If there were psychotherapy for nations, Israelis would need particularly long treatment, preferably at least three times a week. If Israelis began such therapy, within the first 20 minutes the diagnosis would be that the nation suffers from a very extreme lack of self-awareness. After half an hour at most, the psychologist would jot down: “Defective reality testing by choice, fatal auto-manipulation syndrome.”
Otherwise, it’s impossible to understand the dissonance of the Israelis’ (justly) emotional and angry reaction to Russia’s cruel occupation of Ukraine, which includes shows of solidarity with the occupied nation, while Israelis themselves impose one of the cruelest and longest occupations in modern times on millions of Palestinians. How does this rare Israeli consensus, which supports the Ukrainian people’s struggle for independence and freedom, conform with a view that ranges from enthusiastic support to chilly indifference over the perpetuation of the Israeli regime of oppression over Palestine?
The Israeli correspondents covering the war and the news anchorpeople are all doing a good job expressing the feeling of the Israeli public when they’re horrified, sometimes theatrically so, by the pictures out of Ukraine. They’re horrified by the destruction of infrastructure and the attacks on civilian targets, the swarms of refugees flooding into neighboring countries, and the total destruction of the port city of Mariupol.
And of course there’s the anticipation of life under Russian occupation – the certain denial of freedom of expression, the elimination of civil rights and the crushing of any chance for a functioning democracy where everyone takes part in the processes that set norms and policy. Just terrible.
Here’s the thing: Proper reality testing would generate the necessary analogy in the Israeli soul. The images from Kherson and Kyiv of apartment buildings hit by missiles resemble Israel’s operations in Gaza – Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge, Guardian of the Walls – and their many and bloody friends. In Operation Protective Edge in 2014 we hit more than 15,000 buildings in the Gaza Strip; two-thirds of them were totally destroyed or severely damaged.
Yes, including medical facilities and schools, and of course apartment buildings. And yes, the Russians also claim that the Ukrainians are hiding ammunition in hospitals and shopping centers, or firing from these sites.
It’s so similar we could say that Vladimir Putin is giving Mariupol the “Gaza treatment.” Reports of Moscow’s despotic criminalization of the Russian protests are received in Israel with a liberal tongue-clucking, yet our defense minister’s equally despotic declaration that six Palestinian human rights organizations and civil society groups are “terror organizations” – without presenting even the slightest proof for this scandalous and dangerous accusation – are met with total silence. (Disclosure: I represent one of the groups.)
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And in which sealed cell of the collective Israeli brain have we locked the fact that we don’t need a satellite broadcast to see refugees? The fact that a few kilometers from us, hundreds of thousands of them live under our direct rule, with millions of others in the neighboring countries, all of them a product of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last week Canadian law professor Michael Lynk, a UN special rapporteur, published a report accusing Israel of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians. This document follows a pile of reports by Israeli rights groups (Yesh Din, B’Tselem) and international ones (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) over the past two years, each accusing Israel of perpetrating the crime that Palestinian organizations have been claiming for years is being committed. The importance of Lynk’s report is that the apartheid allegation now reaches beyond the bounds of civil society and has begun dropping anchors at international institutions.
Israel’s Pavlovian reaction, that Lynk is anti-Israeli and his report is biased, is no longer even infuriating. It only emphasizes the absence of a response to the merits of the accusation.
It proves that even Foreign Minister Yair Lapid knows (but represses) that a reality of domination and oppression by one nation against another, where one law applies to Jews and another to Palestinians, where all resources are allocated to Jews at the expense of the Palestinians, the former having political rights and the latter not, and when that state of affairs cannot by any standards be described as temporary – this is a reality of apartheid. There is not a single argument in our defense to save us; all the alibis have been refuted.
That is why recognition of the fact that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid has been spreading faster than omicron in recent months. And Israelis? They’re hanging the Ukrainian flag on their cars and balconies, muttering “Slava Ukraini” and avoiding eye contact with the mirror.
When a little boy puts his hand over his eyes and says there is nobody in front of him, that’s cute. When a nation puts a hand over its eyes and says there is nobody in front of it, it urgently needs therapy.
Michael Sfard wrote Yesh Din’s opinion classifying Israel’s regime in the West Bank as apartheid.