When Hamas spokesmen want to persuade listeners of the efficacy of their attacks inside Israel, they often brag they have severely harmed Israeli society - economically, personally, and its morale. Fantastic figures are sometimes tossed around in Gaza about a million Jews who have emigrated. Sometimes Israeli newspaper reports about the economic crisis are quoted. That's how Hamas spokesmen respond to arguments by the Palestinian Authority, and other secular nationalist groups, that the terror attacks only damage the Palestinian cause.
It's wishful thinking, of course, to believe that all the attacks on lives and the economy automatically result in social disintegration. It also reflects a poor understanding of Israeli society. Just how much of it is bravado and how convinced they are of their demagogic and populist arguments, is hard to tell. It's also hard to tell how influenced they are by the Koran's own mocking attitude toward Jews, people described as ready to give up their dignity for the sake of life. Either way, they are not capable of seeing that Israeli society is not only ideologically and emotionally unified behind its government's and army's policies, but that it has its own vitality, with personal and collective ways and means, as well as ambitions, for dealing with the fears, tragedies and difficulties.
But it's not only Israeli society that doesn't act according to the expectations of those who turned suicide attacks into their flagship. Palestinian society also acts and behaves in ways different than the expectations of Israel's policy makers in the government and army.
Israel's political and military policies since the start of the intifada have been predicated on the assumption that the intifada was premeditated, planned by Yasser Arafat. But inside Palestinian society, among academics, political activists, or in the street, people are convinced that the Palestinian leadership was unwillingly dragged into the intifada, and that chaos and stagnation are the intifada's leading characteristics. They complained - and continue to complain - that the Palestinian leadership never formulated a clear strategy for the struggle, after understanding that it did not have the political and public strength to stop the popular uprising when it broke out as a revolt as much against the Palestinian leadership and its policies as against the Israeli occupation.
All the PA security organizations operated separately. Anyone in uniform made their own decision about what to do with their weapon. Every organization decided it was the authentic representative of the national interest - despite the existence of joint coordinating committees. The political levels never seriously examined the logic of using weapons.
One can argue over the question of just how much army intelligence believes the faulty theses they have disseminated about how much it was necessary to use military means to force the Palestinian leadership to make political concessions that were not extracted during the negotiations. In Israel, in any case, people listen to the security intelligence spokesmen and not to the Palestinians. So, they easily bought into the theory that directly harming the PA's buildings, and then its people and institutions and their ability to function, would stop the Palestinian violence. When the terror attacks continued and worsened, the theory became that military moves against the entire Palestinian population would lead to its surrender.
Israel automatically identifies the "PA" - the bureaucratic-institutional entity - with Palestinian "society." Years of military control as occupiers, which, in the best case, created paternalistic attitudes to the "native community," and, in the worst case, created scorn and patronization toward the Palestinians, did not allow the political and military decision makers to take into account the vitality of Palestinian society, and its resources and ability to cope with difficulties and disasters. True, these spiritual and material resources have been drastically diluted. Life under bombings and nearly incessant shooting and 50 percent unemployment, has taken its toll. Indeed, antipathy toward the PA and alienation from it, now encompass broad strata of Palestinian society. But that does not turn them into enthusiasts of the Israeli military occupation.
More than ever, the current occupation harms each individual "as if someone was provoking each and every one of us, personally," says one Fatah activist who has spent innumerable hours in peace dialogue meetings in recent years. That personal provocation actually strengthens individuals in their desire to take revenge - without taking into account general national considerations (which nobody has yet to organize into a consistent framework). It also strengthens among many the determination to go on with life, worrying for the future of their children. Thus, in the meantime, this is what Israeli policy has achieved: The creation of new soldiers and suicide bombers for disorganized armies that rise and fall, while everyone else grows more convinced than ever that what Israel really wants is a Palestinian surrender, and not peace with the Palestinians.
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