A Familiar Face in the Mirror

The Israelis look at their Palestinian neighbors with a sense of superiority. How much better we are than they, how different our temperament. This conventional wisdom has certainly been underscored over the past three days in light of events in the Gaza Strip. Even while we are preparing to withdraw, the wild men on the other side of the fence are opening fire, killing innocent people and working against their own interests. The recent lethal events strengthen previous analyses: The Palestinians belong to an irrational culture sanctifying bloodshed, proving once again that they do not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Without making light of the seriousness of the bombardments and the attacks, with their horrific moral significance, the Israeli side of the equation should not be forgotten. Tomorrow, the Yesha Council of settlements will, according to declarations, be sending thousands of people toward Gush Katif in an effort to thwart disengagement. Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Shlomo Eliyahu, joined by rabbis from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, issued a halakhic (Jewish law) ruling forbidding Orthodox Jewish soldiers from participating in the blocking of the Gush. The heads of the hesder yeshivas (whose students combine army service with religious studies) have said they will meet with the Israel Defense Force chief of staff only if he withdraws his warning to hesder soldiers about their obligation to obey orders.

And that is only a small sheaf of reminders from the past two days. Looking back at the behavior of Israeli society since the Six-Day War, doubts arise as to the justification for the arrogance with which it regards its Palestinian neighbors. As with the Palestinians, Israel, too, has a government that some people do not obey. As there, here too the government, in its weakness, supports the dictates of aggressive minority groups. We have also developed armed militias, which at this very moment are calling into question the ability of the government to control them. On both sides unrestrained youths are willing to sacrifice themselves for their faith. Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians were both involved in unbridled acts of lynching.

The leaders of both peoples are acting to a great extent out of considerations of prestige. Just as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (and Yasser Arafat before him) wants to keep his dignity and does not want to appear as having buckled under to Israeli dictates, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (and Ehud Barak before him) refuses to appear to be negotiating, not to mention withdrawing, under fire.

And the main thing: On both sides of the Green Line policy has been determined by a perception of the enemy's weakness. The settlement movement arose because the Palestinians were perceived as beaten down and unable to resist it. The Palestinian war of terror started because of the perception that Israeli society was too weak to withstand the attacks; an impression of Israel's soft underbelly is behind the attacks of the past few days.

Ostensibly, there is one basic difference between the two societies: In Israel suitable rules allow the country to be managed in a proper way even in crises and severe internal dissent, while for the Palestinians, weapons do the talking.

This is a distinction over which a question mark now hovers. Do the actions of the pullout opponents not threaten the validity of the democratic tradition by which all national decisions have been made so far? Does the call for part of the army to mutiny and the challenge to the command level and the authority of the Knesset and the cabinet not presage the collapse of the last normative barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian Authority?