In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Palestinian youth throw stones at Israeli soldiers during clashes that erupted against the Israeli incursions into the Gaza Strip, 3 March 2008. (Luay Sababa/MaanImages)
Time after time, Israel has failed to provide its citizens with either actual security or even a sense of security, whether inside or outside the country. This is so despite the fact that it possesses all means of military power and superiority including the nuclear weapons making it the strongest regional power in the Middle East. In fact, despite all its power, Israel lives in a continuous security crisis. Despite its power, Israel has been unable to prevent even Palestinian children from picking up stones and throwing them at Israeli tanks and forces. Faris Odeh, a 13 year old Palestinian boy from Gaza, was doing just that when he was killed by Israeli bullets in the autumn of 2000. Moreover, despite Israel’s continuous shelling and bombardment of most of the iron workshops in Gaza, home-made rockets still keep falling on the Israeli town of Sderot. And, despite all the security measures taken by Israel, Palestinian suicide bombers have repeatedly entered Israeli areas and blown themselves up on buses and in markets.
The question, then, is why has Israel been unable to provide security despite all its military might? And what is the solution to this complicated problem, one that has become part and parcel of the psychology, the rhetoric and the culture of Israeli society?
The insecurity in which Israel has found itself since its foundation and its citizens’ persistent feelings of fear, can be attributed to a variety of causes. I would like to highlight two. The first lies in the very power possessed by Israel, which engenders the mistaken belief that military superiority can and will solve any problem the country might face. Adopting the logic of power and the heavy-handed policies this entails has been a consistent feature of Israeli politics for decades. However, power alone cannot bring security or peace. It is a means which, on its own, is unfailingly insufficient. Solutions that are forcefully imposed can never attain security, solve political problems or bring a lasting peace. It was only when white South Africans finally realized that their superior armed power could not and would not solve their problems with black South Africans, that the two groups created the opportunity to reach real solutions.
The second source of Israeli insecurity is the weakness of the Arab regimes in the Middle East and their consequent adoption of a strategic “peace process” towards maintaining the status quo of so-called “no war no peace” with Israel. Most of these regimes are not elected and do not represent their people, a fact bearing a direct connection to what we might call the “insecurity dilemma.” The choice of “no war no peace” is a policy of regimes rather than peoples, geared towards maintaining US support and ensuring the continued flow of foreign aid to the regimes in question.
Israel’s security, however, lies in the hands of the peoples of the region, not with the regimes. For these peoples, the Palestinian cause is deeply embedded in the past, present and future. Many individuals were imbued with the cause of Palestine from infancy and throughout their lives; it still plays a role in their tears and aspirations and they continue following the tragedies Palestinians endure in the occupied territories on the Arabic satellite channels. Needless to say, they have been deeply affected by the wars in Lebanon like the bloody summer of 2006, and by a long history of the massacres including Sabra and Shatila that have become part of the typical Arab vision or perception of Israel or Israelis. Arab people see Arab lands still occupied, including Syria’s Golan Heights and the Lebanon’s Shebaa farms. To the extent that these people continue to feel they are not at peace with Israel, Israelis cannot feel secure.
Given these central reasons for the chronic insecurity of Israeli society, we can map out some guidelines towards solving the “insecurity dilemma.”
First, if Israel seeks security for its citizens then a comparable security must be sought and achieved for Palestinians. Palestinian people must be on an equal footing with Israeli people, must have a homeland, must be guaranteed justice, their basic human rights and their dignity. Towards achieving that, Israelis need first to recognize Palestinians as humans with an equal standing, entitled to all the rights that are granted to Israelis. One cannot live in security while imposing a living hell on one’s neighbors. Gaza cannot be starved, besieged, cut off from and out of the world, denied the most basic rights and meanwhile send roses to its oppressors. It contradicts the norms of nature for a desperate patient to stay smiling throughout the pain or for an angry starving prisoner to talk calmly and quietly with his jailer. I am reminded of Socrates’ story about the little mouse that annoyed him for a long time. As he carried it in his hand, studying its tiny size and weakness, the mouse bit his finger and escaped. For a minute, he was astonished to be defeated by such a small creature. However, wisely summing up the situation, he concluded that resistance, no matter how small, is a significant step towards change and a path to a new life. The path towards almost any major change is undoubtedly made up of small attempts like those of Socrates’ mouse.
Much like it failed to help Socrates, possessing power has not helped Israel ensure its citizens’ security. Ensuring the security for mega-mighty Israel requires a recognition of the other and the other’s limited but nevertheless existent resistance and might. In order for security to prevail for all, military occupation must end and the repressive measures of denial must be repudiated. The unjust and brutal blockade against Gaza’s 1.5 million people must end, as must the apartheid regime and the expansionist policies practiced in the West Bank. Israeli bombardment and repeated invasion of Gaza, resulting in large amounts of civilian casualties, has not achieved a solution to the problems of Sderot. Just as it failed to work this time, it will fail to work again.
Palestinians need to live a normal life like that of others, no more and no less. Their children need to go to school without being held up at checkpoints or shot along the way. They need to study in a normal environment, in classes that don’t number fifty-five students. They need to realize their right to dream and plan for their future and the future of their children. Nothing can justify the harsh lives, deprivation of rights, and humiliation Palestinian children are subjected to under occupation.
Palestinians are entitled to, and long for, freedom of movement as well as free passage for their products and goods. When they wish to visit their families or travel when the summer vacation begins, Palestinians like Israelis need to pack their bags and head towards the borders without fear of being stranded there or turned back, making normal mobility an unattainable dream. They want and deserve respect in airports instead of being held for hours or even days due to being stateless or to the fact that the computer system doesn’t recognize their country’s name. The sick deserve decent hospitals and competent treatment. They must be transported to the nearest hospital when taken ill, rather than being denied access like Fawziya Abdulfattah who died last month in the West Bank when Israeli soldiers at al-Ghsoun checkpoint refused to let her reach Tulkarem hospital. It is the right of the wounded to be transferred to hospital, rather than being left to bleed to death. And on arrival, the sick and wounded must find the necessary medications at the hospitals, rather than dying due to the shortage in medications.
Palestinians are entitled to dignity both in life and in death. Nowadays, due to Israel’s blockade, Gaza is short of raw materials for manufacturing coffins. My grandmother is searching for a coffin for fear that the shortage will deny her a dignified burial in keeping with our religion and culture. All in all, this daily man-made humiliation must end. Palestinians must be recognized and respected as human beings.
Is this unthinkable or abnormal — what the Palestinians are asking? If it is, then it seems that Israel’s security problems may never end. For until the Palestinians’ basic rights are recognized, Israel will continue to live in fear and insecurity.
Ghada Ageel is a third-generation Palestinian refugee. She grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza and teaches Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter in Britain.