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OpinionIsrael at War

Israel misconceptualized the Palestinian Arab collective

Radical terrorism is an expression of Palestinian Arab society, not an imposition on it.

Israel Air Force strikes on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel Air Force strikes on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

One of the reasons the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs in general and Gaza Arabs in particular has dragged on for years is that Israel failed to conceptualize the conflict correctly.

In particular, there is a prevailing myth that the general population in Gaza is the hapless victim of its radical leadership.

This is demonstrably false.

Crucible, not victim

The people of Gaza are not the victim of their Islamist leaders. On the contrary, they are the crucible on which that leadership was forged and from which it emerged.

Nothing can underscore the gruesome truth of that assertion more indelibly than this excerpt from a chilling telephone conversation between an elated Gaza terrorist and his enthralled parents rejoicing over the slaughter of Israeli civilians.

TERRORIST: Hello, dad. Dad, open your WhatsApp right now and see … how many I killed with my own hands. Your son killed Jews.

FATHER: God is great. God is great. May God protect you.

TERRORIST: Father. I am talking to you from the phone of a Jew. I killed her and her husband. I killed 10 with my own hands.

FATHER: God is great.

TERRORIST: I killed 10. Ten! Ten with my own bare hands. Their blood is on my hands. Let me talk to mom.

MOTHER: Oh, my son, may God protect you.

TERRORIST: I killed 10 all by myself, mother.

MOTHER: I wish I was there with you.

This is the nature of the enemy. This is the inhumanity with which Israel is compelled to contend.

Nothing as practical as good theory

The failure of Israeli society to grasp the true dimensions—the depth and durability—of Arab rejection of Jewish sovereignty has long been reflected in both its domestic and foreign policies towards its Arab adversaries.

We would do well to recall the wise dictum of eminent social psychologist Kurt Leven, who observed, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”

After all, action without comprehension is a little like swinging a hammer without knowing where the nails are. It is just as hazardous and just as harmful. In this regard, good theory creates an understanding of cause and effect and thus facilitates effective policy.

Accordingly, to devise effective policy to contend with abiding Arab enmity, Israel must correctly conceptualize the conflict over the issue of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land.

Archetypical zero-sum game

The unvarnished truth is that—correctly conceptualized—the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs over control of the Holy Land is a clash between two rival collectives with irreconcilable foundational narratives.

They are irreconcilable because the raison d’etre of the one is the preservation of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land, while the raison d’etre of the other is the annulment of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land. This creates irreconcilable visions of homeland.

As such, the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs is an archetypical zero-sum game, in which one side’s gain inevitably implies the other side’s loss.

It is a clash involving protagonists with antithetical and mutually exclusive core objectives. Only one can emerge victorious, the other can only be vanquished. There are no consolation prizes.

As a clash of collectives, the outcome of which will be determined by collective victory or defeat, the conflict cannot be personalized. The fate of individual members of one collective cannot be a deciding determinant of the policy of the rival collective. Certainly, it cannot be a consideration that impacts the probability of collective victory or defeat.

Grudgingly accepted or greatly feared?

Thus, Israel’s survival imperative must dictate that it forgoes any expectation of eventual approval from the Arabs. For the foreseeable future, this seductive illusion will remain an unattainable pipe dream.

Rather, Israel must reconcile itself to a stern but sober conclusion: The most it can realistically hope for is to be grudgingly accepted. The least it must attain is to be greatly feared.

Any more benign policy goals are a recipe for disaster.

To underscore the crucial importance of this seemingly harsh assessment, I would invite any prospective dissenter to consider the consequences of Jewish defeat and Arab victory. A cursory survey of the gory regional realities should suffice to drive home the significance of what would accompany such an outcome.

Accordingly, only once a decisive Jewish collective victory has been achieved can the issue of individual injustice and suffering in the Arab collective be addressed as a policy consideration. Until then, neither the individual well-being nor the societal welfare of the opposing collective can be considered a primary policy constraint.

After all, had the imperative of collective victory not been the foundation of the Allies’ strategy in World War II, despite the horrendous civilian causalities that it inflicted on the opposing collective, the world might well be living in slavery today.

In weighing the question of the fate of individual members of the opposing collective, it is imperative to reiterate the point made at the start of this column: The Palestinian Arab collective is not the hapless victim of radical terrorist leaders. Quite the opposite. This collective is the societal crucible on which they were forged and from which they emerged. Indeed, the Palestinian Arab leadership is a reflection of, not an imposition on, Palestinian Arab society.

Accordingly, the Palestinian Arab collective must be considered an implacable enemy—not a prospective peace partner—and must be treated as such.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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