by Solomon Anker, recently returned from Tel Aviv
The most dramatic event within Israeli society in the war has been the amazing lack of compassion for Palestinians. It is not true that Israelis are calling for “Death to the Arabs”: this is a very marginal phenomenon and outside the mainstream. However, in general people do not care about the almost 1,000 people of Gaza who have died so far.
Israeli television is giving off some soft war propaganda which does a good job of curing Liberal Israelis’ guilt for the crimes in Gaza, plus going a bit over the top about the effect which the Hamas rockets have. Nevertheless the media is telling people most of the truth about what goes on in Gaza and in fact the newspapers in Israel which tend to be left-wing (especially Haaretz) tell of all the war crimes that have taken place.
There is a group of people known famously as “the Left.” This stereo-type refers to the mainly middle-class German and Polish Jews of North Tel-Aviv. They are always suspicious of the Israeli government and are big opponents of the Religious and Nationalist parties: however anti-war activity has been low so far, with maybe 5,000 people at demonstrations (while 100,000s attended in the 1990s peace demos). Meretz, a Zionist left-wing party has a membership of 30,000 and non-Zionists and other Leftist activists are another 10-20,000. What has happened is that these people have not been brainwashed to believe this war is good, but rather because so few Jewish people (i.e. their family and friends) have died, they have not become politically active and joined anti-war action. The death of so many Palestinians has not created enough compassion and anti-war sentiment that people would take to the streets and oppose the war outside their living room.
For non-political Israelis, they have little compassion for the Gaza population and although here and there they may start to feel some feelings, quickly this compassion fades. A thousand Gazans dead – they cry almost never, yet they cry in the deepest possible way for the 8 soldiers whom have been killed. This mainstream have become a bit more patriotic during the war (especially those in the South), with flags appearing more than previously, however they are not talking like war-hungry fascists and they are not calling for any kind of genocide on the Arabs. Instead, the general attitude towards the people of Gaza in the Israeli mainstream is “nothingness-ism.” Whereas such emotions appear on such high levels for the 19 year old Israeli-boys in combat, attitudes towards normal Gazan civilians is not one of hate, but just one of nothingness.
For the right-wing, especially the ideological right-wing, it is simple – “Let the IDF win” – This is a classic phrase and an almost holy attitude (even among seculars) is given by rightists to the army. Not among politicians or educated peoples, but on the right-wing “street-talk”, calls for “Lets kill more Arabs” is common, and calls for a mass slaughter are common semi-serious jokes . For the Religious-Zionists (religious settler movement and their supporters) who live way out of the mainstream, after they campaigned 2.5 years ago in a passionate ways against withdrawing settlements from Gaza, they are saying “We told you that the Arab would start a war like this” and some are even calling to rebuild settlements in Gaza.
Not just Jewish citizens of Israel lack compassion, but also Arab-Israelis and Arabs in the West Bank. For the 11 Jews killed, these lives are seen as totally irrelevant amongst the mainstream of Arabic society. In the history of the State of Israel, Arabs tend to have as much compassion for Jews, as Jews have towards Arabs. In the same way the right-wing Jews are cheering the military while they kill and kill, the equivalent of the right-wing among the Arabic population is cheering the rockets into southern Israel and happy and hoping more Jews to be killed.