Why Israel Changed: Trauma


A reader writes:

I don't believe that the shift in Israeli sentiment is the result of whacked out religious extremism, or a belief that God gave them all of the land, or even excessive paranoia. I think it's the result of their long experience with terrorist attacks.

The whole point of terrorism is to create anxiety and even panic in civilian populations. Well, if you do that in a democracy, you get very strong support for some pretty brutal policies. People don't like being scared, and they'll demand that their government do something -- anything -- about it. We saw that here after 9/11, and we're seeing it in Israel.

Imagine that every time you walked around in Ptown you had the idea, in the back of your head, that a bomb might go off in public spaces. Every now and then one would go off, not when you're present, but perhaps in places you visit. A few people would be killed or injured. Not many. But a few. And you just lived that way for several years. My contention is that such an experience would change you. And that it has, in fact, changed the people of Israel.

I remember being back in Nebraska after 9/11, and listening to people talk about whether or not a bomb was likely to go off at a shopping mall. I'd say, "They don't even know where Nebraska is," and the person I was talking to would say, "You don't know that, the SAC headquarters are here, there's a large military base, we could be a target." I don't think it was reasonable or realistic to be afraid. But people were. And I think that has a lot to do with their embrace of all the shitty stuff we embraced as a country.

This is an explanation that doesn't really appeal to anyone. What I'm saying, basically, is that Israel has been traumatized, and that it's acting irrationally (and immorally) as a result. Supporters of Israel certainly don't want to hear that.

I'm pointing out that terrorism is really fucking evil, and really, really corrosive. No one backing the Palestinians wants to focus on that. Even really reasonable critics of Israel don't want to talk about that. You're not saying much about terrorism and what has happened in your comments. None of this excuses anything. Whoever put those four slugs in that kid's head is a murderer. But I think it explains it.

I'm sure it's a factor. What's strange, however, is that the current veer to the far right has occurred during a time when the risk to most Israelis from such terrorism, with the exception of Southern Israel, has declined. But no doubt the memory of that experience - when projected onto Hamas' war crimes against civilians in towns like Sderot - still operates. All I can say is: if we are not to lose our souls, we have to resist succumbing to this human temptation. It is to take terrorism's bait - and magnify its power.

I didn't always see things this way. The last decade has forced me to look into that abyss and turn back.

(Photo: A relative of Florida teenager Daniel Wultz looks at his coffin as it is taken away after a memorial ceremony for the 16-year-old Jewish youth May 15, 2006 at a synagogue in Jerusalem, Israel. Wultz was critically injured in a Palestinian suicide bombing on a Tel Aviv restaurant three weeks ago and succumbed to his injuries May 14. His body will be flown to Miami overnight for burial on May 16 in South Florida. By Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.)