In my last article I discussed the effects of the social isolation created by the situation wherein Israel is surrounded by territories and countries that don’t want to have warm friendly relationships with their Jewish neighbor. And how that creates a vast state of numbness among the Israelis.
But there is one side-effect that I really haven’t delved into at all. And that is the attacks by the West Bank Israeli settlers on West Bank Palestinians. Although they were occurring before the Israel Hamas War, they have more than doubled since the war began. Their aim seems to be that of erasing the presence of Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Obviously, the Israel Hamas War has been a very important causal factor in exacerbating and accelerating the settlers’ attacks. But it is important to acknowledge the fact that they were occurring before the Israel Hamas War began. Which, on one level, makes them seem worse. It has created a very troubling situation for liberal Israelis and diaspora Jews. Because if Israelis were performing random attacks on Palestinians before the war much the way that Palestinians carried out random attacks on Israelis, then Israel has at least partly lost the moral high ground in their relationship with the Palestinians. The fact that these attacks were carried out by Israelis who were associated with politically extreme right-wingers in Israel does nothing to diminish the seriousness of this situation for Israel as a whole. Unfortunately, for the world, Israel has to be the epitome of moral virtue, and any significant deviation from this can lead to Israel losing its sense of national legitimacy on the world arena. Even after all these decades of existence, Israel’s right to survival is still in question.
But the social isolation for Israel as a result of the experiential vacuum generated by its not-so-friendly neighbors has had to be an excruciatingly difficult situation to tolerate. One way of dealing with it has been to create situations of abrasive overstimulation to shock the Israelis, as it were, out of their numbness. Such a situation would be that of acts of violence against their West Bank Palestinian neighbors.
The West Bank Palestinians were perfect targets for this self-generated abrasive overstimulation. On the one hand, a number of the Palestinians have committed acts of violence themselves against the Israelis. On the other hand, the ongoing passive hostility that they have displayed towards the Israelis is, in its own way, as serious in terms of being manifestations of aggression as the incredibly vicious actions that were on display during the intifadas. We in the West still do not seem to understand that an absence of connection when people are forced by geography to be juxtaposed next to each other can be as destructive to the people experiencing it as if it were sustained acts of physical violence. This forced absence of emotional connection of one people towards another is much worse than when a kid at school experiences the silent treatment, which tends to be temporary. Or when a person ghosts his date. In such a situation, the person being ghosted usually recovers by replacing the person doing the ghosting with another love interest. Not that these situations aren’t painful, but they don’t last forever.
It is also worse than social isolation from one’s residential neighbors. People usually rent apartments or purchase homes with little consideration for who their immediate neighbors are. Some people may want to live in a general area where there are people of their ethnic group or religion, but not all. Other people may purposely want to avoid such a situation in order to escape the potential for gossip that could occur. The truth is that, with rare exceptions, people very seldom need their immediate neighbors for practical help or for social bondedness. And just because people don’t have cordial social relationships with their immediate neighbors doesn’t mean that they have hostile relations with them either. But it’s very different for nations and their neighbors. Whereas immediate residential neighbors have plenty of people to choose from for social relations or practical help, countries don’t. And while many countries are not necessarily bosom buddies with their neighbors, in most cases, there are at least superficially cordial relations with them. It’s just nice to have such relations, in order to deal with situations like dividing up adjacent natural resources or to get help in case of natural disasters.
But Israel is surrounded by countries that, frankly speaking, just don’t like it. Even when the leaders of Arab countries make peace with Israel, the average citizens of these countries continue to feel hostile towards the Jewish state. When that hospital explosion occurred in Gaza during the war and there was initial confusion as to who was responsible, the Arab street immediately sided with Hamas in the belief that Israel was responsible, before there was any proof. In other words, there just isn’t any meaningful grounding in any of these relationships.
I think that this experiential vacuum created by Israel’s neighbors offers an important clue to the striking out of the West Bank settlers before the war. And the accelerated attacks since the war began are a response to a different kind of sensory distortion. That of an abrasive overstimulation. The settlers have been striking out with their attacks on Palestinians to overcome the effects of the years of numbness in which they have been living really since the occupation of the West Bank. And now, of course, the effects of the tension-pocket stimulation from the war with Hamas. It doesn’t make what the settlers are doing right, but it certainly makes it understandable.