Israeli psychological and social mindset in Palestinian conflict
Ekaterina: Mr. Shamir, unfortunately, the question is rather tragic – in something like six days of airstrikes about 100 Palestinians have been killed and almost half of them are civilians.
That’s very true! Very tragic indeed, yes.
Ekaterina: But I’m quite sure that not everyone is supporting this operation.
Well, there are obviously people who are against it. In the Parliament it is first of all, the Communist Party, which is probably the strongest voice against the war. But the major parties, that are called Zionist parties, all of them actually do support the war in this or other form. There have been some differences of opinion – how it is better to proceed – but as it actually became a stable case in Israel the mainstream Zionist parties, whether in the Government or in the opposition, do support the war.
Ekaterina: Yes, and that is quite unfortunate.
Yes, absolutely! Actually it leaves the Israelis without any kind of valid choice because the parties that do not support the war are excluded from the Government, excluded from the Parliament majority counting, excluded from the political life as a matter of fact. Though they do exist, but they are sort of beyond the pale.
Ian: Oh, yes! And one question I would like to add to this is that – what are the feelings of ordinary Israelis towards the Palestinian people themselves? How does this fit into the picture do you think?
First of all we should remember that attacking Gaza is absolutely safe. It is something that has no “pay” tag at all, like – you don’t have to pay for it, it is not dangerous. For instance, fighting against Hezbollah or fighting against the Arab countries – it could endanger lives. But killing somebody in Gaza is an absolutely safe thing. So, there is not really some kind of gut feeling of, let’s say, - don’t go there because my child can be killed. There is no such feeling at all. This is probably one of the most important things that it is absolutely safe and painless, for the Israelis I mean.
Ekaterina: Are you saying that Hamas does not use a tactics of suicide bombers?
Well, it’s been many years since a Hamas suicide bomber performed an operation in Israel, it’s been quite many years.
Ekaterina: But do I get it right that the last time a similar attack on Gaza was launched was sometime in 2008?
Yes, it was Christmas 2008-2009, in winter 2008-2009.
Ekaterina: What was the outcome of that war?
There was actually no, let’s say, visible outcome with exclusion that 1,500 Palestinians, out of them over 300 children, were killed and the infrastructure of Gaza was utterly shattered. But that probably was the only result. There was not any political solution afterwards, there was no any advance in any particular way. Actually, things didn’t change. So, I would say in a very-very cynical way – Israeli politicians see that warring with Gaza as something as trivial as cutting the lawn. You know that the lawn will grow again but that’s how the things are, so you have to cut the lawn from time to time.
Ian: Would you say that this is a recent attitude or is it something that’s hardened and developed over a longer period of time?
Well, probably as long as Israel exists as an independent country there was always the feeling that the attitude or relationship with the Arabs could be, let’s say, positive and the only way to do it is just to fight them from time to time, to remind them about the way things are. And then something changed when there were the peace treaties signed with Egypt and with Jordan. And these two countries were, let’s say, taken out of the confrontation. And since then that was actually the attitude towards the Palestinians who remained without any external support worth to be mentioned. And since then Israel was threatening to kill or arrest, or both, their leaders and in such a way to subjugate them in perpetuity.
Ekaterina: Mr. Shamir, but isn’t it a little bit too risky to launch a war in the current circumstances when the whole region is up in violence? Isn’t it a little bit too risky for Israel?
This is a very good question. In a way, one of the reasons for the war is to see whether the new post-Arab Spring regimes will actually react to such a thing. In a way, it is also a trial by fire. And I must say that it seems that the post-Arab Spring regimes do not differ much from those of the pre-Arab Spring regimes. Nowadays we know that’s the Muslim Brotherhood, that’s Morsi who rules Egypt instead of the old dictator Mubarak but the attitude is about the same – they pronounce just a few words, they fly in, they say that Israel should not behave in such a way but there are no deeds that would underlie such words.
Ekaterina: Sir, but there is another risk which I can see in this situation. I’m now referring to Arabs who are living in Israel. What could be their reaction? When I was talking to ordinary Israelis, not the politicians, some of them were telling me that they had Palestinian friends. The two peoples have been living together for ages...
It is very true! And in some places there are very good and stable relationships between the Palestinians and the Jews. One of such places in Jaffa where I usually reside. That’s a place where Jews and Palestinians live together cheek by jowl, very happily, and all that. Yes, such things exist but mostly in such places the tension is felt very strongly. And mostly ordinary people try to see less of their friends from the other community or they do go to the demonstrations against the war. Just like in one of one of such places in Nazareth which also has mixed communities, it is another such a place. And in such places as Jerusalem, where Palestinians and Jews live close to each other, the communities are very much estranged. So, there is not much human contact with exclusion of the usual trading one – buying\selling. In Galilee probably one can speak about the best possible relations between the Palestinians and the Jews. And again, in Galilee there are some demonstrations against the war. But you know, it is not them who decide.
Ian: So, what is the position of this sort of minority Arab-Muslim population within Israel?
They express their dissatisfaction with the war. They are obviously against the war. But again, they got used to it a little bit. And this time the level of massacre, I should say, is not as high as it was four years ago. Four years ago the war started with killing of over 350 civilians at once, and obviously it was a huge shock which brought out a lot of voices against the war. But this time it goes kind of a bit slower and the response is probably rather muted.
Ekaterina: And that might demonstrate how politics actually distorts the natural mindset of people.
Well, it is probably sad to say but in Israel people are obviously subjected to the endless nationalism brainwash. And despite whatever happens you see the brainwash obviously leaves some mark on their consciousness. They are being told all the time that everybody wants to destroy them in order to create paranoia. And they do think so to some extent. It is very sad but that’s where we are.
Ian: This, what you’ve described, is something very much like a siege mentality, if people are always feeling that they are under a threat, that there is something external that is trying to destroy them. And I can see, sort of geographically, Israelis bordered on all land sides by Arab countries. How does Israel view itself in relation to its neighbours?
Well, that’s probably the correct way of putting it “siege mentality” or what we call Masada Complex – the idea of being besieged and being threatened – is something that is very much inbuilt in the Jewish education in Israel. And that is something that people are being told all the time, and they used to understand it. But it is especially paradoxical that actually it is Israel that besieges Gaza and not other way around. In no way Israel is besieged. It has open borders, people can fly easily and they do fly to all kinds of places all over the world, while the people of Gaza can’t even go to the seashore for instance to fish and swim. So, that is probably one of those most amazing things how people who besiege others still succeed to consider themselves besieged.
Ekaterina: Ian, do you remember you’ve been telling me about a recent poll. I think it was run something like a month ago.
Ian: Yes, this was a poll in the Haaretz Newspaper. It was talking about what people would feel about granting different civil rights to Palestinians or Arabs within the Israeli territories.
Ekaterina: So, I suppose the figures were quite amazing. Like you are saying, Mr. Shamir, there are several amazing things and it looks like 90% of ultra-Orthodox Jews are inclined to deny voting rights to the Arabs who live in Israel.
Yes, that’s one of those very sad things. That’s what I said – this propaganda that is being provided on top by the Government to everybody – obviously it is successful to great extent. Instead of explaining to people that it is not the way to treat others, that it is not the way that the Jews want to be treated elsewhere, they are being told something else. And if you tell people for a long time something – they usually swallow it, unless there is a very strong reason to the contrary. And the strong reason to the contrary could be a military defeat. When Israel is being beaten, then Israelis change their minds. But it doesn’t last for a very long time.
Ekaterina: I’ve seen another poll which says that Israel has topped the list of the most militarized nations. And this is something which has been published just a couple of days ago.
Yes, though actually Israel today is less militarized than it was before. Today, let’s say Tel Aviv – the biggest city – is probably least militarized in the country. There is no feeling of much of solidarity with the Army. A lot of the young Tel Avivians do not go to the service at all or if they do, they try to make it as soft as possible. There is not that much feeling of solidarity with the Army in the Tel Aviv area. So, let’s say, Israel today became less militarized if we speak about the feeling of the people. But on the other hand obviously still the Government of Israel and the leadership are mainly drafted from generals – retired generals, retired colonels – they are the main fold of the power, obviously it has its influence.
Ekaterina: But on the other hand, Mr. Shamir, those are people whose parents suffered in the World War II, and now from what we are seeing it looks like Israel starts to somehow resemble those whom most Jews still see as their worst enemies - I mean the Nazi.
Yes, it is very interesting what you said. Probably the reason for it could be that actually the story of the WW II and the story of the Jewish tragedy of those days is being taught in Israel in a very perverse way. Instead of presenting it as an attack on the weak or on a minority, or on a stranger or whatever, it is being presented only as an attack on a Jew by a goy, by a gentile. And in such a way they say that Israel is a place where Jews are safe by means of suppressing the gentile. So, instead of having a more, let’s say, humanistic attitude towards the events of the WW II they created a totally nationalist and very much perverted in my view picture of it and in such a way they actually support their own narrative.
Ekaterina: How do you see future developments?
In my view, although it is rather pessimistic view, I would say that things do change in Israel as everywhere when people understand that the way they behave now doesn’t work anymore. So, let’s say, the few rows of outmoded missiles that Hamas succeeded to send to Tel Aviv – they are a harbinger of changes because if Israelis would know that they can’t attack Gaza without being retaliated for, they wouldn’t attack Gaza. All the time, let’s say, the same thing. If and when the weak are not that weak anymore, whenever they have military means, then the oppressing power starts to change its mind.
For instance, for many years Israel occupied the south of Lebanon. South Lebanon was occupied for many years until eventually Hezbollah began to kill Israeli soldiers to such extent that the Israeli Army started to say – let’s get out of here. And they got out of there. So, it is not impossible that things will change, but I doubt that they can change in a very very good and easy and nice way. Even if we speak about, let’s say, South Africa - don’t forget that even in South Africa the turn tiwards democracy and equality was achieved thanks to the Cuban troops and the Soviet armour which defeated the South African brigades in the desserts of Namibia and Angola. So, sometimes one needs some good war in order to come to good peace.
Ekaterina: Do you think that Iran might provide the ’good war’ as a continuation of the strike in Gaza?
Well, I doubt it very much. Iran is quite weak. And it seems there is a try all the time to provide a little bit hardware to Palestinians but they really can’t change things. Prime Minister Netanyahu would love to fight against Iran, he would love that Iran would stick out and do something that would allow Netanyahu to come to the world and say – we’ve been attacked by Iran, now we defend ourselves. And Iran is probably not really very keen on providing it. It could change if one day Iran will become an important military power, but it is not so meanwhile.
Ekaterina: But Mr. Shamir, isn’t it a little bit surprising that in the case of Gaza the reaction on the part of official international community has been rather lukewarm, I mean there’s been some cosmetic recommendations of ceasing fire, – but no one seems to be appalled by the mere fact that in six days 100 people have been killed, including fifty civilians.
One of the reasons is that the US and Europe were both preparing themselves to Israeli assault on Iran. And they were very much afraid that that would unleash the World War III. So, now when instead of attacking Iran Israel went against Gaza people said – oh, well, let them have it. That was basically the feeling like when a rather spoiled child for a long time wants to break some precious china on the table and instead of breaking the china he takes a glass and breaks it and you say – oh, well, good riddance! Anyway, the china is safe.
Ekaterina: But the unofficial community seems to be quite angry, I’m now referring mostly to the Anonymous’ cyber attacks.
Yes, that’s very true! There is such a feeling that Anonymous attacked a few Israeli websites, that’s obvious. And that shows that, let’s say, web communities started to have some teeth that they can show and obviously this is very good. And another thing that I would like to mention is that Russia and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Lavrov expressed their deep dissatisfaction and indignation about the attack on Gaza. Actually, I would say that Russian position in any way is encouraging, especially looking at the US and Europe who indeed, as you said, are practically complacent. Russia is something else and that is I think a good thing.