How Fear Took Over Israel

One of the most secretive units in the whole of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Shayetet 13 is the naval component of Israel’s special operations forces.

JVL Introduction

To understand the conflict in Israel-Palestine we have to understand why Israeli Jews think as they do.

This brilliant article in Haaretz by Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz helps us begin to understand.

Israeli Jews are afraid. They are not born afraid, but they learn fear from the moment of birth, and their fear is harnessed into a collective fear-driven hate.

A similar analysis helps to explain why British diaspora Jews are so frightened of any criticism of Israel, why so many cast Israel’s critics as hate objects.


This article was originally published by Haaretz on Fri 1 Jan 2021. Read the original here.

Holocaust, Militarism and Machiavelli's Advice: How Fear Took Over Israel

Israel may be the best-defended state in the world, but its people’s existence is based on an ethos of constant fear

In his famous handbook for rulers, dedicated to Lorenzo di Medici, Niccolò Machiavelli advised his eponymous prince to learn how to elicit both love and fear in his subjects. Being loved and feared at the same time was the best way to exercise power, but if you have to choose between them, Macchiaveli admonished, better to be feared, for fear of the prince will protect him and maintain social order (on condition that the prince is not cruel). Fear (instilled in others) is undoubtedly the emotion most relished by tyrants, with most, if not all, using it to build up their regimes.

• • •

In its short history (less than the average global human life expectancy), Israel has been involved in around 10 military conflicts or wars, and countless operations that have included such things as shelling, bombing, strikes from the air and incursions into territory. While Israel is not the only country to be engaged in protracted conflicts, it is among the few states that have waged armed conflict with all its neighbors, to have an ongoing low-intensity military conflict with a population intertwined with its own, and to identify 20 percent of its citizens as aligned with (potential or actual) enemies. Israel is thus entirely unique in that it is defined by the enemies outside its borders, by enemies close to its non-borders and by the presence (real and imagined) of similar enemies within its borders. In that sense, Israel displays what Nazi legal scholar Carl Schmitt defined as the essence of “the political”: that is, the clear distinction it makes between friend and enemy, and the potential for war (with the enemy) and killing. (This is the reason why the theorist of the Nazi regime held liberalism in contempt, precisely for its erasure of the constitutive role of enmity in politics). Few countries are built as solidly as Israel is on the distinction between friend and enemy. This distinction runs deep in Israeli society, politics and morality.

The Holocaust changed Jewish consciousness forever, both in Israel and the Diaspora. The genocide of Europe’s Jews ascribed an almost metaphysical meaning to antisemitism, making the hatred of Jews appear to be eternal, inevitable and total, a part of the order of the universe. The great enemies took various shapes, but all were part of one endless chain of evil: Amalek, the Romans, the Christian Inquisition, Polish farmers who waged pogroms – all seemed part of a historic chain whose pinnacle was Hitler. That is how the central narrative that shapes modern Jewish consciousness was created: The world started being defined by its intention and determination to destroy the Jews.

This perception gradually shaped the Zionists’ attitude toward Arabs. In contrast, in 1923, Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky didn’t understand the Arab population’s opposition to Zionism as antisemitic, instead seeing it as the natural resistance of a native population to a colonialist force. As the military conflict in Palestine grew more intense, and antisemitism started to be perceived as the central force driving Jewish history, the Arab rejection of Zionism came to be viewed as a continuation of historical antisemitism. The notion of “they want to throw us into the sea” harbors a mix of real Arab anti-colonialist hostility and the plot and characters typical of the Jewish subconscious that was shaped by antisemitic trauma.

The motif that claimed a central place in the thinking of Zionist leadership was survival. In April 1956, as part of a series of battles against Egyptian soldiers and fedayeen, Roi Rotberg, a 21-year-old security guard from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, was killed and his body mutilated. The eulogy delivered by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan became one of most influential in Israeli history: “Let us not cast blame on the murderers. What can we say against their terrible hatred of us?… We are a generation of settlement, and without the steel helmet and the cannon’s fire, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home. Our children won’t have lives if we don’t dig shelters, and without the barbed-wire fence and the machine gun we won’t be able to pave roads and draw water. Millions of Jews, who were massacred in the absence of a country, are watching us from the ashes of Israeli history, and order us to settle and rebuild a country for our people… Let us not recoil at the sight of the hatred that consumes and fills the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who surround us and anticipate the moment they can spill our blood. Let us not drop our gaze, lest our arms weaken. That is the fate of our generation.”

Dayan’s speech is a great example of what would become a significant pattern of thought in the Israeli psyche. Dayan places at the center of Israeli consciousness the Jews who were killed around the world throughout history. The nation needs to take action with them in mind. Arabs become a monolith, full of hatred, which continues and reflects the ancient threat of destruction. Dayan’s language equates the powerful Nazi army with the poorly armed fedayeen that attacked Israeli settlers. Thus, the barbed wire and the machine guns become unavoidable, a part of a necessary struggle for survival.

In the words of historian Idith Zertal, the enemy – meaning Arabs – underwent Nazification, even though this enemy was unrelated to the massacre of Europe’s Jews. In 1982, while explaining why he waged the first Lebanon war, Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared: “The alternative to this is Treblinka, and we have decided that there will not be another Treblinka.” Therefore, Lebanon wasn’t merely a military mission, but an opportunity to fix the history of the Jews.

Moshe Dayan

Zionist self-defense began with a set of militias fighting on three fronts: against the Arab natives, against the British authorities and other Jewish underground groups (Lehi, Haganah, etc., among themselves). These three simultaneous fronts made military combat a key component of the nascent Zionist identity. Most national struggles end once the state is created. Soldiers are demobilized and surrender their arms to that state, which moves on to the task of building or rebuilding a civil society. But this was not the case with Israel, as military security and secret services went on to become the soul and the spine of the state apparatus, shaping public policy as well as the ordinary language and outlook of citizens, instilling what sociologist Baruch Kimmerling called “cognitive militarism.” Cognitive militarism is a world view in which civil society adopts, wholesale, the way of thinking of the military – civilians are military in waiting, civil institutions are constantly preparing for the possibility of war, war is the horizon of both thinking and planning, problems are conceived as security issues and victory is always the aim.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate how “security” shaped the Israeli style of governance and Israeli culture in a deep and long-lasting way: As Ronen Bergman shows in his remarkable book “Rise and Kill First,” targeted assassinations were embedded in the state apparatus of Israel from the beginning. According to him, by way of the Mossad , Israel has assassinated more people than any other Western country since World War II. British officials, German scientists (ex-Nazis working with Egyptians to develop missiles), members of the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranian nuclear scientists – all have been regularly and almost routinely assassinated by Israel in order to prevent them from developing weapons against Israel, or either to forestall or retaliate for an action against Israel. It became taken for granted that Israel not only had the right, but was obligated, to ensure its security extra-territorially, by executing murders outside the limits of its legal system (the state itself has had a long history of ignoring international law).

The second example is demography, which in most countries is viewed as an economic matter, but in Israel became a security matter. “Demographic threat” became an ordinary expression, easily understood by everyone: The number of Jewish births needed to supersede non-Jewish ones (a view uncomfortably reminiscent of white supremacists, one of the few other groups for whom demography is also a security threat).

Security, military combat and violation of the law form a single matrix at the heart and soul of Israeli politics and psyche. Israel is one of the countries that spends the highest portion of its budget on its security industry. It has the most advanced industries of surveillance, security and cybersecurity in the world, some of which specialize in helping both rogue states and wealthy individuals evade the law and commit various crimes. Israel’s defense agencies can track residents of the Palestinian Authority without significant limitations.

Security is not only a vast array of weapons, technologies and techniques. It is first and foremost an idea, a concept, and a way to orient ourselves in the world. Concepts that are constantly present in consciousness and actions create “paths” of thinking, feeling and acting. “Security” divides the world between foes and friends.

Ironically, a state and a culture that makes security into its default option will also turn fear into an intrinsic part of national consciousness. Imagine I walk in the street in a nonchalant way, thinking about the next dress I will buy, and then enter a store and see two guards armed with machine guns. This will automatically change the course of my thinking: I will suddenly be made aware of terror threats I likely was not considering just moments ago. The machine guns will simultaneously make me worried about a threat I had not thought about and reassure me that they can overcome it.

A militarized state works exactly like this: Its constant focus on force and power, military emergencies and threats, weapons, military language, celebration of victory and commemoration of military casualties produce an atmosphere of vulnerability and fear. The security forces appear to be its necessary and only refuge. Once fear is at the center of the collective psyche, the language of defense becomes inevitable and natural. Thinking becomes automatically “us vs. them,” “there will never be peace.”

The world is either for us or against us. This is the only prism through which many Israelis observe international politics. This is how a revolting leader like Donald Trump can be seen as an ally and his outrageous behavior is ignored or viewed with benevolence. This is because he belongs to the camp of friends. His “friendship” grants him immunity in our eyes, despite his being a president whose moral stature is the lowest America has ever seen.

• • •

The security mindset divides the world into enemies and friends, and this is why its legitimacy feeds on fear. This is also the basic mode of thinking instilled in soldiers, especially those who serve closer to the Palestinians. Testimony from a former soldier provides direct evidence of this.

Nadav Weiman is deputy director and head of the advocacy department of the anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence. From 2005 to 2008, he served as a sniper in an elite unit of the Nahal Brigade. When I met him recently, I asked him to tell me what he recalled, from his time as a soldier, of his perception of Palestinians.

Weiman: “We did not call them Palestinians, but Arabs. Arabs are an entity, not individuals or people with desires. They are an entity and this entity is the enemy and you need to be afraid of all of them. You really are scared. We are constantly told that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they educate their children to murder. I was in high school during the second intifada [2000-2005], I am from Tel Aviv, buses were exploding around us, my brother’s friends were killed in the army. So when I joined, my friends and I thought they were all terrorists until proven otherwise. Even a pregnant woman who walks by you may be hiding something in her stomach, even a child on the way to school – his bag might have explosives.”

Weiman arrive at the military with this concept, I inquired. Or was it something he acquired during training?

“I Where did he learn to see it this way, I wondered. Where does it come from? Did came to the army with it. I was raised in Ramat Aviv Gimmel [an affluent and secular neighborhood], in north Tel Aviv, and I didn’t speak to Palestinians. I had friends from the Israel Sea Scouts in Jaffa, and I didn’t realize they were Palestinians. So for me, Palestinians were something far away, a kind of enemy that is beyond the mountains of darkness. During the second intifada, it was our greatest fear – encountering a terror attack. In this respect they [the Palestinians] are evil and they are our enemies. Then in the army they teach you this from morning to evening. There are ‘knowing your enemy’ lessons that teach you who your enemy is. You learn about the different Palestinian organizations and all their branches, and which types of weapons they have. And every week you learn about problems in other [IDF] operations, where soldiers were wounded or killed.

“So who taught me? On the one hand, reality taught me, and the fear within which I grew up, and the very militaristic family I came from. On the other hand, in the army they taught me that there is no such thing as an ‘innocent’ or a ‘guilty’ Palestinian – a Palestinian is either ‘involved’ or ‘uninvolved.’ When we came to arrest Palestinians we called them terrorists, and we never referred to them by name, we called them ‘Johnny.’ It’s a sort of … [generic] name that keeps it distant. It sounds like I’m catching someone in the Wild West. We would say ‘the Johnny is in our custody.’ ‘With the Johnny on the way to the car.’ So the language keeps you away from it and reality brings you into all the hate and anger about the Palestinians who just want to kill us.

Nadav Weiman. “When we came to arrest Palestinians, we never referred to them by name: We called them ‘Johnny.’ It sounded like I was catching someone in the Wild West.”

“The moment comes when you finish your military training … You are on the top of the world … Then you reach the occupied territories. You go to the base and you are a soldier with weapons, and suddenly all the Palestinians you see are all looking at you with a look of fear and hatred. They are terribly scared of me because I am a soldier and in one second, the situation can flare up and I will do what whatever I want – violence or arrests or I don’t know what – but they also hate me because I’m an occupying soldier.”

Weiman recounts how fear pervades the entire military service and enabled him to do what a sniper is supposed to do: shoot the enemy. Without his own fear, it would in fact be much more difficult to dehumanize Palestinians or to be oblivious to the fear they are feeling. Fear is a means of war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intuitively understood that fear is at the core of the Israeli soul, and he has used this understanding relentlessly, manipulatively – not for the collective interest (as David Ben-Gurion, arguably, did) but for his own electoral interests. Political commentator Peter Beinart summarized this very aptly: “For Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel always faces the same enemy. Call it Amalek, call it Haman, call it Nazi Germany – it seeks the same thing: the destruction of the Jewish people.”

Fear is Netanyahu’s surest and closest political tool, and this may explain how he has become the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.

Fear has been part of Netanyahu’s political strategy from the start. When he cast Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a traitor in 1995, he already knew how to create a climate of fear around the Oslo Accords. In his 2015 speech before the U.S. Congress, when he condemned the nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu declared that the days when Jews would be passive in the face of a murderous enemy were over. Each time the Iran issue comes up, he demonizes the Islamic Republic by bringing up the mouth-shutting analogy with the Holocaust. And to defeat the Palestinians, he went as far as making up the fact that the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was the one to suggest the idea of the Final Solution to the Nazis.

At the Munich Security Conference in 2018, Netanyahu spoke about the Holocaust, and at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem this past January, he talked about security, blending perfectly that idea and the Shoah. Once he cast political and diplomatic challenges as constituting threats of annihilation, Netanyahu obliterated the possibility of serious strategic discussions. Instead, he created two camps: one that would defend the survival of the state; another that would threaten it. Thus he cast Arab Knesset members and human rights organizations as dangerous, and did what fascist leaders routinely do: drawing a straight line between external enemies and internal ones. He brought fear inside the borders of Israel and cast the left and their Arab partners as an enemy, equivalent to other enemies, external and actual.

Fear-mongering has become the main political content of the Israeli right. The more its policy comes up against the reality of Palestinian demography, the more the right becomes dependent on instilling a feeling of fear.

As the coronavirus crisis makes even clearer, fear, both imagined and real, is a potent political tool. It trumps and overrides all emotions and considerations. It bulldozes the entire political arena. Fear is the commander-in-chief of all emotions. Therefore, whoever credibly harnesses fear, is able to command the political arena. Citizens need to be extraordinarily sober-minded to see through the bluff of manipulators of fear and to distinguish between real threats and invented ones. Citizens, like those in Israel, who live in the shadow of major historical traumas and are mentally and emotionally trained to live in and to fight fear, do not have and cannot have the political maturity of truly democratic citizenries. They will always yield to their fear.

In Israel of today, fear is so dominant that even those running against Netanyahu resort to the use of blunt security language. Even Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, who sought to position himself as the moral alternative to Netanyahu, boasted that during the 2014 war, when he was the IDF chief of staff, he sent parts of the Gaza Strip “back to the Stone Age” and boasted that 1,364 Palestinians were killed in the hostilities.

The fear that is relentlessly played upon by Netanyahu is very different from the fear felt by ordinary people who live under the threat of missiles and rockets being launched from Gaza. The fear he invokes is ceaselessly manipulated and manipulative. It mixes facts and fiction. It is integrated into stories of annihilation and victory.

To understand what we may call “real fear,” quite different from the fictitious one, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic I traveled with Avital Sicron, a master’s student in sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, in the northwestern part of the Negev, the very same region, adjacent to Gaza, where Roi Rotberg was killed almost 70 years ago. I interviewed three women from the kibbutz, Esty, Hava and Ofra, all three of whom have lived there since they were in their 20s. They arrived in the region 45 years ago, in 1975, with the socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. Their intent was to settle the land and create a Jewish presence in the remote corners of the country. In Esty’s spacious and clean kitchen, we had a long conversation around a cup of hot tea, and I tried to understand what it feels like to live with a constant fear.

I asked them how their feelings about life, and specifically about living near the border with Gaza, had changed over time.

Netanyahu. Each time the Iran issue comes up, he demonizes the Islamic Republic by bringing up the mouth-shutting analogy with the Holocaust.

Hava: “I can say that I used to hitchhike all the time, and we weren’t scared at all. Arabs would drive on this road too, and we never felt fear. I think that one of the reasons why I chose to live here was the distance [from the center] and the quiet. It was quiet. Now it isn’t. I think it happened gradually. Gaza used to be open, we went to visit there, around 1976. Then settlements started popping up there, and the Arabs were no longer permitted to use our roads. It was gradual, not sudden. I think that when the Gaza settlements were evacuated [in 2005], that’s when the shooting started.”

Ofra: “It started small. Today it’s big. Small means that it wasn’t really scary yet. We didn’t have air-raid alert systems; the attacks weren’t announced on TV. It wasn’t organized yet; we weren’t protected yet. The army told us to stand in the hallway [when there were rockets].

“We were very naïve, thinking that we would stand in the hall, and it would be all right. I realized the danger when a kid was killed in [Kibbutz] Nahal Oz, when he was in his house, which was protected [with fortified walls]. That’s the first time I realized that people actually die from this. It’s dangerous. This was about five years ago. I don’t know the names of the operations [in Gaza]. I know that when [the post-withdrawal rocket attacks] started, my daughter was a teenager, and she used to call me, and I told her to stand in the hallway. It became part of our regular routine. Then they started to protect the buildings and added a mamad [protected space] to every house. Even before that, they covered all the children’s buildings, the kindergartens, in cement. And every time there was an incident, we were supposed to bring the kids there.”

Hava: “At that time, our houses weren’t protected yet.”

Esty: “People used to sleep in the kindergartens.”

Ofra: “At first, I barely felt it. We would just move on after every event. And then a good friend from Kibbutz Nirim was killed. On the same day they said that the war [Operation Protective Edge, 2014] was over, a missile hit the kibbutz and killed Ze’ev [Etzion] and Shahar [Melamed]. Ze’evik was a friend. His wife works here at the kindergartens. That was scary.”

Esty: “When it’s quiet, I’m in denial. I don’t think about it. But once something happens, even something small, like a few ‘red alerts,’ maybe not even here, it just paralyzes me. I don’t leave the house; I sit near the mamad. I plan my bathroom breaks and my shower in advance. It paralyzes me.”

Ofra: “We transferred our bedroom to the mamad.”

Esty: “We did too.”

Ofra: “That’s the safest option.

So, what have you stopped doing?”

Ofra: “I don’t leave the kibbutz when I go on walks. Because I’m afraid to be in the field when it happens. So, I walk in the yard, along the fence. And even then, after an incident, it takes me about a week to go back to taking walks. It’s scary. My daughter was taking a walk [during an attack]. I’ll never forget it. She called me, terrified; they were shooting, she was in the middle, and there’s nothing you can do, you’re completely helpless.”

“A few times missiles went just over our heads. You hear this whistle. I can’t describe it. It’s like a physical pain. It’s before the red alert. It feels like you’re having a heart attack. And then you hear boom. I close my eyes and just wait for it to fall, so we know where it fell. Once, it fell really close to my house, near the livestock. Really close. And there was silence for a few moments. You’re afraid to move because you don’t know what you’ll find when you open the door.”

Fear, real fear, grips these women and has transformed their lives. Their own houses started bearing the traces of fear: Their habits inside the home, the windows, daily walks, family gatherings, driving, even standing inside one’s home – all these have become the mark and sign of fear that one’s life can suddenly be brought to an end, at any moment.

• • •

Ami Ayalon was a model soldier, an IDF major general and recipient of numerous medals who served as commander of the Israel Navy from 1992 to 1996. Following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Ayalon became head of the Shin Bet security service, and made a few incursions into the realm of politics on a slate we could characterize as center-left. I interviewed him in the headquarters of Akim, a nonprofit organization that helps disabled individuals, of which he is the chairman.

Ayalon: “For Israelis, past events – the Babylonian exile, the exile from Spain, the pogroms, the Holocaust – are embedded into the present. It’s the only state in the world where its citizens aren’t certain of its survival in the near future – 40 years ahead. The concept of existential threat is a daily reality for many Israelis. It’s part of the DNA that shapes the perception of security.

Ami Ayalon. “In a time of fear, we don’t elect a leader who gives us better education, health or culture. We elect leaders who are better at killing our enemies.”

“The State of Israel is the most well-defended in the world, from any threat of missiles, rockets, airplanes, terror; our borders are closed. There is no other state so protected in terms of quantifiable parameters, when you measure the amount and the quality of the army and its systems, in relation to the quantifiable threats that we face. But Israeli citizens feel less secure than those in most countries, maybe even less than any other people. This gap between defense [the quantifiable aspect of security] and security [the existential feeling of security]is the basis for our behavior, which shapes the Israeli perception of security.”

Fear, Ayalon says, is key to the Israeli collective psyche, even though, at the same time, the country has the strongest defensive-security system in the world. This means that Israelis’ fear has no relation to the actual defenses protecting them. He goes further:

“In a reality of fear, citizens will always prefer security over [human and civil] rights, especially if it’s not the rights of the majority, but of the ‘others.’ They are perceived as a threat. Courts have used this policy in wars that have a finite end, understanding that rights can be ‘set aside’ for security, but the war on terror doesn’t have a finite end. So, every time, we take a little bit more of their rights … A rational leader should have recognized that a frightened society collapses upon itself, so he will do anything to create a sense of security, but leaders need to be re-elected. So, in a time of fear, we don’t elect a leader who gives us a better education system, better health, or culture: We vote for leaders who are better at killing our enemies, who are better at ‘pushing the red button.’”

• • •

Netanyahu’s main contribution to Israeli politics is the merger of two types of fear. American political scientist Corey Robin makes the distinction between fear that creates national unity (in a time of war, for example) and fear that’s based on the rifts and inequality within a society. Netanyahu has managed to use the first type of fear to generate the second type of fear: Fear of the Arab enemy begets fear of leftists.

Finally, the most significant and lethal effect of fear is that it blocks us from understanding that the enemy is also scared, very much like us. Fear blocks the understanding that the enemy also lives in fear and that Israelis create conditions of terror and fear for others.

• • •

Nisreen Alyan is a lawyer and director of the Clinic for Multiculturalism and Diversity at the Hebrew University. She represents Arabs living in East Jerusalem.

“When you live in East Jerusalem,” she says, “you need to be able to prove that your main residence is there, otherwise you can be thrown out of your home. Imagine ever fearing to lose your home. You are in constant fear of being in the wrong place.”

East Jerusalem residents lack one basic human right, something that most people around the world take for granted: the right to citizenship and the right to feel secure in their ownership of their home. They are stateless people and therefore utterly without any protection and defense. In this state of political dispossession, they run the risk of losing their homes, the very source of most people’s identity.

A 2010 survey showed that among Jewish Israelis, 54 percent were worried that they or their relatives could be attacked by Arabs during their everyday routines, while 43 percent were not worried. Among Palestinians, 75 percent were worried that they could be attacked, or their property confiscated or their house bulldozed, by Israeli forces, while 25 percent said they were not worried. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians live with the constant fear of being dispossessed of the most basic right: having a home, having work or having a state.

• • •

Some – perhaps most – people transform their fear into hatred, especially when that fear is ceaselessly manipulated by leaders interested in sowing division, to seize more power, and to justify authoritarianism and religious and ethnic supremacy. But other people manage to go beyond their own fears, beyond the automatic mechanisms of thinking and feeling that fear produces. The three women I interviewed, Ofra, Esty and Hava, whose strength and spirit I came to admire in the course of our conversations, offer a striking example of what that might be.

Has your attitude toward the Arabs changed over the years? Both as individuals and as a community?

Ofra: “I’ve become more pro-Arab.”

Hava: “I still think that we have to talk to them. People don’t agree with me, but I still think that saving the place that I live in can happen only if we talk with them.”

Ofra: “Everything we told you about here, the protection and the money [spent by the government on it], they [the Palestinians] don’t have any of it. No protection, no community, no medical help, nothing.”

Hava: “Why wouldn’t they be mad?”

Esty: “They have nothing left to lose.”

Ofra: “I think they’re extraordinarily creative. Today a bunch of incendiary balloons attached to a soccer ball was sent over [from Gaza]. The first thing I said to my grandkids was, ‘Look, you can’t touch this.’ We had a balloon with explosives fall in the playground here; luckily the children weren’t present. That’s the kind of thing that makes me anxious, ever since the grandkids were born.

Hava: ‘When they started with the balloons, I asked myself how it hadn’t happened sooner. Because they have nothing to lose. It’s so creative, using a balloon, so simple, you won’t find it anywhere else. And where do you shoot at [in retaliation] when this balloon lands here?”

Is it hard not being on “your own” side? To identify more with the other side, sometimes?

Ofra: “Not for me.”

Hava: “Me neither.”

Ofra: “Sometime I hear people saying, ‘we need to hit them hard.’ I don’t even respond anymore. Who is even left over there to hit?”

Of all political emotions, fear is the worst, because it places our most precious possessions – freedom and democracy – in the hands of unworthy leaders; because it stifles complex thinking; and because it erases morality and encourages self-righteousness. Unworthy leaders govern through fear. It’s not by chance that Caligula, the abominable and cruel 1st-century Roman emperor, is remembered for having said of his citizens: “Oderint dum metuant” – Let them hate, as long as they fear.

Eva Illouz holds the Rose Isaac Chair in sociology at Hebrew University and is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Institute. This article is the first in a series that deals with anti-democratic emotions.


Comments (6)

  • Alan Deadman says:

    Really insightful and thoughtful. Looking forward to the next emotion.

  • SeanO’Donoghue says:

    If she was at a UK university, the CAA would be doing their utmost to get her sacked.

    Great article thanks

  • DJ says:

    Another excellent article JVL. It confirms my view that the left inside the state of Israel face an enormous battle. It is up to us to mobilise against the forces which sustain this settler colonial regime. We need to convince people that there is nothing antisemitic about supporting the struggle for Palestinian justice.

  • Alan Stanton says:

    A small point.
    I read the Eulogy quotation from Moshe Dayan some time ago. And now, thought I remembered some words which the shortened quote from the Eva Illouz article left out. Here’s a Wikipedia link to what may be the complete (or at least more complete) version. Near the beginning it translates Dayan as saying of the Palestinians in Gaza :
    “For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we have been transforming the lands and the villages, where they and their fathers dwelt, into our estate.”

    Moshe Dayan was a General and in 1956 his message was not a call for peace, but the opposite. He asked that generation not to be “blinded by the light in [their] heart”… and “the yearning for peace”. But instead be “prepared and armed, strong and determined”.

    Wikipedia contributors added a footnote to that page referring to another Eulogy fifty years later. In 2006, by the Israeli novelist David Grossman for his son Uri. Grossman was – and perhaps still is – a member of the shrinking Peace faction in Israel.
    Now fifteen years later, in Britain we’ve seen the tide of fear and hate lapping over into our politics. Cynically exploited to bring down a social democratic Labour leader who tried “to have values, … to be a humanist, [and] to be truly sensitive to the suffering of the other…”

  • Carmen Malaree says:

    It’s so sad to see Israel descending into the kind of fear described in this article and instilled by the security policies implemented by the State in conjunction with the army, where the young are trained into ‘fear of the other.’ I have noticed this gradual change when visiting Israel in the way Hava, the woman from the kibbutz describes it. The first time I went to the country there was some social mixing with the Palestinians which in time has almost disappeared. The building of the wall also has helped to keep the two peoples apart. At present with a US’s president that would do anything to stay in power, the situation is really worrying as he would be prepared to do anything to create chaos and confusion in the world. To destabilise his own country by turning against a foreign power like Iran, is my worst fear, and something that would help Netanyahu to reinforce his policies of fear in the Israeli consciousness.

  • Monash Kessler says:

    This article clearly reinforces the arguments put forward in a book I have been reading: An Army Like No Other by Haim Bresheeth – Zabner. It is a very powerful book documenting Israel’s militaristic history, its constant use of aggression to try and assuage an ongoing need for security which it can never fulfill. This a dynamic which has created a warlike country, which will never be able to be at peace with itself, its subjects or its neighbours.

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