Does Israel Have a Death Wish?

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Defense Minister. (Photo: via Twitter)

By Jeremy Salt

It’s quite fascinating watching someone hammering nails into a coffin, thinking it’s for someone else, and unaware it might be for them. The latest nails in occupied Palestine are the Jewish ‘nation-state’ law, the prohibition from classrooms and lecture theaters of anyone critical of the so-called ‘Israel defense forces’ and the legislation presently being debated that would allow Jewish communities to prohibit ‘the Arabs’ from living among them.

Israel has never been defined as the state of its citizens as that would mean the Palestinians would have to be included. The only change is that the discrimination has now been cemented in law.

The law is bogus anyway. There is no Jewish ‘people’ let alone a Jewish ‘nation.’ There are Jewish communities around the world, separated by ethnicity, language, history, and culture and joined by the single thread of religion. They have not voted to become part of this settler ‘nation-state’ enclave at the heart of the Middle East and without any doubt, almost all would vote against it.

Jews are no more a people or a nation than one would describe Muslims as a people or a nation, although Elijah Muhammad tried with the ‘nation of Islam’. Modern states are the states of all their citizens, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.

Seeing that the Zionist settler state does not regard itself as the state of all its citizens, but now legally defines itself as a Jewish nation-state, giving priority to Israeli Jews and Jews from anywhere in the world, it cannot constitutionally be regarded as a modern state but rather as a throwback to more primitive times.

The legislation was pushed by Benyamin Netanyahu, of Polish settler stock, the son of a Benzion Netanyahu, who served as Vladimir Jabotinsky’s private secretary. Both father and son believed in the application of Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’ doctrine against the native people of Palestine.

They were a real people, bound not just by religion but by culture, language, geography and a long shared history. Had the Zionists chosen to settle amongst them, instead of seeking to uproot them, had they not instead chosen the path of discrimination, segregation, and exclusion, backed up by enormous violence, they could have become part of a real people too.

Instead, their state has remained an artificial racist implant, with ideological similarities to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. It survives not by law or justice or morality but by brute force.

The ‘education minister’, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the fascist ‘Jewish home’ party, will decide who is suitable to teach in schools and universities. Bennett is known for boasting that ‘I have killed many Arabs in life and there’s no problem with that.’

In 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath in southern Lebanon, however, it was this fearless warrior, cornered by Hizbullah and sounding hysterical with fright, who called in the air strike that resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians taking shelter in the UN camp at Qana. More extreme even than Netanyahu, a tradition in Zionist leadership, Bennett is a settler of American origin.

The settlers who want segregation to be legally sanctioned are no different from Germans in the 1930s who didn’t want to live with Jews, Americans who didn’t want to live with ‘negroes’ and white settlers in Africa who didn’t want to live with blacks.

In the most practical way, Israel is now a ghetto in the Middle East. It has fenced or walled itself in, against Gaza, against Egypt, against Syria and Lebanon and against the Palestinians on the West Bank.

The ghetto is also a garrison state, armed to the teeth, with a proven record of destroying anyone who gets in its way. Its politicians threaten violence virtually every day. It has just bombed Gaza yet again to stop kites with small incendiary devices being flown over the fence.

Their purpose is symbolic, to let the Zionists know that whatever they do, the resistance will continue. Yet the Zionists react as though they are being hit with a barrage of missiles. Every indentation, every scratch in the sand where these projectiles land is presented to the world as further proof of Palestinian iniquity.

It is the same with real rockets fired over the fence. They are primitive, do little damage and rarely kill anyone, yet let one land near a house or a playground and the Zionist state behaves as if it under full-scale military attack.

The consequences for Jewish settlers on the other side of the Gaza fence are played up to the hilt. They are shown cowering in air raid shelters. Someone has a panic attack, others suffer ‘superficial wounds’, i.e. scratches or small cuts, and there is a hole in the road. That is about the extent of the damage, but Israel immediately goes on the offensive, arguing that it is left with no option but to attack.

The current main source of the verbal threats to launch new wars is the so-called ‘defence minister’, a Moldovan immigrant called Avigdor Lieberman whose training in defense consists of the time he worked as a nightclub bouncer in his previous life. Lieberman says there are no innocent civilians in Gaza, thus justifying in retrospect and in advance their deaths at the hands of occupation forces.

Lieberman’s present residence is the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, where he lives with his Moldovan wife. His home until he decided to join the occupation of Palestine in 1978, was Kishinev, where, in 1903, a pogrom sent Jews fleeing westward. What a turn of history it is for a man who was raised in a town known for the pogrom its people suffered in 1903 to be now engaged in pogrom politics in occupied Palestine.

If ‘Israel’ is not the national home of its citizens, neither is it the ‘nation-state’ of the Jewish people, despite the legislation. Increasingly, Jews around the world are separating themselves from this state and its ideology. They want no part of it. They see it for what it is, not just a brutal state founded on dispossession and occupation, but as a curse on Judaism.

Neither is Israel a democracy. A democracy is not founded on the prior expulsion of the people entitled to live and vote within its territorial remit. Except for propaganda purposes, however, the Zionists never intended to establish a democracy in Palestine. Israel was never conceived as anything other than what it is, an exclusive ‘national home’ for Jews at the heart of the Middle East.

Two recent examples serve to underline the state of Israel’s legal and moral decay. One is the release from detention, not prison but his army base, of the murderer Elor Azaria, who walked up to a Palestinian as he lay wounded on a Hebron street and shot him in the head.

The monstrous nature of this action was made worse by the fact that Azaria was serving on the occupied West Bank as a medic, a man charged with saving lives, not ending them with an assault rifle.

Azaria was charged only with manslaughter. The trial was farcical and ended in his release after only nine months of ‘imprisonment’ on his army base. Back in Hebron, he was naturally received as a hero by the settler fanatics who have their own bloody record of murder and incitement.

The other example is the trial of two settler ‘hilltop youth’ for the murder in 2015 of the Dawabsheh family, Said, his wife Reham and their infant child, Ali, 18 months old. Another child, four, survived but with burns to 60 percent of his body, severely reducing his mobility, following the arson attack on the family home in the West Bank village of Duma.

A court has now released the younger of the two defendants, a juvenile and therefore not named, on the ground that his confessions were obtained under torture by the Shin Beit internal intelligence service. He was never charged with murder, but only being on the scene, which ‘security sources’ said had never been proved in court anyway. He was sent home to ‘house arrest.’

On the same grounds, the court also ruled as inadmissible some of the confessions made by the other defendant, Amiram Ben Uliel, 21, the son of a rabbi who was associated with the subsequently dismantled ‘illegal’ West Bank settlement of Migron, established by the settler fanatic of US origin, Daniella Weiss.

There he mixed with Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the murderous founder of the Kach movement, Meir Kahane, who believed, like Netanyahu, that Israel should be democratic only for Jews.

Ben Uliel argued that his confession was ‘hypothetical’ and only made under the slapping and beating he received from his interrogators. Although there is no doubt that he and his accomplice committed these murders, the court’s ruling makes it likely that even Ben Uliel will be acquitted.

The claim being made that by rejecting confessions allegedly made under torture, Israel is on the path to truth, is misleading. The judge took care to declare that such a ruling should not be regarded as a precedent, leaving the way open for courts to continue ruling out claims by Palestinian defendants that their confessions were also made under torture, in their cases, far more likely to be true.

Outside the court during the last hearing of the case against Ben Uliel in June, his settler soul mates gathered to chant at Hussein Dawabsheh, the father of Reham, and grandfather of Ali, as he left the hearing, ‘Where is Ali? There is no Ali. Ali is burned. Ali is on the grill.’

In May settlers had made another arson attack in Duma, this time on the home of another member of the family, Yasser Fatah al Dawabsheh. A petrol bomb was thrown through the window and the family, husband, wife and four children, were only able to escape when Yasser kicked a hole in a plasterboard wall.

One has to wonder about the psychology of all of this. There is not a great deal the Zionist settler state could do to make itself more loathed around the world. Does it have a death wish? Does it hear the tapping of the nails being driven into the coffin and have second thoughts about who is going to fill it?

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to

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