Opinion |

Israelis Are Concerned With Tactics, Not Morality

Zehava Galon
Jews kick Arabs at the Jerusalem Day flag march in Jerusalem, last month.
Jews kick Arabs at the Jerusalem Day flag march in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Zehava Galon

Sunday was the 55th anniversary of the start of the Six-Day War, and therefore also marked 55 years since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the final tally, Israel managed to exist without a military regime for just six months – between December 1966, when the military rule governing Palestinian citizens of Israel was abolished, and June 1967, when the military rule in the occupied territories that remains to this day first began.

During these years, we became addicted to framing the conversation in tactical terms: Will a curfew be effective? Or perhaps administrative detentions, or maybe home demolitions and dispossession? Day after day, we violated the fundamental human rights of our occupied subjects. We stole their lands, their property and their hopes.

And month after month, year after year, we allowed military officers and politicians with no conscience to run our lives. They spoke of “mowing the grass,” meaning the periodic slaughter of Palestinians to return them to a state of submission; of “managing the conflict,” meaning avoiding from ending it; of a policy of big sticks and minuscule carrots. In practice, the idea was to atomize Palestinian society.

And last week, we once again found ourselves watching pogroms perpetrated by settlers, who are unwilling to see the symbol of Palestinian national aspirations even in Palestinian territory, as well as an enormous eruption of hatred for other human beings among tens of thousands of right-wingers and their supporters in Jerusalem. Under the watchful eye of our police force, rioters assaulted Palestinians, damaged their property, spit at them and called for their mass murder.

Before the very eyes of the district police chief, tens of thousands of deliberately incited youths shouted “death to the Arabs” and told Arabs their village “should be burned.” But the police chief didn’t order any arrests for violating the law against incitement to racism. And the prime minister and public security minister both boasted that this annual racist march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter had passed peacefully.

There’s a clear connection between this tactical conversation and the rapidity with which Israel is falling to radicalized racists. When we give in to the tactical framing, which shrinks the deprivation of millions of people of their human and civil rights to the question of where the roadblock should be placed or whether to use “less lethal” Ruger rifles instead of sponge-tipped bullets, we’ve lost our capacity to make a clear moral statement.

Morality is power. Jewish tradition teaches that patience is better than heroism and one who governs himself is better than one who captures a city. There is neither genuine power nor heroism in throwing stun grenades at women and handcuffing young girls. There is only weakness and fear.

We’ve kept silent in the face of pogrom after pogrom. We let it slide when a senior politician termed the Palestinians “a bit of shrapnel in our backside,” and again when that politician became prime minister and sent an open letter to “the silent Zionist majority,” as though a fifth of Israel’s population had evaporated.

Protecting human rights isn’t a weakness, but a strength. Strength isn’t just about an army, nor is it just about high-tech successes or respect for gay rights, which Israel uses to try to persuade the world that it deserves admiration. Strength is knowing that our country acts justly, that it doesn’t discriminate between human beings, that it’s a country fit to live in.

But when a Palestinian journalist and a Palestinian child are killed, any facade presented to the outside world washes away like a sandcastle on the beach. If we don’t want to become the North Korea of the Middle East, we must include a great deal more morality in our considerations. Ending our control over the lives of millions of human beings would be a good start.

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