The current wave of violence in Israel brings forth some disturbing news. A 70 year old was stabbed by a Palestinian boy; a young girl was stabbed by an adult Palestinian. The immediate reaction of any sane person is something like “how could they do such a thing?”
Clearly, such actions could never be justified or legitimised. However, I would like to offer my two cents on how the Palestinians can still do such things. I’m talking more than the knee-jerk answers along the lines of “because they don’t have fighter jets that can drop a bomb weighing a ton and indiscriminately destroy a street block with everyone in it, children and elderly included”. Which, by the way, did happen in the last Gaza conflict and caused casualties not dissimilar to the ones Israel is currently facing. Both sides are horribly inhuman, it’s just that one side has better technology; one dreads the day the other side catches up, because it shows too clear signs of lacking ethical inhibitions.
I promised to go beyond that, though, which takes me back to my own Israeli army days. I spent the bulk of these at the West Bank, where I witnessed in first person the pretty horrible conditions that most of the Palestinians there live in. Being that they were still able to see how the other side lives, they could see exactly what they were missing. The result is hate.
It’s a hate of a calibre most of us cannot fathom. I have seen it in their eyes, in pretty much the eyes of everyone of the streets of cities like Nablus or Hebron or Tulkarem that looked at me. Especially with the children and the younger folk; the adults are generally too busy with the daily chores of making ends meet. It is hate of a magnitude that made it clear they would have flailed me alive and severed my limbs one by one if it wasn’t for the gun I was carrying the protection I generally had around me. And I am talking about myself here, a forced conscript who meant the Palestinians no harm and did them no harm either (Israeli soldiers who wish to inflict harm on Palestinians have ample opportunities to do so).
I severely doubt the situation at the West Bank has improved since my own army days. Which brings me to conclude that, yes, it is this hate that drives Palestinians to stab helpless kids or old people. It is no justification for committing such horrible acts, it is just the force that drives them.
Clearly, whether you’re an Israeli or a Palestinian, this is a horrible situation to live with. The trick for dealing with it is not finding who owns the higher moral ground, as is commonly done over the media and on the Internet, because even if there was a clear winner I doubt the other side would simply capitulate. The challenge is to change the situation so that the motivation for violence, be it of the horrible or even the “less” horrible (because the stabbing of a middle aged male adult is no fanfare either), is gone.
It is here that I believe Israel is holding the keys to any potential improvement. I argue that without substantial improvements in the lives of Palestinians, controlled as they are by Israel, there will be no end to the violence. On the other hand, well off content people will rarely bother to go out and stab a young girl (though all societies still have their criminals). However, the current Israeli state of mind is the exact opposite; it deals with violence through escalating the deployment of force. Thus the circle of vengeance continues.
In other words, Israeli society seems content, for lack of a better word, with living the way it currently does. That current state of living has it paying the occasional violence tax, a tariff where a young girl or an old guy are sacrificed at the altar of maintaining the current state of affairs with the Palestinians. It’s like road toll: it’s sad and all, but we’re still using our cars, thank you very much. And when all is said and done, as per the result of elections after elections, Israelis are fine with this state of affairs.