Good terrorists

Yitzhak Laor, London Review of Books, August 17:

As soon as the facts of the Bint Jbeil ambush, which ended with relatively high Israeli casualties (eight soldiers died there), became public, the press and television in Israel began marginalising any opinion that was critical of the war. The media also fell back on the kitsch to which Israelis grow accustomed from childhood: the most menacing army in the region is described here as if it is David against an Arab Goliath. Yet the Jewish Goliath has sent Lebanon back 20 years, and Israelis themselves even further: we now appear to be a lynch-mob culture, glued to our televisions, incited by a premier whose ”˜leadership’ is being launched and legitimised with rivers of fire and destruction on both sides of the border. Mass psychology works best when you can pinpoint an institution or a phenomenon with which large numbers of people identify. Israelis identify with the IDF, and even after the deaths of many Lebanese children in Qana, they think that stopping the war without scoring a definitive victory would amount to defeat. This logic reveals our national psychosis, and it derives from our over-identification with Israeli military thinking.

In the melodramatic barrage fired off by the press, the army is assigned the dual role of hero and victim. And the enemy? In Hebrew broadcasts the formulations are always the same: on the one hand ”˜we’, ”˜ours’, ”˜us’; on the other, Nasrallah and Hizbullah. There aren’t, it seems, any Lebanese in this war. So who is dying under Israeli fire? Hizbullah. And if we ask about the Lebanese? The answer is always that Israel has no quarrel with Lebanon. It’s yet another illustration of our unilateralism, the thundering Israeli battle-cry for years: no matter what happens around us, we have the power and therefore we can enforce the logic. If only Israelis could see the damage that’s been done by all these years of unilateral thinking. But we cannot, because the army – which has always been the core of the state – determines the shape of our lives and the nature of our memories, and wars like this one erase everything we thought we knew, creating a new version of history with which we can only concur. If the army wins, its success becomes part of ”˜our heritage’. Israelis have assimilated the logic and the language of the IDF – and in the process, they have lost their memories. Is there a better way to understand why we have never learned from history? We have never been a match for the army, whose memory – the official Israeli memory – is hammered into place at the centre of our culture by an intelligentsia in the service of the IDF and the state.…