In a seminar I attended in Beirut in the mid-1980s, I reconnected with an old friend from Palestine. During a break, I posed a question to him, seemingly logical at the time: “Have you learnt anything from the Israelis?” He chuckled and replied, “They learnt from us!”
This response lingered in my mind. I had naively presumed that Israelis, or at least their elite, were shaped by Western liberalism, embodying some of its political virtues. My perception of Israel as the “sole democracy” in the Middle East, with a scientific approach contrasting our emotional one, began to shift.
These assumptions were not based on thoughtful analysis. Our Israeli neighbours are just as human, bearing a profound historical fear of oppression from their past in Western societies.
This fear drives both the common folk and the elite to persecute others, a behaviour unaltered by their chosen state governance (parties and elections) or even by international and humanitarian law.
More op-eds by Mohammad Alrumaihi
Roots of Israeli militancy
Fear has engendered a latent mentality within Israelis, to the extent that they have adopted much of the militant vocabulary prevalent among Arabs during the “revolutions”, like the phrase “there is no voice louder than the sound of battle,” as stated by an Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee to an Arab TV channel in the days following the Oct. 7 attack.
This fear explains why most Israeli civilians have avoided visiting the occupied West Bank despite its prolonged occupation, and while their withdrawal from Gaza is motivated by the same fear, it has since transitioned into a political asset within Israeli politics.
The roots of Israeli militancy extend not only from the East but are largely borrowed from the West. In media discussions surrounding Gaza, numerous Israeli commentators argue for obliterating Gaza, citing historical precedents like what the British did in Dresden.
Dresden, among other cities, was razed during World War II by British air raids, decimating its population, akin to the American actions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Post-October 7, the magnitude and severity of permissible violence, especially from the stronger side, escalated to the level of genocide. Innocent civilians were prioritised as targets over combatants to convey a “reassurance” message to the Israeli populations.
This disproportionate response may stoke the flames of radicalism across the Arab region, reminiscent of the fervour surrounding Israel’s inception in 1948, when Arab military factions hastened to seize their capitals, all under the banner of liberating Palestine.
It’s a systematic mistake to draw parallels between Nakba 1948 and today based on superficial resemblances, as we are navigating through a different era marked by the proliferation of social media.
Unlike the past, when massacres such as Deir Yassin went unnoticed and unseen, the incidents of Oct. 7, where a child and his mother were brutally killed in America simply because of their Arab origin, have reached global audiences.
Given this new reality, it is expected that the reactions this time will veer towards fundamentalism rather than military action, often devoid of any rational justification.
New wave of fundamentalism
The new Middle East, as aspired to by Benjamin Netanyahu, isn’t likely to surpass the state of the old Middle East that emerged post-1948, marked by military rule and political jockeying.
The tragedies prevalent today are a testament to the setbacks over three-quarters of a century: education has fallen behind, development has regressed, military endeavours have often resembled futile tilts at windmills leading to lost wars, followed by internal conflicts against compatriots.
The enlightened middle class has been suppressed, the essence of popular participation has been diluted to its bare minimum, and the political landscape has withered alongside the demise of freedom of expression!
The persistent Israeli aggression could incite a new wave of fundamentalist militancy on the Arab side.
In the prevailing climate of intolerance, there’s a scant number of Israelis available to amend or alter the adverse equation we’ve endured repeatedly; violence reigns supreme, and it’s evident that this trajectory will favour the militant factions in the region, particularly as the burden of bloodshed is predominantly borne by Arabs, with a smaller portion being Israeli.
The Western stance fails to grasp the core of the historical quandary at hand. This biased approach hastens the swift alienation of the regional masses, driven by short-sighted, possibly opportunistic, and hesitant policies in seeking a reasonable resolution, often settling for ephemeral solutions instead.
Unless resolute and rational voices from the West emerge to advocate for the universally accepted two-state solution and restrain the ambitions of the Israeli right for dominance, the region may slide, whether palatable to some or not, into a chasm of extremism, inevitably spiralling into ignorance, deprivation, and oppression.
Mohammad Alrumaihi is an author and Professor of Political Sociology at Kuwait University