We’re All Israelis Now – Except for the Palestinians

Westernization is proceeding smoothly in Iraq, if imitation of Israel is your yardstick, anyway. Iraqis have demonstrated that they too can evict Palestinians, and with admirable swiftness. You see, many of those who fled to Iraq after 1948 were placed, ironically, in the confiscated homes of dissidents. Now, as if to remind the Palestinians that neither justice nor injustice will ever smile upon them, they have been expelled again.

Of course, one understands the expropriated Iraqis. They aren’t asserting some nebulous claim to an ancestral homeland – they’re reclaiming specific properties that were ripped from their hands. The new residents were not magically entitled to anything because of past sufferings. No matter how sad your story is, I can’t give you my neighbor’s house, and it won’t become yours just because you stay there for 55 years. Unless the U.S. government says so, that is.

But at least justice prevailed in this case. Or did it? Yes, those Iraqis had a right to their property, but what crime had the Palestinians committed? They moved into homes that were stolen before they arrived. They could not return those homes to the rightful owners (who were, after all, enemies of the state), and refusal of these "gifts" would have meant deportation or worse. Thanks to U.S. meddling throughout the region, they are now homeless and despised, with nowhere to go.

Not that the Middle East lacks marketable real estate. Take the Negev. The Israeli government has lost interest in its once promising southern frontier, what Lova Eliav, the man appointed to settle the area 50 years ago, believed would become the country’s heartland. Today, Eliav is bitter, and the Negev remains a void where few live and none prosper. One of its few population centers is Ansar, a prison holding thousands of convicts from the second intifada. Why, then, do settlers flood the West Bank as tumbleweeds bounce across the south? Eliav interviewer Daniel Ben Simon smells "the rotten messianic fruit that captured the country after the Six-Day War." In Eliav’s words:

"How absurd. It goes on to this very day. The state invests billions in the territories, and abandons the Negev. Everyone is guilty in this crime. Right-wing governments and left-wing governments preferred settlements in the territories to settlements in the Negev. It’s simply crazy."

The Negev’s malaise has not been quarantined. Even though terrorism is down, soup kitchens are booming in Jerusalem, and Israeli economists expect unemployment to hit 12% this year. Given these bleak omens, one wonders why successive governments squander the nation’s fortune on expansion, an appetite long divorced from reason. When Ariel Sharon must import Indians from Peru to fill the void his bulldozers leave, one wonders whether Zionism retains any meaning.

Few ask such questions in America, where armchair Maccabees rail against "appeasement" and evangelicals shriek with delight at their imminent Rapture (Arab Christians need not apply). Fortunately, many actual Israelis have the courage to defy the occupation, and some even warn of incipient fascism. Israeli historian Motti Golani is one of the voices you won’t hear in the United States. The following is from a review of his latest book, Wars Don’t Just Happen, in the Tel Aviv daily Ha’aretz:

"Golani identifies and analyzes the tendency of the Israeli political and military establishments – and, following in their footsteps, Israeli society as a whole – to base themselves on a “culture of power” and on the “understanding” that every problem Israel faces can be solved through the use of military power. . . .

"At the foundation of his book is an important fundamental assumption, which, although not stated explicitly, provides the only means for understanding the processes that have led to the fact that Israeli society has learned how to live with the ‘consistent choice of the military option.’ In other words, he is talking about the development of a unique culture, which could be termed a ‘military culture.’ In this culture, military issues are always given top priority and they invariably take precedence over all of Israeli society’s spheres of activity. . . .

"Golani also considers the extent to which Israel’s political-military leadership uses fear-mongering tactics in security issues. That leadership generates anxiety in order to mobilize Israeli society and to deflect the public’s gaze from domestic problems, such as a deteriorating economic situation or a growing unemployment rate. . ."

We’re all Israelis now, right? Erase the proper nouns, and this could be a book about contemporary America.

Of course, the U.S. is still very different from its chief ally. In Israel, you can criticize Israeli policies.