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Sunday, 1 November 2009

Rattling the Cage: Some victims we are

The Israeli Sense of Victimhood

An excellent article, in of all places the Jerusalem Post, on how the aggressor sees itself as the victim. This was, of course, common to all colonial and settler-colonial regimes. The British talked about a 'white man's burden' as if the Empire was an exercise in good will and generosity. The South African settlers likewise could see nothing but martyrdom in their benevolence.

Even the worst oppressor sees his or her actions in the light of an ideological justification of oppression. Only a small minority of the colonisers ever come to a realisation of their true role.

Tony Greenstein



Rattling the Cage: Some victims we are
Larry Derfner

The kill ratio was 100-to-1 in our favor. The destruction ratio was much, much greater than that. To this day, thousands of Gazans are living in tents because we won't let them import cement to rebuild the homes we destroyed. We turned the Gaza Strip into a disaster area, a humanitarian case, and we're keeping it that way with our blockade.

Meanwhile, here on the Israeli side of the border, it's hard to remember when life was so safe and secure.

So let's decide: Who was the victim of Operation Cast Lead, them or us?

No question - us. We Israelis were the victims and we still are. In fact, our victimhood is getting worse by the day. The Goldstone report was the real war crime. The Goldstone report, the UN debates, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, B'Tselem, the traitorous soldiers of Breaking the Silence and the Rabin Academy - those were the true crimes against humanity. This is what's meant by "war is hell."

It is we who've been going through hell from the war in Gaza. It is we who've been suffering.

Gazans? Suffering? What's everybody talking about?

We let them eat, don't we?

This imaginary monologue is how we actually see ourselves today. We initiated the war in Gaza, we waged one of the most one-sided military campaigns anyone's ever seen - and we're the victims.

We're fighting off the world with the Holocaust; witness Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN with his Auschwitz props. "We won't go like lambs to the slaughter again," vowed his protégé, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a cabinet discussion of the Goldstone report.

Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter, Operation Cast Lead. To Israelis today, it's all of a piece, it's one story, one unbroken legacy of righteous victimhood.

The truth is that the State of Israel has never been a victim, and our likening of ourselves to the 6 million has been embarrassing from the beginning - but now? After what we did in Gaza? With the stranglehold we have on that society, while we over here live free and easy?

Victims? Lambs to the slaughter? Us?

No, this has gone beyond embarrassing; this is out-and-out shameful.

And, despite our excuses, it's not that we're "traumatized" by the past into believing that we're still weak, still the frightened, powerless Jews about to be led to the gas chambers. Many Holocaust survivors still believe this, and to some very limited extent, this vestigial fear still takes up space in the Israeli mind.

But by now, 64 years after the Holocaust, 42 years after seeing in the Six Day War how strong we'd become, we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that we aren't the victims anymore. We know we aren't a continuation of the 6 million but rather a deliberate and stark departure from them.

THE REASON we tell ourselves and the world that we are victims is because we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that victimhood is power. Victimhood is freedom. A victim can't be told to restrain himself. A victim fighting for survival can't be accused of abusing his power because, after all, his back is to the wall, he's desperate.

On the facts, it's very hard to convince ourselves, let alone the world, that Gaza and its Kassams have pushed Fortress Israel's back to the wall, that we're desperate, that we're struggling to survive. So, to convince ourselves and the world that this really is so, we do two things.

One, we refuse to acknowledge any facts that mar this image of ourselves as victims, and instead go over and over and over only the facts that fit the picture.

We talk only about the thousands of Kassams fired at Sderot; we never mention the thousands of Gazans we killed at the same time.

We talk only about Gilad Schalit; we never mention the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners we're holding.

And we never mention our ongoing blockade of Gaza or the devastation it does to those people.

The second thing we do to convince ourselves and the world that we're still victims is to never, ever, ever let go of the Holocaust - because that's when we really were victims. Victims like nobody's ever known, victims a million times worse than the Gazans.

Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter. Remember us, the people of the Holocaust? That wasn't the Middle East's superpower you saw fighting in Gaza.

That was the 6 million.

So you can't blame us. We're immune from your criticism. We're the biggest victims the world has ever known. We're desperate, so don't tell us about kill ratios and disproportionate use of force and collective punishment. We're fighting for our survival.

This is what we tell ourselves and the world, and, in the face of what we did and are still doing in Gaza, it has become intolerable. We are not the 6 million. The 6 million were powerless Jews three generations ago; we cannot wrap our abuses of power in their tragedy.

Instead, let's take a good, hard look at what we did and what we're doing in Gaza. Then let's take a good, hard look in the mirror. And then let's admit who's the true victim here and now, and, more importantly, who isn't.

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