The sub-text in Israel's soul-searching

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Despite the hand-wringing among Israelis over the deaths of Palestinians, few want to face the true reason such hatred survives: A state-sanctioned sense of superiority

Michal Zak's picture
Thursday 12 February 2015 16:45 UTC

Here we go again. The ritual of the good citizen has begun among Jewish citizens in Israel. Everyone is genuinely ‘shocked’ over the death of Mohamed Abu Khdeir. Everyone is ashamed and trying to understand how it is possible. How can anyone burn a Palestinian boy alive?

Yet in the same breath these citizens offer answers to why this happened: ‘It’s the fault of the extremists in parliament. It’s the fault of extreme religious leaders and (or) it’s because of social media encouraging hate and racism’.  

Such arguments are indeed frightening and disturbing. But the extreme in this case is defined by the centre - and it is the centre that concerns me.  

Rather than calls for revenge, it is the feelings of liberal, moderate Jews on Facebook over the murder that should be raising questions. Why are expressions being used as such as: ‘I am praying in my heart that it was not Jews who did it.’ 

I have seen this before. It seems normal, mainstream, law-abiding Israeli citizens need to feel that the violence and the racism are on the margins of society - far from them. This is the only way to construct a calm normality around themselves.  

But I have news for these Israelis: Nothing is calm here, and the fault for the hatred on show doesn’t lie with the extremists. The culprit is the racist discourse created and sustained by the leaders of this country. 

Racist laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens are regularly proposed in parliament, some of them pass into law while appearing as a natural part of our ethnic democracy.  It is very important to stress that these laws did not emanate from some right-wing Jewish terrorist cell.  They are part of the foundation of our society. 

The army - not three Jewish terrorists - killed 1,384 Palestinian children in the last 14 years (127 Israeli children were killed at the same period by Palestinians).  Were any of the killers condemned?  Were any accused of murder?  Did people question these deaths?   In May, two young Palestinian boys were killed by soldiers.  No shock was expressed by mainstream Israeli society and very few people saw this as an indication that something is very wrong.

 I have been listening to the more moderate leaders these past few days - those who are calling for restraint and who want us to act from our heads rather than from our stomachs.  President Shimon Peres said about the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Shoafat: “…We did not believe that our people were capable of such a horrible and cruel crime ….we must not be such a people….there is no difference between (Palestinian) blood and (Jewish) blood.   Murder that is committed on nationalistic grounds is a horrible crime, we must not accept it….”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also spoken on the issue: ”….just as I condemn slogans that call for death to Jews, I condemn slogans that call for death to Arabs… murder is murder… the place of the murderers of the [Palestinian] boy is not among us – not in Israeli society….that is what makes us different from our neighbors.  There [in Palestine] murderers are accepted as heroes, they [Palestinians] name city squares after them….”

Our minister of defense, Yaalon, has also said: “The Jewish murderers are terrorists…they are despised, they do not represent the Jewish people….”

These are fine words on the surface, but behind these strong clear words there is a not-so-subtle subtext reflecting and helping to sustain a culture.  The subtext is that we are better than them.  Jews are morally better than Arabs. 

This subtext justifies everything that the state is doing. Even the murder of Abu Khdeir is cynically used for this great scheme: Our leaders tell us to note how shocked we are and how quickly we found the killers. We are moral and we punish our strays.  

On the other hand the army’s investigation into the killing of the two Palestinian boys in May is still going on.  It seems that it is very difficult to conclude how they were killed, although the investigators know which soldiers were at the scene, they have cameras which documented the killings and the army controls the area.  It is important to unravel the mindset of the liberal moderate Israelis who can actually be quite critical until it comes to security issues.  That is when they give their support to the military and to the courts.

Many years ago I taught a class in one of the universities based on dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian students regarding the nature of the conflict.  One day a young Jewish man who had recently completed his regular army service began to tell the group about horrible things that he had taken part in as a soldier. 

This is something that is rarely heard - especially in front of Palestinians.  He had hardly begun his story before the young Jewish women in the group aggressively told him to stop.  They accused him of lying and exaggerating.  It can’t be true, they said, because we live with soldiers.  Our husbands and boyfriends could not have committed such crimes.   The young man appeared to have disturbed their sense of superiority and entitlement, disrupting their ability to live in denial.   

I walk in fear among my people and I wonder where the killers are of the other 1,384 Palestinian children?  Is my doctor among them?  My lawyer?  My student?  My children’s teacher?  My car mechanic?  

Michal Zak is a political educator, expert in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue and a resident of the Palestinian –Jewish community of Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom, in Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.   

Photo credit:  Mohamed Abu Khdeir was the victim of far-right Jews avenging the killing of three Israeli teenagers (AFP)