Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Worisome Israeli Mindset

Mehdi Beyati  (Kings College Palestine Society President-Elect)

If we were to characterise states in human terms, correlating them with their level of maturity and chronological development, Israel would be a spoilt, petulant child – taking what does not belong to it, squealing when challenged or threatened with punishment, sticking its tongue out at authority, and in doing so, harming its own long-term development. I tend to see states as rational actors; not benevolent or just, but rational, insofar as their own geopolitical and economic interests (or perceived and self-attested interests, rather) are concerned. However, the Israeli state has clearly lost it, so to speak, and is a special case.
When news of the assault on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza broke out last year, my initial thoughts and feelings were not of disgust or grief, but a sense of incomprehension. In recent years, the Israeli state’s “decision-making”, as Norman Finkelstein puts it, has “deteriorated”. The 2006 war in Lebanon was a failure, even according to Israeli military pronouncements. The Gaza massacre too was both a PR blunder, marking a clear turning point in public discourse and perception surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a strategic and military disaster – not just failing to dislodge Hamas, but in fact increasing support for them. I would have thought that considering its worsening image across the world (which the Israeli state has clearly recognised and is attempting to counteract), it would not have boarded a humanitarian fleet in the middle of the night in international waters, would not have fired live rounds, andwould not have killed nine people.
It is not that I doubt or underestimate the sinister nature of the Israeli state and security forces, but I would have expected them to act in a way that acknowledged the hostile international climate towards them. What we have seen over the last few years, however, is an increasingly irrational, unpredictable and vicious character of Israeli actions towards the Palestinians and other parties who are deemed as a “threat”.
It might seem very cynical and crass to describe Israeli actions as strategic blunders, rather than calling them for what they are – crimes, both immoral and illegal. But by recognising the increasingly illogical and self-defeating nature of Israeli actions and policies, we reach two conclusions, one more urgent and worrying than the other: the Israeli state is imploding; and unfortunately, in the short-term at least, this will mean further acts of crazed violence, as the state struggles to contain largely imagined “threats”.
The flotilla incident last year demonstrated this very clearly. Israel’s actions ended up publicising the mission and cause of the fleet, drawing attention to the continued siege on Gaza, and fuelling widespread criticism and condemnation from international human rights organisations, activists, and various governments.
Similarly, Israel’s denial of entry to 82 year old renowned linguist and thinker, Noam Chomsky, within that same year is difficult to justify in terms of security; he certainly would have enthused the students at Birzeit University, but I doubt he would have inspired them to take up arms. The Israeli authorities merely presented themselves as timid and paranoid, as well as indecisive, as they later described the decision as a “mistake”.
It is also non-violence that is stripping Israel of its democratic, liberal simulacra. It would be inappropriate and conceited of me to preach non-violence and passive resistance to an occupied people; however it is clearly very exposing and effective – as exemplified by the first days of both Palestinian Intifadas – in revealing state aggression and brutality. The idea is to provoke the state to react excessively and harshly. This is working. What is not working is what should happen next: a castigating international response. Among more recent events, on Sunday 5 June, when Israeli forces fired indiscriminately on 1,000 unarmed civilians marching to the ceasefire line between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights, there was not a word from the White House, nor from Downing Street. At least 23 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded in just a matter of hours. Again, Israel’s incoherence and absurdity were very overtly noticeable. The protesters never crossed the ceasefire line. Arguments relayed by Israeli Media Spokesman, Mark Regev, among others, which asserted the notion that demonstrators almost crossed into Israeli territory, simply did not hold water, because under international law the area in question belongs to Syria. Unarmed protestors were shot at whilst standing behind barbed wire.
What else can we expect from this insane state? Will they attack Iran and how will they respond to the new flotilla, departing in late June? What Israeli actions show, over the course of the last few years, is that they are becoming increasingly nervous and insecure. It would be unwise to attempt to gauge, or worse, underestimate, their brutality at this point. Traditionally viewed as the standard-bearer of Enlightenment rationality and liberalism, trapped in the midst of bloodthirsty, emotional Arabs, Israel is beginning to resemble the suicidal gunman. Some might rejoice at this; I, for one, am fearful. A lunatic with arms is nothing to celebrate – they usually kill many before turning the gun on themselves.