The price of a Jewish state: Palestinian mourners at the funeral of members of the Abu Jami family, 25 of whom were killed when Israel bombed their house in Khan Younis, 21 July. (Ezz al-Zanoun / APA images)
Ten years ago, as Israel was planning its unilateral “disengagement” or “separation” from the Gaza Strip, the so-called international community and the then-thriving peace process industry indulged in fantasies that the small territory might become a prosperous “Singapore on the Mediterranean.”
Israeli strategists had no such illusions. Although they did withdraw their 7,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, they never intended to set Gaza free.
Israeli forces were merely moved from the interior to the perimeter, replacing direct occupation with what eventually became a hermetic siege.
One of the key advisers to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister who took the decision to “disengage,” was Arnon Soffer, the Haifa University demographer – known as Arnon the Arab Counter for his obsession with the “demographic threat” supposedly posed by the births of Palestinians. (His last name, soffer, means “someone who counts” in Hebrew.)
In a notorious interview in The Jerusalem Post a decade ago, Soffer set out a nightmarish vision of Gaza’s future, but one that was horrifyingly prescient (“It’s the demography, stupid,” 21 May 2004 – note the original interview is not online but a 2007 follow up which recounts his 2004 statements can be found here).
In my 2006 book One Country (85-86), this is how I explained Soffer’s vision, quoting his words from the interview:
[Then deputy prime minister Ehud] Olmert called the unilateral solution Israel’s “great hope,” but Arnon Soffer … offered a less optimistic prognosis. “Unilateral separation doesn’t guarantee ‘peace,’” he warned, “it guarantees a Jewish-Zionist state with an overwhelming majority of Jews.” What will be the price of this achievement? The “day after unilateral separation,” Soffer said, “the Palestinians will bombard us with artillery fire – and we will have to retaliate. But at least the war will be at the fence – not in the kindergartens of Tel Aviv and Haifa.” Soffer was unambiguous about Israel’s response: “We will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire ten in response. And women and children will be killed and houses will be destroyed.” Further down the line, “when 2.5 million people live in a closed off Gaza,” Soffer predicted, “it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will be even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
I quoted Soffer in a piece I wrote after the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre and do so again now because his words still serve as the most accurate, chilling explanation of the present reality.
But there is an even more horrifying sentence in Soffer’s interview that I didn’t include in my book or earlier piece. “If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist,” he said. “The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.”
“Kill and kill and kill”
A decade later, we can say with certainty that Israel is not a “normal” society. It is clear that in order to “kill and kill and kill,” Israeli society has had to dehumanize Palestinians to an unprecedented extent.
This is perhaps what explains the pervasive cry of “death to the Arabs,” the relentless incitement by politicians and public figures, and the intolerance for any dissent from the crushing consensus in favor of the Gaza slaughter. There is a level of dehumanization that allows lawmaker Ayelet Shaked, a rising star, to call for the slaughter of mothers in Gaza because they give birth to “little snakes” and face no negative repercussions.
And so now there have been three major Gaza massacres (and many smaller ones) since the disengagement: 2008-2009’s “Operation Cast Lead,” the November 2012 massacre, and the ongoing horror that has claimed more than 825 lives in 18 days of relentless bombardment.
Much of Israeli society has decided that this is a price worth paying to maintain a “Jewish state.” And the major US pro-Israel Jewish groups have made the same choice.
“Liberal” Zionist Peter Beinart recently lamented that the leaders of the “organized American Jewish community” were ready to defend Israel no matter what they did.
“The more ghastly the photos from Gaza become, the more adamantly they insist that Israel bears no responsibility for them,” he recently wrote on his Facebook page. “Can anyone say, with confidence, that there is any action the Israeli government could take that American Jewish leaders would not seek to justify? I can’t, and that terrifies me.”
It is time for everyone to understand what Soffer and the American Jewish leaders Beinart takes aim at have understood and embraced: the price of a “Jewish state” is the permanent and irrevocable violation of Palestinians’ rights, and if that means regular massacres, then so be it.
As I explain in my recent book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Israel cannot exist “as a Jewish state” without violating the rights of all Palestinians to varying degrees (read the relevant excerpt).
The massacre in Gaza is at the extreme end of the spectrum of abuses necessary to maintain Jewish sectarian rule in Palestine, but it is part of the same policy that requires employment and housing discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and outright land theft and ethnic cleansing in the Naqab (Negev) and the occupied West Bank.
If you support Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” in a country whose indigenous Palestinian people today form half the population, then you, like Soffer, must come to terms with the inevitability of massacres.
If you oppose the horrific, repeated massacres in Gaza, then join the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a movement that aims to decolonize Palestine and restore to all the people all their legitimate and inalienable rights.