Israel Israeli occupation Palestinians Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss and the inconvenient truth of suicide bombers

In a recent post, the increasingly influential Philip Weiss tells of a Gaza psychiatrist who pleads with his visitors to “reach out and heal” Israelis because they are “gripped by fear.” Weiss accepts the challenge. After saying Israelis have a “psychosis” because of their fears, he asserts:

I use the word psychosis because Israeli society is conditioned by the Holocaust and the 6 million and the belief that Jews can trust no one else. As Norman Mailer said, Hitler’s bitterest achievement was reducing Jews to the concern, Is it good for the Jews?

But not Mailer. And this is the sad truth about Zionism: it distilled distrust. Its nationalistic appeal sorted out Jews who were fearful about antisemitism from those who were not. It sorted out those who believe that Jews must look out for Jews from those who favor integration in western societies. It sorted out the ethnocentric, Is-it-good-for-the-Jews types, from Jews who think it’s OK to marry non-Jews. And in that division, the fearful took power. They moved to Israel or manned the barricades of the Israel lobby, and the integrators married non-Jews or wrote books about jazz and checked out. The fearful were granted power by the rest of the community.

I searched that post and the rest of MondoWeiss in vain for an acknowledgment that the fears of Israeli and American Jews are based on anything other than the Holocaust and an innate suspicion of the outside world. The Holocaust has certainly helped to “condition” Israeli consciousness. But Israelis and their supporters here (including realistic doves like me) have also been conditioned by a more recent phenomenon which is apparently of little consequence to Weiss and his allies: suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilians.

The second intifada began 10 and 1/2 years ago, and the litany of incessant terrorist attacks against innocent civilians is still fresh in people’s minds. The idea that these attacks –and the rockets from Gaza that bombarded southern Israel– frightened and angered Israelis and made them believe there was no Palestinian partner seems so obvious that there should be no need to repeat it. Apparently there is.

Study a list of those attacks and focus on 2001-2003, and it is easy to understand why the intifada demolished much of the Israeli peace camp. It was not just the major, storied bombings like those directed at a banquet hall in Netanya, buses and cafes in Jerusalem, the Hebrew University cafeteria, malls and a disco in Tel Aviv. There was also a host of attacks, a constant barrage of them, that barely made the news here: in one 5-month period in 2002, there were bombings of a bus in Hadera, a bus at the Meron Junction, a bus in French Hill in Jerusalem, the central bus station in Tel Aviv, a bus near Afula.

There are many reasons for the perpetuation of the occupation, some of them inexcuseable, such as the persistent grip of Jewish settlers on Israel’s political system. But one of them is the legitimate Israeli worry that no one will exert control over extremist groups that see nothing wrong with blowing up Israeli women and children. To Weiss and the rest of the unremittingly anti-Israel left, when Palestinian terrorism is mentioned at all, it is explained away as understandable resistance to the occupation. In one blog post, Weiss mocks “the centrality of the Palestinian suicide bomber in Western demonology.” Mostly, he and his fans ignore what happened to Israelis in the second intifada or the rockets hitting Sderot. I don’t meant to imply that they are always wrong when they deplore Israel for over-reacting to Palestinian provocations. But they are wrong to discount the reasons for the reaction.

There is no doubt that Palestinians have suffered more than Israelis because of this conflict. There is an asymmetry of grief as well as an asymmetry of power. The occupation is immoral as well as illegal. Many more Palestinians than Israelis were killed during the intifada. But the fact remains that about 1,000 Israelis died and many more were seriously injured. That didn’t happen very long ago. Remembering those Israeli deaths and injuries, and being worried about more deaths and injuries, is not a symptom of psychosis. It is a rational response.

I believe Philip Weiss is making a good faith effort to understand Israelis and their followers in the U.S. He is correct in saying that the “fearful” have too much power, at least in the American Jewish community. But he should understand that there are widows, widowers, orphans, maimed victims and justifiable fears on both sides of the conflict.

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