there were no bicycles in sight on Tuesday morning, that a security guard looked bored and that the beach was relatively empty. While “famous cafés and restaurants were open,” “business seemed to be slower than usual for the time of day.” As a result, some tourists were confused. All of this happened because the “locals” were “[a]pparently at home, glued to the news.”

Compared to the disastrous living conditions in Gaza, these inconveniences in Tel Aviv appear as a temporary, limited contestation of the Western privilege that Israel enjoys in the region.

Settler-Colonial Fear

Beyond the constant evocation of Israeli fear as a way of rationalizing state violence, fear needs to be understood as a structure that underlies the relationship between the settler-colonial state and the indigenous population.

As Deborah Bird Rose theorized, the native gets in the way of the colonizer by merely staying at home. Hence, indigenous people are prone to being criminalized under the settler rule for continuing to exist on their own land. While early Zionists, who have openly used the language of colonialism, had various views regarding the population of Palestine, some did identify Palestinian resistance early on as the fundamental obstacle to the colonial project.

Prominent militant Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in 1923 that “[t]he native populations … have stubbornly resisted the colonists,” and that “[e]very native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.” As Mahmoud Darwish expressed poetically, “hope” is an incurable malady for Palestinians, who are hoping for liberation, independence, and a normal life. Jabotinsky understood early on that resisting “is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.’”

As a consequence of these fears, almost a century ago, Jabotinsky advocated for an “iron wall” that would separate the incoming settler-community from the present Arab inhabitants. Like Jabotinsky, many Zionist leaders, including Theodor Herzl, realized that the colony without metropole could only survive through a perpetual alignment with strong Western powers. The conceptualization of Israel as a European outpost has consistently been reiterated, for example, by Netanyahu.

Palestinian Resistance

While Israel managed to ethnically cleanse much of the land in the 1948, Palestinians continue to survive on their land and to resist the continuous violence that Israel subjugates them to. In fact, the mere existence and survival of Palestinians is a constant source of fear for an ethnocratic state, which thrives on colonial expansion and racist subjugation.

Palestinian resistance efforts need to be viewed within the context of the right to resist, which is enshrined in several UN documents. Resolution 37/43 from December 1982, for example, which was passed following Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon that entailed the Sabra and Shatila massacre, scrutinizes Israel’s “denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, sovereignty, independence and return to Palestine and the repeated acts of aggression by Israel against the peoples of the region” as “a serious threat to international peace and security.” The resolution stresses “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”

Fear and “Terrorism”

As long as Palestinians resist, there will be Israeli anxiety. Israeli rhetoric has changed throughout time. Today, it focuses on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which came into existence over a century after the emergence of settler-colonial Zionism. Regardless of how resistance against Israel is organized, Israel and its Western allies can easily discursively criminalize every Palestinian, alive or dead, into individual “terrorists” or members of a “terrorist organization” in order to turn them into existential threats and justify their killing.

The fear of the native is visible in the reproduction of ever-new methods of containment and control of Palestinians, from apartheid laws, segregation walls, and military control, to bombardments. Fear will continue to define Israel’s approach to Palestinians.

Denijal Jegić

Denijal Jegić is a postdoctoral scholar. He holds a PhD from the Institute for Transnational American Studies, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz). You can follow him on Twitter @denijeg.

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11 Responses

  1. eljay on November 20, 2019, 11:36 am

    … As long as Palestinians resist, there will be Israeli anxiety. …

    As long as his victims resist, there will be rapist anxiety. The only thing the rapist can do is continue to kidnap, imprison and rape.

    To expect him to do anything else – liberate his victims, turn himself in to the authorities, accept responsibility and accountability for his past and on-going crimes and, hopefully, reform – is to “single out” the rapist and deny him his “right” to “self-determine” himself in women.

    Rapists – like Zionists – are truly hateful and immoral people.

  2. bcg on November 20, 2019, 2:32 pm

    “…Jabotinsky advocated for an “iron wall” that would separate the incoming settler-community from the present Arab inhabitants.”

    According to Ian Lustick’s new book “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality” Jabotinsky actually envisioned the “Iron Wall” strategy as a way of showing the Palestinians that the Jews were there to stay, and once it became clear that they accepted that he believed that there would be equal rights between the Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of the region. But what happened instead, in Lustick’s telling, is that Israel became drunk with victory after the ’67 war, and any notion of living as equals went out the window.

    • echinococcus on November 20, 2019, 9:22 pm

      “Jabotinsky actually envisioned the “Iron Wall” strategy as a way of showing the Palestinians that the Jews were there to stay, and once it became clear that they accepted that he believed that there would be equal rights between the Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of the region. But what happened instead, in Lustick’s telling, is that Israel became drunk with victory after the ’67 war,”

      If Mr Lustick really believes that, he’d be as hopeless as Vladimir Jabotinsky himself (not that Zionists are not drunk with hubris, they are of course.) Where is one people who after being invaded and occupied, and not exterminated, accepts the invader as a master in its own home? These Zionists are something.

      • Misterioso on November 21, 2019, 10:20 am

        @echinococcus

        For the record regarding Jabotinsky:

        In 1925, Polish born Zionist, Vladimir Jabotinsky, founded the Revisionist Party, the precursor of the Irgun and Stern Gang terror groups as well as today’s Likud party. It called for the “revision” of the British mandate to allow the forcible Zionist colonization of Transjordan and its union with Palestine to create one Jewish state. Jabotinsky advocated that Zionism should concentrate solely on the creation of a Jewish state encompassing the borders of biblical or Eretz Israel and if London did not provide its full hearted support, Jewish forces should be mobilized to be used against British troops in Palestine.

        Jabotinsky’s chauvinistic, militaristic, fascistic and authoritarian views appealed mainly to young Jews, including many in Europe, where he formed youth groups known as Betar whose practices such as wearing brown shirts and using distinctive salutes were taken from Italian fascists. Revisionist Zionism became increasingly popular during the late 1920’s and Betar groups were being formed in Palestine.

        Palestinians knew that the Revisionists were fascists who intended to expel them, but unlike Weizmann and the Labour Zionists who had the same objective, (see Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, pp. 30-38) they were up front about it. Jabotinsky did not mince his words: “We Jews, thank God, have nothing to do with the East….The Islamic soul must be broomed out of Eretz-Yisrael.” (Ya’acov Shavit, “The Attitude of Zionist Revisionism towards the Arabs” in Zionism and the Arab Question (Hebrew) p. 74) Nor did he hide his racism. For him, Palestinians were “yelling rabble dressed up in gaudy, savage rags” (Joseph Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jobotinksy Story, the Early Years, New York: T. Yoseloff, 1956, p. 54) and in his view, the colonization of Palestine by European Jews would “push the moral frontiers of Europe to the Euphrates.” (Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism, p. 180)

        Jabotinsky also considered Arab Jews or Sephardi as they where then known, to be inferior to those from Europe. In an article written in 1919, entitled “Jews of the East” “…he opposed mixed marriages with non-European Jews and the creation of a single Jewish people on the grounds that he did not know whether this would result in ‘a brilliant people or a dull race.’” He also insisted that Ashkenazi Jews had to preserve their majority status in Jewish society in Palestine.” (Vladimir Jabotinsky, “Jews of the East,” 1919, quoted in Ha’aretz, 22 July 1983)

      • echinococcus on November 21, 2019, 12:34 pm

        Just so, Misterioso.

        For the record, though. a couple nits to pick:
        “Jabotinsky also considered Arab Jews or Sephardi as they where then known…”

        They were not known as such, and their being so “known” now among Zionists and the clueless doesn’t make them so.
        The Sephardi are Jews of Iberia, expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th Century along with the Moors (to realize the vision of a religiously monolithic, Constantinian state after the Reconquista was completed.)

        They still spoke Spanish as a mother tongue until recently, not Arabic; their boomer generation still does. A very interesting dialect of Spanish that was purposefully murdered by the ZIonists and their ridiculous constructed language.

        They are continually being lumped with the Mizrahi, ie the Arab Jews, by Zionist propaganda.

        Also, that Vladimir Jabotinsky was not Polish but Russian, born and grown in Odessa on the Black Sea.

      • Misterioso on November 21, 2019, 3:14 pm

        @echinococcus

        “’Jabotinsky also considered Arab Jews or Sephardi as they where then known…’”
        “They were not known as such, and their being so ‘known’ now among Zionists and the clueless doesn’t make them so.
        “The Sephardi are Jews of Iberia, expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th Century along with the Moors…”

        You’re absolutely correct. My error. Thanks for pointing it out. Haste makes waste!!

        I assure you however that I did know that “Misrahi” refers to Arab Jews and as you wrote,
        “The Sephardi are Jews of Iberia, expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th Century along with the Moors.

    • JaapBo on November 21, 2019, 5:44 pm

      1967 is not the year in which Zionism suddenly turned racist
      In 1948 Zionism was already very racist. E.g the Nakba, or read the Israeli Declaration of independence “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants”, or in other words: no full equality, only the appearance of equality

  3. JLewisDickerson on November 20, 2019, 3:18 pm

    RE: “As long as Palestinians resist, there will be Israeli anxiety. Israeli rhetoric has changed throughout time. Today, it focuses on Hamas and Islamic Jihad . . .” ~ Denijal Jegić

    SEE: “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas” | By Andrew Higgins | The Wall Street Journal | Jan 24, 2009

    [EXCERPTS] Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor’s bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile’s trajectory back to an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years ago.

    “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

    Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. . .

    . . . When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

    “When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.” . . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – https://web.archive.org/web/20090208223439/http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123275572295011847.html

  4. RoHa on November 21, 2019, 3:14 am

    “Israelis should not have to live in fear…”

    I thought Israel was the place where Jews needn’t live in fear and would be safe from those awful anti-Semites.

  5. Elizabeth Block on November 21, 2019, 10:54 am

    I think it was June 2014 – just before one of the worst assaults on Gaza – that a man passing by our weekly vigil in front of the Israeli consulate in Toronto asked, “What is life like for Jewish Israelis?”
    I said, “They’re fine. They go to the beach, they go to the mall, they go to work, they go to school. The occupation doesn’t touch them.”
    Superficially, that’s true. Profoundly, it isn’t. It does touch them. But you know what? I’m not going to waste pity on them.

  6. JaapBo on November 21, 2019, 5:51 pm

    Well written!
    There are several reasons for Israeli fear:
    – fear justifies violence, in spite of it being immoral because it is colonial violence
    – fear that Palestinians will take revenge for the crimes committed against them
    – fear that they will lose their position of power
    There is only one way to end Israeli fear: give Palestinians equality!

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