How Israel fell into Hamas’s trap, by Thierry Wolton – L’Express

How Israel fell into Hamass trap by Thierry Wolton –

The repeated blunders of the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, the increase in civilian deaths, the attacks carried out in Lebanon and Syria, the risk of precipitating Iran into war, all of this brings to mind the judgment passed by de Gaulle on the Jews, during a press conference, November 27, 1967: “An elite people, self-confident and dominant.” The line caused a scandal. A few days later, The world published a drawing by Tim showing a Jewish deportee, yellow star on his chest, one conquering foot on the barbed wire of a concentration camp, his right hand in his shirt like Napoleon, with, for caption, these presidential words: “Confident and dominant.” More than half a century later, these two opposing reactions are striking. De Gaulle condemned the decision taken by Israel, in June 1967, to attack Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which threatened the Jewish state with a blockade. The lightning victory of the Israeli army allowed Tel Aviv to seize the Gaza Strip, taken from Egypt, then the West Bank and the old city of Jerusalem. Conquests which are precisely at the center of the conflict which is once again bloodying the region. The two contexts are, it is true, different.

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In June 1967, the Jewish state launched a preventive war against regular armies which threatened it; today it is about responding to the bloody attack by a terrorist group which, on October 7, murdered 1,140 people, the majority of whom were Israeli nationals, and took 240 hostage. Since this pogrom, the violence of the offensive carried out by the IDF in the Gaza Strip as well as the repeated assassinations of Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank have brought to mind the words of De Gaulle, that of a people if not sure of itself, in any case certain of his right, and indifferent to the judgment of the rest of the world. At the same time, the past martyrdom of the Jews gives this war an existential meaning, with the Shoah in the background, a unique crime that Tim’s drawing recalled and which immunizes the Jewish state from these criticisms.

Duties of exemplarity

Israel’s right to exist, a sovereign state that has become a democratic oasis in a desert of autocracies, cannot be contested, nor can it be challenged by the need to defend itself. This status nevertheless requires duties of exemplarity, first and foremost towards the countries which worked for its creation in 1948. Their support remains vital for the survival of the Jewish state surrounded by hostility. The outpouring of solidarity from Western governments after the savage assassinations of October 7 showed the need for this support. Any country that respects the rule of law, defends the freedom of thought, of expression, of moving freely, recognizes itself in Israel, and feels attacked when the Jewish State is attacked. Six months after the massacres perpetrated by Hamas, however, this solidarity has faded. Even the United States, traditional allies of the Jewish people, have distanced themselves due to the radical nature of the Israeli response, of which the civilian population of Gaza is the main victim.

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With 33,000 Palestinians killed, including a large number of women and children, a blockade of humanitarian aid that threatens hundreds of thousands of Gazans with starvation, bombings that do not respect any traditional sanctuary (hospitals, schools, international institutions , press offices) and the accumulation of collateral victims (humanitarian personnel, international civil servants, journalists), this war ended up shocking, even if the total elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages were its objectives.

“We are fighting animals and we act accordingly,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned the day after the October 7 pogrom. The deprivation of food, water, electricity and gas to which the population of Gaza is subjected is an application of this program, the blockade of humanitarian aid is now its extension. Dehumanizing the enemy is a method of war that allows belligerents to feel good about themselves. Hamas also practices the bestialization of its enemy to justify its bloody campaign of October 7. By placing itself on this same ground, the Hebrew State loses this exemplary nature of which democracies want to be the guarantors. For his part, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, placed this war under the sign of a confrontation between the “people of light” and the “people of darkness”. Similar rhetoric is used by Islamists, who claim to want to enlighten the world by converting it to their faith.

Disproportionate force

War kills democracy, said Tocqueville. It increases the powers of rulers, it accustoms the people to violence and servitude, it leads them to despotism. More so when the passion that governs men, as Raymond Aron thought, is fueled by a spirit of vengeance. The United States succumbed to this error after September 11, 2001. The similarity of the measures taken by Washington afterwards and by the Israeli authorities today is an illustration of this. The accelerated colonization of the West Bank since October 7, despite global disapproval, recalls the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which took place without international consensus; the death over the past six months of dozens of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, following ill-treatment, recalls the horror of the Abu Ghraib torture center; the fate of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel, without time limit and without charge, echoes the illegal detention centers of the American army, notably on the Guantánamo base, in Cuba.

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Terrorism is a trap for democracies, it pushes them to abuse disproportionate force in the hope of reaching small groups who like to blend in with the crowd to protect themselves. Since October 7, Israel has fallen into this trap all the more easily as the coalition of far-right and religious fundamentalists that runs the country wants to drive the Palestinians from the lands they consider theirs. At the same time, Islamists dream of making Israel disappear. Strong, initially, from the support of the majority of the Israeli population, who want to avenge the victims of October 7, and the discharge of a good part of the political class, Benjamin Netanyahu had his hands free, with at his disposal military means far more efficient than those available to its irreducible enemies. This feeling of power has encouraged the government to ignore the ceasefires demanded by the UN, to pursue its own war aims against its near abroad at the risk of increasing isolation on the international scene, and even on the national level. internally, due to lack of results on the release of the hostages remaining in the hands of Hamas. The Israeli opposition demonstrations now herald the end of the “state of shock” which Netanyahu took advantage of to justify his radical policies.

Zionist protests

The Israeli authorities continue to ignore waves of indignation from abroad on the pretext that they are tinged with anti-Semitism. This moral disqualification has the advantage for the Hebrew State of appearing doubly victim, of terrorism and of this ancestral hatred so well shared throughout the world. There is little doubt that Islamists are anti-Semitic. Should we, however, exonerate the violence of Israel’s response to the massacres of October 7 from any Zionist thought, prior to its creation? Since 1948, the Jewish state has continued to push back the borders assigned to it, often it is true thanks to conflicts provoked by the very people who want its disappearance. It is also true that denouncing Israeli Zionism often serves as a false nose for far-right and far-left anti-Semitism that does not dare to speak its name. However, brandishing anti-Semitism to disqualify any opponent of the Zionist ambitions of Israeli extremists borders on abuse of language.

The occupation of the Gaza Strip, supposed to ensure the future security of the Jewish state, and the accelerated colonization of the West Bank are Zionist manifestations, as is the refusal to recognize the need for a Palestinian state. Israel’s intransigence is a consequence of Islamist extremism. Their terrorist methods force this democratic state to in turn practice terror. However, the Netanyahu government is fueling anti-Semitism by using it to obscure a policy for which indigenous populations are paying the price. Zionism is a nationalism, Semitism designates an affiliation that is both religious and identity-based, anti-Semitism is racial hatred, anti-Zionism, an avatar of anti-colonialism. Confusing these terms is not a service to be rendered either to Israel, which is facing growing hatred from its near abroad, nor to the Jewish people, who are isolating themselves from the rest of the democracies who do not recognize themselves in this expansionism. Radicality of actions, radicality of words, these excesses play into the hands of the Islamists who have locked the Jewish state in this trap.

* Journalist and communism specialist, Thierry Wolton recently published The Return of Barbarian Times (Grasset).