The Logic of Body Counts

Nobody is more expert than Israelis at emotional extortion. That's why every condemnation of the killing of Palestinian children, even by friends, is immediately interpreted as an expression of anti-Semitism.

Very few leaders reach the level where they have the power to shape the future, and are able to imagine the world differently from what it is. The others - and they are the vast majority - don't know any better than to walk the same path they and their predecessors have always taken. However, the founding fathers and those who immediately followed them knew that if the Jews wanted to inherit the land, they would have to take it by force. Until the War of Independence they had no other choice. The problem begins when it turned out that after the great victories of 1948, 1949 and 1967, that same basic approach still dictates Israel's national policy.

As opposed to the conventional wisdom, the Yom Kippur War and the peace with Egypt did not change that overall view. Less than a decade after the bitter battles on the banks of the Suez Canal, Israel chose to go to war in Lebanon. Sticking to the familiar furrows, paralyzed thinking and conservatism - the deep conviction that Israel's future is dependent on repressing the Palestinian national demands - led to a gradual diversion of the goals of Zionism. Nowadays, Israel no longer makes do with the demand that the Arabs recognize it as a sovereign state but also demands acceptance of its hegemony.

That explains the fact that instead of regarding the fall of Iraq as a divine gift that could enable putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian war, the Israeli regime is trying to exploit Arab weakness to the fullest: in the eyes of Ariel Sharon and the ruling security establishment, now is the time to eliminate, once and for all, any possibility for an autonomous Palestinian existence. In that context, there is logic to the policy of body counts and the killing and punishment campaigns in Gaza and Nablus. Since the use of our military and technological superiority has been so successful, why not continue to use it the same way, while constantly improving the methods of operation?

Negotiations are underway with the Americans, not the Palestinians. There's nothing to fear from Europe, which is paralyzed by the occasional outbursts of anti-Semitism, especially in those countries with Muslim immigrants. That is also a weapon in the overall struggle: Nobody is more expert than Israelis at emotional extortion. That's why every condemnation of the killing of Palestinian children, even by friends, is immediately interpreted as an expression of anti-Semitism. Therefore, the upper levels of the establishment believe that since the U.S. rules unchallenged in the region, there is no reason not to continue consolidating Israel's position of hegemony, by constantly and calculatedly raising the threshold of violence.

Who needs peace if the price is conceding a unique opportunity to turn into a local empire? Under such ideal circumstances, only a fool or dreamer would agree to a fair compromise that means jumping into the unknown.

It is interesting that a similar thinking has emerged in domestic policy, too, which just goes to show how deeply Israeli political culture accepts the ways of this world as being the only possible world. Political equality is nowadays self-evident, but only 40 years ago people were being killed in the U.S. South because they demanded their names appear in the voter registry. People who lived in the days of Caesar Augustus in Rome, or in the Paris of the 13th century or Shakespeare's England, also thought their era was the height of human accomplishment. In our era, too, there are those who think the capitalist system is the "end of history," which is a stupid mistake, a superficial and commercialized version of the fundamentals of Hegelian philosophy, voiced by the neoconservatives. The fact is that, not everything that exists is rational. And not everything that exists today will be in existence tomorrow.

Bourgeois capitalism and democracy are historical phenomena that will pass just as other political and social regimes have passed. The question is only what will replace them. Anyone who wants to preserve the achievements of political democracy for as long as possible will try to turn it into an asset that even those around the world who own nothing will regard it as worth protecting. If social equality is not positioned as an attainable goal that is within reach, democracy could yet lose its legitimacy. And indeed, without social equality, democracy is like a body that has had an organ removed and continues to bleed. Therefore, striving for the fulfillment of equality in all its aspects is existentially critical for democracy and is not wishful utopian thinking any more than the demand for equality before the law once was.

The job of a worthy leadership is to help people overcome their fear of the unknown. Regrettably, just as we don't have a leadership capable of rethinking our relationship with the Arab world, we don't have among our ruling elite those who can imagine a social order in which there is both liberty and equality. True, processes need to mature, but people are not only pawns in the hands of powers over which they have no control. People also make their own history.