Israeli Minds Under Siege

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Palestinian demonstrators and journalists run from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during a protest at the Gaza border fence, Wednesday.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The unholy storm sparked by Prime Minister NaftaIi Bennett when he made a mistake in the name of a critically wounded Border Police sharpshooter, Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli, managed to overshadow a much more serious military snafu – the one responsible for putting Shmueli into an impossible position.

The Israel Defense Forces, as usual, will learn lessons, assimilate them and continue to be ready for any scenario, aside from the scenario of surprises and failures. In contrast, Bennett’s skin has been seared with a white-hot iron that will leave a permanent scar.

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Bennett shouldn’t have made a mistake with the soldier’s name, and the IDF should have understood the nature of the trap laid for Shmueli beforehand, rather than only after the fact. But both these incidents, and especially the dust storm in the media, show (not for the first time) that the Israeli public is completely guided by a false consciousness.

This consciousness views Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as a holy war, an essential foundation of our existence, whose permanence is guaranteed by the existence of a balance of deterrence between Israel and Hamas. From this, it follows that any violation of this balance – an incendiary balloon, a wounded soldier or a torched field – is an existential threat. Any concession or show of restraint, must less refraining from any response, would be nothing less than a defeat, a weakness and a supreme test of the state’s ability to protect its citizens’ lives. Expanding the area in which Gazans are permitted to fish, allowing food into Gaza, giving transit visas to students, issuing permits to go to a hospital in Israel or the West Bank and transferring money to pay salaries are all weighed according to these two criteria – the integrity of the blockade and the welfare of the deterrence.

The absurdity reached its peak last week, when Israel foiled a terrible threat to the siege. It barred a shipment of 23 tons of chocolate candies, claiming Hamas could use it to create a source of income that would circumvent the sanctions – a replacement for the Qatari aid money whose transfer Israel approved a few days later.

This warped view of reality is nourished by horrifying scenarios, to the point that every proposal to reconsider Israel’s policy toward Gaza – to build a port or airport there or even just increase the number of Gazans working in Israel – is deemed a plot whose goal is to destroy the country. This is the essence of the bluff, whose price is being paid by two million Palestinians and tens of thousands of Israelis living near the Gazan border. They are the ones who bear the burden of cultivating this false balance of deterrence.

Perhaps the most effective medicine for this disease, which has afflicted Israel for decades and will doubtless continue to do so for decades to come, lies in the prescription written by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked for the coronavirus (before she apologized): “We made a difficult decision, a strategic decision, to live with the coronavirus, in the understanding that there are vaccines ... We also have to know how to absorb seriously ill patients and even deaths, because this is a pandemic. And in pandemics, people die.”

Gaza isn’t a worldwide pandemic and it doesn’t claim lives on that scale. But as with the coronavirus, there is no “vaccine” against Gaza that will fully and hermetically prevent its damage. To portray the situation in any other way is a lie.

So to paraphrase Shaked’s remarks, “This is a war, and in war, people die.” And a country that has decided to suffocate Gaza as a means of defense also has to absorb the wounded and dead who fall victim to this war.

But the term “war” is also part of the deception. Israel has conducted and is still conducting negotiations with Hamas, and it is delaying Gaza’s reconstruction to obtain the return of two captive civilians and the bodies of two slain soldiers, not for security reasons. Bennett himself made it clear that he would agree to Gaza’s reconstruction in exchange for Hamas’ refraining from a military buildup.

In other words, the siege in and of itself has not succeeded and will not succeed in curbing Hamas’ power. Now all we have to do is wait for a minister who will dare to say this out loud, and without a swift apology.

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