By Ramzy Baroud
A quarter of a century before Israel was established on the ruins of historic Palestine, Russian Jewish Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky argued that a Jewish state in Palestine could only survive if it existed “behind an iron wall” of defense.
Jabotinsky was speaking figuratively. However, future Zionist leaders who embraced Jabotinsky’s teachings eventually turned the principle of the iron wall into a tangible reality. Consequently, Israel and Palestine are now disfigured by countless miles of walls, made of concrete and iron, which zigzag around a land that was meant to represent inclusion, spiritual harmony and coexistence.
Gradually, new ideas regarding Israel’s security emerged, such as “fortress Israel” and “villa in the jungle” — an obviously racist metaphor used repeatedly by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak that falsely depicts Israel as an oasis of harmony and democracy amid Middle Eastern chaos and violence. For the Israeli “villa” to remain prosperous and peaceful, according to Barak, Israel needed to do more than merely maintain its military edge; it had to ensure that “chaos” does not breach the perimeters of Israel’s perfect existence.
Security for Israel is not simply defined through military, political and strategic means. If it were, the shooting of an Israeli sniper, Barel Hadaria Shmueli, by a Palestinian at the fence separating besieged Israel from Gaza on Aug. 21 should have been understood as the predictable and rational cost of perpetual war and military occupation.
Moreover, one dead sniper for more than 300 dead unarmed Palestinians should, from a crude military calculation, appear to be a minimal loss. But the language used by Israeli officials and media following the death of Shmueli — whose job included the killing of Gazan youngsters — indicates that Israel’s sense of dejection is not linked to the supposed tragedy of a life lost, but rather by the unrealistic expectations that military occupation and “security” can coexist.
Israelis want to be able to kill without being killed in return; to subdue and militarily occupy Palestinians without the least degree of resistance, armed or otherwise; and to imprison thousands of Palestinians without the slightest protest or even the mere questioning of its military judicial system. These fantasies, which have guided the thinking of successive Zionist and Israeli leaders since the times of Jabotinsky, work only in theory.
Time after time, resisting Palestinians have made a mockery of Israel’s security myths. The capabilities of the resistance in Gaza has exponentially grown, whether in terms of preventing the Israeli army from entering and holding positions in the Gaza Strip or its ability to strike back at Israeli towns and cities. Israel’s effectiveness in winning wars and keeping its gains has been greatly hampered in Gaza, just as its efforts have also been repeatedly thwarted in Lebanon over the last two decades.
Even the Iron Dome air defense system — an iron wall of a different kind — has proved to be a failure in terms of its ability to intercept crude Palestinian rockets. Prof. Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argued in 2013 that the success rate of the Iron Dome was “drastically lower” than what the Israeli government and army reported.
And the Israeli villa concept has been compromised from the inside, as the popular uprising of May 2021 demonstrated that the Palestinian citizens of Israel remain an organic part of the Palestinian whole. The violence that many Palestinians inside Israel endured at the hands of the police and right-wing militants for taking a moral stance in support of their brethren in the Occupied Territories indicates that the supposed harmony within Barak’s villa was shattered in the space of a few days.
Yet still Israel refuses to accept what should be obvious: That when a country’s existence is sustained through walls and military force, it will never be able to find true peace and will continue to suffer the consequences of the violence it inflicts on others.
A public letter issued this month by Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi, in response to widespread criticism over the killing of the Israeli sniper, further highlighted one of Israel’s major national fault lines.
“The readiness to sustain loss of life is crucial to national resilience, and that resilience is vital to the continuation of our very existence,” Kochavi wrote in an assertion that sounded alarm bells throughout the country, leading to a political controversy.
This controversy was compounded by last week’s news of six Palestinian prisoners escaping from Israel’s most secure prison, Gilboa. While Palestinians celebrated the daring escape, Israel was plunged into yet another major security crisis. This act by Palestinian freedom fighters seeking freedom from the Israeli gulag system, which lacks the minimum requirements of justice or the rule of law, was treated in the Israeli media as if it was the very collapse of the security state. Even the recapture of most of the escapees hardly altered this reality.
Israel’s iron walls are falling apart and the fortress is crumbling, not only because Palestinians never ceased resisting, but also because the militaristic mindset through which Israel was conceived, constructed and sustained was a failure from the start. The problem is that Israel’s military fortress was built with major design flaws and these were never corrected or even recognized. No nation on earth can enjoy long-term security, peace and prosperity at the expense of another nation, as long as the latter never ceases its fight for freedom. Early Zionists possibly did not consider that the Palestinian resistance could last for so long and that the baton of freedom fighting could pass from one generation to the next. It is time Israel accepted this unavoidable reality.
Until Israel abandons its foolish security fantasies, there can never be true peace in Palestine, either for the occupied and oppressed Palestinians or for the Israeli occupiers.