Saturday, June 28, 2008

Seth Freedman: Culture of Fear

This opinion piece discusses what is perhaps the most significant psychological mechanism acting to help make the Jewish community support Israel's occupation: the fear of collective annihilation. Seth Freedman argues that a culture of fear like this has a life of its own, independent of whether it is grounded in something real, and, indeed, has a tendency to create objects of fear where there are none. Of course this psychology is very much in the interests of those who seek to perpetuate the occupation and who encourage this culture of fear. Thus, a people as victimized, oppressed, dispossessed and essentially powerless as the Palestinians under occupation is magnified into a monster that threatens the existence of a nuclear-armed state. This is a neat argument, and explains, for instance, the disproportionate hysteria over the Qassam rocket attacks.

While it is fairly easy to use blunt geopolitical reasoning explain the motivations behind the occupation, it is always more difficult to explain why so many Jews in Israel and around the world support such cruelty. Analyses such as this go a long way towards such an explanation.

Judith Norman and Alistair Welchman

Seth Freedman
Sunday June 22, 2008

Culture of Fear: History has handed the Jewish people the fear of annihilation on a plate – but while the fear exists, what is feared may not

This morning I was invited to speak to a group of senior aid workers who are keen to approach both the Israeli and diaspora Jewish communities with their latest campaign. They are, understandably, apprehensive about the best way to proceed, given the minefield that exists under the feet of anyone seeking to criticise elements of Israel's policies.

We talked about the most effective way to open people's eyes to the reality of the occupation, in order to bring home the truth of what is being perpetrated in the name of Israel's security. Given the volte face that I've performed since moving to Israel four years ago, I was asked to describe my most influential experience thus far, in terms of providing a catalyst to the political journey upon which I've embarked.

Without hesitation, I replied that it had been my illicit trip to Bethlehem during a weekend furlough from the army. Our unit was serving in the city at the time, and – until then – I had been conditioned to see the residents as potential terrorists who had to be dealt with accordingly in order to avert a deadly threat to our safety.

With no M16 by my side or grenade in my pack, I passed through the checkpoint and took my first tentative steps on so-called enemy terrain. In jeans and a T-shirt, I walked the same streets of the Aida refugee camp that a day earlier I'd been patrolling armed to the teeth and with five other soldiers backing me up.

I gazed casually at the same windows and doors at which I'd previously had to stare, hawk-like, in case a gunman or bomber should burst out and attack our squad. I looked calmly at the same gangs of youths who, when I was in uniform, I'd had to judge in an instant – whether they were benignly intentioned or baying for my blood.

The fear instilled in me by the army all but dissipated once I was simply a tourist strolling through the town. Conversely, the more weaponry and protective gear I carried, the more terrifying the place became which, it dawned on me, was a distillation of Israel's core and eternal paradox – one that has dogged it since the moment the state was created.

For there to be a justification for Israel's existence, there first has to exist an existential threat to the Jewish people. Granted, history has handed us that fear of annihilation on a plate, but just because the fear exists, it doesn't necessarily follow that what is feared does too.

A prominent narrative of the Jewish tradition is that, in every generation, a manifestation of Amalek will attempt to wipe out the Jewish people, just as the original marauding Amalekites did during the Jews' exodus from Egypt. The Romans, Babylonians, Greeks, Soviets and Nazis have all, understandably, been christened modern-day Amalekites – and now Iran is being touted as the most recent member of the millennia-old dynasty.

Fear of extermination is the ace in the Jewish pack of emotions, and has been capitalised on in spades by the virulent strain of nationalism encapsulated in today's Zionism. Occupy an entire people and crush their hopes and dreams for 40 years? A necessary evil – if we don't then we're done for. Fly in the face of international law, basic morality, and even the central tenets of our own, ostensibly compassionate, religion? Sorry, but you have to understand that "they" all want us dead; it's us or them, from now until eternity.

It's almost irrelevant who "they" are. One day it's the Palestinians for daring to try to shake off the yoke of oppression; the next it's the European left for having the nerve to intercede on behalf of justice and decency. "They" can be a lone gunman, such as Norman Finkelstein or "they" can be a billion people, such as the world's entire Muslim population, conveniently repackaged as one homogenous group based on spurious racial profiling.

Concrete walls are built between "us" and "them"; orders are given banning Israelis from crossing the divide into PA territory – all under the banner of protecting the security of Israelis. In reality, however, they are merely an insidious attempt to hermetically seal Israel off from the outside world and convince the Israelis that it's an unavoidable measure to take.

Those of us who've come, seen, and conquered our preconceptions of the Palestinian street know full well that the canards being propagated are simply preposterous. Of course, there are some very angry, very violent militants among the Palestinian people, but so too are there similarly dangerous elements in Israeli society, as well as in every ethnic group around the world.

The reaction amongst my Israeli friends when they hear of my trips to Jenin, Ramallah or Bethlehem is usually one of abject horror that I even set foot inside the cities, let alone met the locals and visited them in their homes. "They'd kill you if they knew you were Jewish," they cry, utterly convinced that a Palestinian wolf lies behind every refugee camp door. The truth is far different, of course; almost everyone I meet knows I am both Jewish and Israeli, and – thus far – I've been neither beaten, beheaded nor bludgeoned to death.

It's totally understandable why the mythology and misconceptions flourish unchecked amongst the Israeli man on the street, or in the diaspora Jewish community. In the vacuum left by enforced separation between Jews and Palestinians, rampant fabrication runs riot, and fiction becomes truth in the minds of the masses. It's also understandable that the government encourages and promotes such fairy tales, in order to garner support for their never ending policies of irredentism and subjugation.

But just because it's understandable doesn't make it in any way acceptable. Morals and ethics are crushed under the wheels of the nationalist juggernaut, and what would be entirely unpalatable in any other circumstance becomes not only tolerated by society, but actively encouraged by the Israeli electorate and their cheerleaders around the world.

By continuing to provoke and bully the Palestinians, they create what they fear. Another generation branded Amalekites: another reason for Israelis to circle the wagons, batten down the hatches, and convince themselves that it is simply their lot to be eternally hated and reviled. And no amount of well-intentioned pressure can ever be sufficient to penetrate the calcified layer of mistrust between the Jewish people and the outside world. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Jewish Peace News editors:
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Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Anonymous said...

Seth Freedman is a Zionist jew who moved from the UK to "Israel" and joined the Israeli army. The motives for such move are unclear and are in sharp contrast with his rhetoric about the suffering of the Palestinians, who are the indigenous rightful owners of Palestine, occupied since 1948 under the misnomer "Israel". In my email communication with some young jews living in occupied Palestine, they gave me the excuse, "This is our home. We were born here; we know of no other place." What is the excuse of Seth Freedman for leaving his country of birth in order to live in highjacked Palestine?

Anonymous said...

Israel-Arab Peace Plan Principles

Starting in 1948 from very first day of recreation of the State of Israel on the part of Israel territory, Arab countries waged several wars to eliminate Israel from her historic land. Israel won all wars and now Arab countries propose a peace agreement with Israel under conditions, which they intended to dictate. However, only Israel, who won all the wars and defeated Arab countries, has legal rights to formulate and dictate peace agreement terms and conditions, which, in general, shell include the following provisions:

1. Palestinian muslims must compensate Jews for damages caused by Jews massacres (actually, it was Holocaust) conducted in Palestine in 1920s-1930s under British administration supervision, for providing Hitler with idea of Final Solution and for taking active part in implementing the idea in Europe.
2. Arab countries must compensate Israel for damages inflicted on Israel during wars launched by Arab countries.
3. Arab countries must compensate several million Jews expelled from Arab countries between 1948 and 1953, where they lived for centuries, for violation of international law and stilling Jewish properties.
4. Arab countries must recognize Article 24 of the 1964 PLO charter addressed to UN, which stipulates: “Palestinian muslims do not claim Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza their territories”.
5. Arab countries must comply with Geneva Convention, which recognizes Israel rights on Gaza, Judea and Samaria, historic Jewish land liberated by Israel in 1967 war from Jordan and Egypt occupation.
6. Arab countries must recognize Jerusalem as historic Israel capital.
7. Egypt and Jordan are obligated to relocate Palestinian muslims (their former citizens) from Gaza (Egypt), Judea and Samaria (Jordan) inside their territories within 1 (negotiable) year term.
8. Arab countries have no right to develop or acquire WMD or weapon that can be used against Israel.

If any Arab country denies this peace terms and conditions, Israel has full legal rights for preemptive strike against this country using all available military power. All islamofascism organizations operating on Israel territory occupied by Palestinian muslims, such as PLO&Fatah (created after WWII on the principles of Hitler’s ideology and with close ties to Nazi party), Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Agsa Brigade, must be totally, unconditionally and immediately exterminated. All other Palestinian muslims must be expelled from Israel back to the countries of their origin.

Mark Bernadiner, PH.D.