A recent poll conducted by Mina Tzemach has some troubling revelations for everyone concerned with the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza (Operation Protective Edge). The poll, designed to guage public opinion of the ‘conflict’, found that 86.5% of Israelis opposed a ceasefire considering “Hamas has not surrendered” and “not all the tunnels have been found”.
Never mind the fact that Hamas is under no duty to ‘surrender’ given the Israeli (stated) goal has been the elimination of Hamas military capabilities including passive infrastructure. Apparently this mythical scenario of Hamas surrendering is integral to a ceasefire in the overwhelming public opinion of Israelis. In addition, the “terror tunnels” referenced to by the poll and IDF are actually smuggling routes whch have existed in some form for decades. However, following the intensification of the Gaza Blockade in 2007 these tunnels have certainly expanded to smuggle a number of goods denied to the economically crippled Palestinian state. Hardly the boogeyman infrastructure for a capable military threat.
This too is conveniently absent from the narrative presented by the Israeli state and the opinion of their constituency.
Even more troubling is other polling which shows the reactionary character of the Israeli ‘public opinion’ drawn more gauntly.
The Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) released poll results showing 95% of Israelis believe Operation Protective Edge is a “just war” while only 4% believe “excessive firepower” has been utilized (with 45% believing the firepower has been “insufficient”). How can the overwhelming majority of Israelis be so reactionary? It seems counter-intuitive to everything we know and understand about human empathy, community, and reason.
Or does it?
It makes quite a bit of sense that 86.5% of Israelis want a continued slaughter of their Palestinian neighbors. After all, they are “Israelis”. Before anyone calls this appraisal discriminatory or even racist, consider what ‘being an Israeli’ really means.
Growing up Israelis are taught they are an ‘exceptional people’. An upstanding and democratic community with a divine right to the land they hold; they are the ‘Chosen People’. Even the secular understanding of ‘Israeli exceptionalism’ is bound up in a self-righteous declaration of political impunity and social chauvinism. To the Israelis, they are the ‘civilized ones’ surrounded by the hordes of ‘unclean peoples’, the Arabs. Those who have no divine or social right to the land the Israelis have expelled them from. This is the settler-colonial mentality we are confronted with when we consider something to be ‘Israeli’.
Compare this to the equally reactionary attitude of your average American. A 2013 Reuters poll showed that only 5% of Americans believed “illegal immigrants” (undocumented workers) should be allowed to reside in the country. A country made up almost entirely of immigrants from other European nations is still bent on excluding the ‘other groups’ from ‘their land’. So much hate against the simple image of inclusion by legality, not even a meaningful social inclusion through cross-cultural interaction.
What do the two attitudes (the American and the Israeli) have in common? The deep sense of a settler-colonial exceptionalism.
The idea that simply by being born at a different lattitude and longitude an individual is entitled (or condemned) to a specific mode of life. In the case of Americans and Israelis, they are entitled to the utmost security (including that security which is culturally decadent) and highest standard of living, even at the exclusion of others. In the case of Central/South Americans or Palestinians, they are condemned to a material condition of lacking and objective servitude under the weight of those who keep them lacking.
Therefore, the problematic aspect to Israeli (and American) public opinion is not simply a matter of ‘right and wrong’ ideas. No amount of liberal education or cultural sensititivity could ever meaningfully transform the personhood which embodies an ‘Israeli’. The historical constitution of ‘Israeli’ similar to ‘American’ is first and foremost a material composition. Material in the sense that the social construction of these categories is bound up in a web of “actually-existing” relations which define the subject in question. An Israeli is an Israeli because he was born in Israel and he is generally associated with material relations which are overwhelmingly ‘Israeli’ such as the violent occupation of Palestine, forcible exclusion of Palestinians, national oppression, etc. Similarily, we constitute a Palestinian not only because she is born in Palestine but because she is involved in a host of material relations which are overwhelmingly ‘Palestinian’ with regard to a specific social context wherein the category can be drawn.
With this understanding we should dispel notions of ‘false consciousness’ with regard to the “Israeli working class”. We are wasting our time appealing to dead and obsolete understandings of how humans interact with one another and what role their consciousness plays.
We would be gravely mistaken to appeal to the conscience of Israelis for the plight of their Palestinian neighbors. They read the same news headlines as us. They see the same carnage we see. And they do not care. They don’t care about the suffering of their Arab neighbors and to think differently would be to disgrace the memory of all those dead Palestinians who prove otherwise.
The Israelis are caught up in their own fantasy of “Manifest Destiny” like the old American generations. Where the wholesale slaughter of the “other people” (in the case of America, the First Nation peoples living there) is entirely understandable and even encouraged if it extends the settler-nation and the fantasy along with it just a little further.
What then could change the sensibilities of these 86.5% of Israelis (or more likely the 95% mentioned earlier)? Nothing within the current scope, at least not now. It’s not about challenging their ‘human empathy’. You could read testimonials, show films, pictures, etc. and still not challenge an Israeli to reevaluate their position at the carnage at play. Truly, if there was a way to instantly transform how someone evaluates themselves and the world they live in then there would be no reason for this piece in the first place.
The answer is much more profound and perhaps even intimidating. We must radically transform the way in which the Israeli relates to themselves and most importantly to Palestinians. In a phrase, we have to socially destroy the entire conception of an ‘Israeli’. Changing the media to be interpreted does nothing to challenge the method by which it is interpreted nor the medium of reflection. Dynamically transforming the material relationships the Israeli enters into will, in time, transform the way he conceives of his own worldhood.
The clearest path to this ‘radical transformation’ is of course social revolution. In the case of Palestine and Israel, the liberation of Palestine from the chains of Israeli national oppression. The abolition of Israeli apartheid and the full self-determination of the Palestinian people which will render the entire category of ‘Israeli’, as being ‘superior’, obsolete.
However, we shouldn’t ignore our primary duties at the current moment. In the current moment the sensibility of Israelis are not our primary concern. Those who are progressive should be united with. Those who are not should be opposed. Gaza is in the heat of a murderous offensive; the question of revolution is now mediated by the question of survival at the most basic and human level. Standing with Gaza is not simply about doing what is ‘right’ or having empathy, it’s about affirming the life-long struggles of the oppressed in every corner of the planet. Wherever someone is made subservient to the benefit of another, the struggle of the Palestinian against the Israeli is a familiar struggle.