During Operation Breaking Dawn, many Israelis naturally lined up under their national banner. Escalation of violence always results in polarization, a decrease in our ability to empathize with the enemy and a spike in our identification with our own people. Everything is framed in the basic terms of us versus them.
The rightward swing of Israeli society’s rhetoric and policy priorities in times of increased violence is also natural. The moral standard on the Israeli Right places a premium on values of loyalty: to a specific leader, political movement and nation. This loyalty provides an ethical defense mechanism that kicked into play as soon as the IDF announced that almost a third of the Gazans killed in the last operation were innocent civilians. It is generally expressed in the following manner: “If I have to choose between my family and theirs, I choose mine.”
While the statement is technically framed as conditional, the speaker assumes that the choice is inevitable: Our children or theirs. The deaths of 11 innocent Palestinians are worth the future theoretical deaths of any number of Israelis. These casualties are unfortunate and we are ready to pay limited lip service to the tragedy but we rarely question the necessity.
This prioritization of loyalty also allows us to turn a blind eye to the continued repression of Palestinian nationalist aspirations. In a recent The Home panel debate about the two-state solution, Jewish-Israeli rights activist and social media influencer Adiel Cohen framed the relegation of democratic values to a second-tier status bluntly: “I do not sanctify democracy. If a democratic value comes at the expense of human life, I choose human life.”
On this basis, as long as there is any threat to Israeli security represented by Palestinian self-determination movements, one can justify the suppression of these movements. Of course, as long as Palestinians are denied self-determination, resistance and threats to Israeli lives will continue. It is a neat formula for perpetuating the status quo ad infinitum, or for imposing undemocratic Jewish rule over greater Israel through de jure annexation.
It is worth revisiting the assumptions in the “my family before yours” loyalty calculus. What if the vast majority of Gazans were supportive of a long-term ceasefire that would ensure the security of families on both sides of the border? What if the PLO and Hamas were willing to accept 1967 borders with land swaps in exchange for peace?
What if a mere interim peace agreement signed in Norway, whatever its aftermath and consequences, was met by wild popular rejoicing on the streets of Gaza, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? What if the majority of Israelis and Palestinians were willing to live side by side, in two sovereign states, with full diplomatic ties, and all the economic and security stability this entails?
These far-fetched theorizations are actually demonstrable facts and form the basis of a historic and ongoing reality that is continuously buried under massive amounts of misinformation and fear perpetuated by leaders on both sides of the conflict.
Palestinian nationalism: A threat to the Jewish state?
The repression of Palestinian nationalism is not a noble goal. It is a direct and imminent threat to the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. The growing popularity of Israeli political movements promoting annexation of the West Bank without granting civil rights to Palestinian residents should give all moderates serious pause. In the short term, the status quo is politically attractive; in the long-term, its price tag is Israel’s democratic nature.
Five-year-old Alaa Qadoum was killed because Israeli and Palestinian leaders lack the courage to pursue peace. The casualties of Operation Breaking Dawn are human, political and moral. They entail increased acceptance of a status quo that continuously erodes the value we place on democratic representation and blunts our ability to perceive the other side as human. Real loyalty to Israel and to the next generation in this country means supporting a good-faith peace process with the Palestinian leadership.
The most that the operation in Gaza has achieved is a short-term military edge. There is not a single Israeli or Palestinian between the river and the sea who believes that it has brought us closer to lasting security or peace.
The writer is the deputy director of the Geneva Initiative.