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The psychology of the Israeli genocide in Gaza

Smoke rises over buildings in Khan Younis in the distance, following Israeli bombardment on Feb. 05, 2024 (File/AFP)
Smoke rises over buildings in Khan Younis in the distance, following Israeli bombardment on Feb. 05, 2024 (File/AFP)
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07 Feb 2024 01:02:37 GMT9
07 Feb 2024 01:02:37 GMT9

It seemed strange, if not out of context, when Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin said in a TV interview that “Muslims are not afraid of us anymore.” Feiglin made this comment on Oct. 25, less than three weeks after the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Flood operation and the start of the genocidal Israeli war that followed.

The former Knesset member, who in 2012 challenged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the leadership of the Likud party, proposed in the same interview that, in order for Muslims’ fear to be restored, the Israeli military had to turn “Gaza to ashes immediately.”

Feiglin perceives Gaza as something much larger than 365 sq. km of land. He understands, rightly, that the war is not just about firepower but also perceptions — and not only those of Gazans, Palestinians and Arabs, but all Muslims as well.

The events of Oct. 7 exposed Israel as an essentially weak and vulnerable state, thus conveying the idea to Arabs and Muslims — and, in fact, the rest of the world — that the perceived power of Israel’s “invincible army” is nothing but an illusion.

Currently, the problem of perception is Israel’s greatest challenge. Feiglin expressed this dichotomy in his usual far-right, extremist language, but even the most “liberal” of Israel’s leaders shares his anxiety.

The events of Oct. 7 conveyed the idea that the perceived power of Israel’s ‘invincible army’ is nothing but an illusion

Ramzy Baroud

When Israeli President Isaac Herzog, for example, declared on Oct. 16 that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza, he was not only preparing his society and Israel’s American and Western allies for one of the greatest acts of military revenge known in history. He also wanted to restore fear in the hearts of Israel’s perceived enemies.

In a more recent statement, former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon last week asserted that Palestinians will not be able to carry out another Oct. 7-like attack. Gillon’s comments could easily be mistaken for a rational military assessment. But this cannot be the case, simply because Israel failed miserably to prevent the Al-Aqsa Flood operation in the first place.

Gillon was speaking of psychology. In his mind, the war on Gaza has always been one of revenge; one that aimed at extracting the very idea of standing up to Israel from the collective mind of the Palestinians.

To understand the relationship between Israel’s existence and the power — or the perception of power — of its military, one must examine the early political discourse of Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party is the direct heir of the right-wing — in fact, fascistic — ideology that was largely articulated by early Zionist thinker Vladimir Jabotinsky. Though Jabotinsky’s political view was deeply nationalistic, his ideas ultimately branched into, or at least inspired, the ideological school of religious Zionism. Unlike more liberal-leaning Zionists of that era, Jabotinsky was straightforward regarding Zionism’s intentions and ultimate objectives in Palestine.

“There can be no voluntary agreement between ourselves and the Palestine Arabs. Not now, nor in the prospective future,” he wrote in “The Iron Wall” in 1923, adding: “If you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf.”

The ongoing genocide in Gaza is a desperate Israeli attempt to raise the costs for Palestinian resistance

Ramzy Baroud

For Jabotinsky, it all came down to this maxim: “Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force.” Since then, Israel has continued to invest in building “iron walls,” real or imagined.

Jabotinsky’s iron wall was a symbolic one. His was an impenetrable fortress of military power, cemented through violence and the relentless subjugation of the natives, which is designed for the purpose of their expulsion.

The fact that Israeli ministers and other leading politicians began advancing plans for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza immediately after Oct. 7 indicates that Zionism has never abandoned those early ideas. Indeed, the genocidal language in Israel is older than the state itself.

But if Jabotinsky were still alive, he would be utterly ashamed of his descendants. They have allowed their personal interests to trump their vigilance in keeping the Palestinians caged in, crushed by an ever-expanding iron wall. Instead, the wall was breached, physically, on Oct. 7 and psychologically ever since. While physical damage can be easily repaired, psychological damage is hard to fix.

The ongoing genocide in Gaza is a desperate Israeli attempt to raise the costs for Palestinian resistance, so that it may ultimately reach the conclusion that resistance is, indeed, futile. This is unlikely to work.

But can Israel reimplant fear in the collective heart of the Palestinian people? And why is such fear a prerequisite for Israel’s survival?

Peace “will only be achieved when the hope of the Arabs to establish an Arab state on the ruins of the Jewish state is dashed,” Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich posted on social media last week. Even though the “Arabs” are not calling for the destruction of anyone, Smotrich believes that the very idea of a Palestinian state will automatically lead to the destruction of the Zionist fantasy of racial purity.

Note how the Israeli politician did not speak of the Arab political discourse, but rather of Arab “hope.” It is a different way of saying that the problem is the collective perception of Palestinians and Arabs that justice in Palestine is possible.

Again, this notion has nothing to do with Oct. 7. In fact, three months before the war, Netanyahu was even more blunt in his description of the same idea when he said that Palestinian hopes of establishing a sovereign state “must be eliminated.” This has now been put into action in Gaza and the West Bank.

This time around, Israel is adopting an even more extreme version of Jabotinsky’s iron wall strategy because its ruling class truly believes that, in the words of Netanyahu, the country “is in the midst of a fight for (its) existence.” By “existence,” Netanyahu is referencing Israel’s ability to maintain its status of racist, supremacist, settler-colonial expansion and monopoly over violence. Israel calls this deterrence. Many countries and legal experts around the world refer to it as genocide.

In truth, even this genocide will hardly change the new perception that Palestinians have the kind of agency that will allow them to not only fight back, but ultimately to win.

  • Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and author. He is editor of The Palestine Chronicle and nonresident senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappe, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out.” X: @RamzyBaroud
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