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From Iran to the tunnels: Do we really have to live this way?

Those who spot an existential threat at every turn, turn their backs on diplomacy and mock peace efforts are now astonished to find that the enemy has sought out their own weapons of attack. The tunnels are a self-fulfilling prophecy; the time has come to look for another way.

By Nir Baram

It is heartrending and frustrating to see us, citizens of a country full of accomplishment and potential, repeatedly stupefied by a cynical propaganda machine whose real intent is simply inaction. What is meant by “inaction”? To avoid putting forth any solution, to not present any creative initiative or new idea, to weaken the moderates, to blur the lines between them and the radicals, to build settlements, and to always focus on the sacred strategic triangle: scaring, explaining, evading.

A few years ago, during the Second Intifada, buses and restaurants here in Israel exploded incessantly. Thousands of people died on both sides. Fatah came to the realization that the violence of the Second Intifada was harming Palestinian political efforts. It was a profound soul-searching that, of course, most Israelis never learned about. Years of quiet in the West Bank, of non-violent protest, shared security operations and a Palestinian president who views military cooperation with the occupying power as sacred, and who pays an enormous price for it at home – these years did not lead to the end of the occupation. Quite the opposite: The occupation only branched out and grew stronger.

Demonstrators sit in front of the "Skunk" water canon, during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, May 18, 2012. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Demonstrators sit in front of the “Skunk” water canon, during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, May 18, 2012. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Was anyone in Israel paying attention? Of course not. Because during those years Abu Mazen and the Palestinians didn’t interest us. All their desperate calls for an end to the occupation seemed like an ancient remnant of a matter that once bothered us long ago. After all, at the time we were all obsessed with another far more fateful subject: Iran. A strike in the summer or the fall? Maybe with the birds in spring? A secret interview with a Ehud Barak, terrifying scenarios of a nuclear doomsday, how many will die on the Israeli side during the counterattack?

Let’s recall that summer when we woke up every day knowing that today we would strike Iran. And on the occasions that we did deal with Abu Mazen, he was presented to us as an enemy of Israel who wants to humiliate us in the UN, who dares, in his insolence, to seek recognition for a Palestinian state. How dare he? Ministers called him a terrorist, hardly different than Hamas. But it’s worth repeating this point: For years Netanyahu and his ministers explained to us that Hamas and Abu Mazen were two sides of the same coin. Today in order to justify the war, they clarify just how different they are, stating that Hamas is the very incarnation of Satan.

Why did they dare offer such blatant lies? Because in Israel one doesn’t pay a price for such revolting lies. Only when people criticize the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian children, then they pay a price.

Suddenly Iran was gone. The existential threat that must always flicker in the Israeli sky faded away, to the great disappointment of the prime minister, who held onto it in every possible way. And with Iran everything disappeared: the threats, Ari Shavit’s sickening articles, the question of a summer or winter strike, casualties, the price, doomsday.

Suddenly John Kerry arrived with demands for negotiations with Abu Mazen – a challenging moment for the government and the sycophantic media, one that threatened to break the cycle of scaring, explaining and evading.

The peace negotiations took place while Israel was building in the West Bank at a berserk pace and violating the few obligations it had agreed to. Of course, this too didn’t interest anybody. Netanyahu was diligently engaged in evading and explaining, in weakening Abu Mazen, in slandering him, correlating him with Hamas, bringing up his doctoral dissertation and turning him into the enemy of the people because of a speech in the UN in which he spoke the truth – any means necessary to evade what is necessary.

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan (World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan (World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)

No one in the Israeli media or public really asked: Wait a minute, what the hell are you doing? Where are you leading us? Could you be committing a crime against the Israeli people? Could you be condemning us to more years of war, offensives and death? After all, you had sworn to our citizens to turn over every stone on the path to peace. Is there a single person in Israel who actually believes that Netanyahu has turned over every stone, that he has lifted even one stone? There are no special television reports about this type of fraud, no panels of sober-faced experts who wonder why we are not implementing some brave initiative, who ask why, even now, in negotiations with a moderate Palestinian president who objects to violence do we still drag our feet, miss chances and thwart progress.

When the unity government with Hamas came together on the principles that Abu Mazen laid out, a government that in fact gave most of the authority to his people, Israel took advantage of the opportunity and ended the peace talks. Finally the threat of negotiations was lifted. Nobody said: Just a minute, maybe this is the chance, Hamas has been weakened, Abu Mazen has grown stronger; maybe now, with the unified government, we can talk to Abu Mazen and put forth a real offer for end the occupation, and see what he is able to produce? One can always return to war. Maybe it’s this path that can stop the rockets against the south of Israel; after all, every other attempt to stop them has utterly failed. Maybe, just once, we should try something different? Certainly not. For Israel, every event is a reason to return to the old pattern of scaring, explaining, evading.

Of these three, the most important principle for the establishment and the media is the scare tactic; it’s the real bedrock of our existence. So, now come the tunnels – the new existential threat that takes the place of the Iranian bomb. The panic drill is back: Whole cities have been built underneath the earth meant to lead terrorists from Gaza to Israeli cities, to instigate the kidnapping of an entire kibbutz, and afterwards maybe the city of Ra’anana. The new doomsday is no longer a nuclear holocaust from Iran, but thousands of terrorists emerging from tunnels and kidnapping all of Israel.

A tunnel in Gaza (Marius Arnesen, Flickr)

A tunnel in the Gaza Strip (Marius Arnesen, Flickr)

This is not to belittle the threat posed by Hamas. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that if, in the past few years, Hamas had wanted to blow up a bus in Haifa or Beersheba – really wanted, as it once did – then it would have happened. And if Fatah had wanted to do so, it also would have happened. There is no need to dig a tunnel from Gaza to achieve that outcome; it is enough to leave on foot from Hebron or Nablus. It is true that the tunnels are a weapon meant to transport fighters underneath the fence; but from that point to the idea of fantastical horror films, and conflating an offensive weapon in enemy hands with an existential threat for the whole state of Israel is an enormous distance.

As long as we define our status as war, the other side will find ways of hurting us.  Therefore, there are two possibilities: The first is that it’s impossible to do anything except fight and stand our ground. The second is that Israel, an exceedingly powerful state, can change the reality of the region and end the occupation.

Those who believe in the first possibility stand steadfast with Netanyahu anyway. The thing is, most Israelis haven’t yet decided their precise position. Some believe more or less in the second possibility, and the aim of Netanyahu’s propaganda is to make them stop believing that it is possible to actually do anything. They will use any means necessary to stop Israelis from believing in the existence of another prospect aside from “standing steadfast.” The basest manipulations are employed against us so that we believe this lie. Sadly, the spineless Israeli media furthers the administration’s aims: It echoes every threat, applauds each military operation, lessens each blunder and refrains from asking the truly tough questions.

The template is clear. For the most part, there will be an existential threat flickering above the skies of Israel, nourished by the establishment and the media: terrorist bombings, rockets, the Iranians, the tunnels. And whenever there is no threat of this sort, we’ll engage in evasions and explanations until we manufacture a new threat.

The question is how do we oppose the “no choice” factory built by the establishment and the media? How do we effectively convince people that this operation in Gaza and the circle of death and despair into which we have been crammed are not the edict of fate? How do we convince everyone who loves this place, believes in its potential and wishes for its welfare that we don’t have to live this way?

Nir Baram is an Israeli author

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call


Lovely summer for a war
The ‘terror tunnels’: Another Israeli self-fulfilling prophecy
Not about tunnels: Israeli tanks take aim at central Gaza

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    1. bar

      It takes a special kind of willful blindness to look at today’s Middle East and describe Israel and its leaders as living a lie.

      Did you read what Iran’s leaders are saying about Israel? Do you read what they do to their own citizens? Do you understand they have been fully implicated in the Argentina bombings targeting Jews and Jewish institutions?

      Do you look at ISIS and its actions, the Syrian government, the Egyptian government (550 protesters killed in a single day) or Hamas murdering its own people during a fight with Israel?

      But, somehow, Abu Mazen is different? How, exactly? His forces don’t beat up and arrest opponents? His fighters don’t help launch rockets from Gaza? The rhetoric we hear from his side doesn’t talk about how Jaffa, Safed, Haifa, etc. will be Palestinian “again?”

      There is another way to view all of this, and it’s actually the only one that makes sense at this point. Israel left Gaza and got a terror state in its place that murders its own children to build military assets and has no shame placing its own civilians in death’s way as media fodder. The only reason Judea and Samaria don’t look the same is that Israel’s presence there is strong and palpable. That is why Fatah (the PA) isn’t engaged in military adventures, it’s why there are no tunnels, it’s why there are no rockets. And, we now have unequivocal, irrefutable proof that if Israel walks away, it will have to deal with a situation similar to Gaza in just a short while – an Iranian general even promised this on Lebanese television the other day.

      Wake up! Stop blaming Israel for its neighborhood!

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        1st, it’s not a given Iran was behind the bombings in Argentina. There’s a good case that the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (the one group the Iranian people hate worse than their government and, appropriately enough, has worked with Israel in the past to carry out murders) passed on misinformation on the bombing to make it look like the Pasdaran was responsible.


        2nd, as a half-Iranian, I’ll thank you to withold your cynical faux-indignation of the state of Iranian human rights abuses. We’ve got this, thanks.

        3d If you’re referring to “wipe off the map,” you may have heard already, but that expression does not exist in Farsi. The reference was not to Israel, but to the “regime” occupying it.

        And if Abu Mazen is no different from Assad (who Israel wishes to remain as leader of Syria http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Report-Israel-prefers-Assad-survive-Syria-conflict-313528), ISIS, etc., why do you not only deign to deal with him, but treat him like the only worthy partner in this matter (when you’re not alternately pissing on him for not being sufficiently loyal to Israel’s neediness).

        This nonsense about your “neighborhood” is passive-aggressive and manipulative. If there’s one thing Israel has never been, it’s powerless or vulnerable. You’re the predominant military power in the region, and the only country in the region with nukes. Stop whining and playing the victim, and clean up your own mess in a way that doesn’t involve another thousand civilian casualties.

        Reply to Comment
        • bar

          My response to Reza has not been published. Needless to say, it mocked and destroyed his claims.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure it did.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn8

      Yes dear, we do really have to live this way. This is how people live in the Middle East.

      All those ‘moderates’ that you are in love with are just as committed to our destruction as the ‘extremists’. They just know that if one wants to realistically achieve an extreme outcome one must present the most reasonable and moderate demands and justifications all the way along each of the required steps to get there. So, Abbas insists that he wants peace, but only a “peace” which leaves open the door for more conflict by not recognizing Israel as a Jewish State while reserving the “right of return”, and only a “peace” that ensures that the West Bank turns into another terror base, by leaving the borders open for the import of rockets and missile from Iran and elsewhere. A true “peace seeker” by Middle East standards. Actually that last part is true as sad as it is.

      The profound “soul-searching” that Fatah went through was based on the fact that suicide bombings, and this part is quite surprising, did not win the Palestinians much empathy for their demands. The “soul-searching” did not consist of actually coming around to the idea that murdering Israeli civilians is wrong. Those that carried out those attacks are still treated as heroes for children to emulate. Nor did the “soul-searching” consist of coming around to the idea building up a Palestinian state next to the Jewish state rather than on top of it. That too is still very much the dream that Abbas and Fatah sell the Palestinians. The “soul-searching” really just consisted of a change of tactics towards trying to find some suckers in the West who would be confused by less violent tactics into believing that the goals have been moderated even though no such process has taken place. All those colorful demands for peace and justice. Scratch just a little and you get back to the same place. “Peace and justice” in the Palestinian lexicon are codewords for the destruction of Israel. They don’t even really bother to deny this, they just assume, correctly it seems, that most people will be sufficiently shallow or uninterested that they will never ask what kind of “peace and justice” they have in mind. Nonviolence as an immediate tactic, expulsion and genocide as a goal, but we aren’t supposed to talk about that one right? We are supposed to talk about Palestinian “rights”, which sounds like something positive, and naturally from the most filthy and mutated interpretation of such “rights” we arrive at a goal of the genocide and expulsion of the Jews. At least Hamas is open and honest about their goals, unlike their frenemies at Fatah.

      So, yes, we were paying attention. When Abbas named streets and squares after people whose sole claim to fame was the murder of Israeli civilians we paid attention. When Abbas insisted on flooding Israel with Arabs we heard him. When Abbas refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish State we understood exactly the kind of peace he wants.

      The truth is that the only difference between Hamas and Abbas is that the former is religious and the latter is more or less secular. The terminology and symbolism they use are different but the goals are the same. Both are still committed to delivering to their people that which has been promised to them – the destruction of Israel – and neither has, as of yet, been willing to admit to their people that this is not going to happen. The Palestinians are not ready for any peace that leaves Israel alive. You and your ilk can seek your evergreen optimism in whatever delusions you conjure from your ever more strained imaginations but unless/until the Palestinians embrace an outcome that leaves the Jewish State alive there is no hope for peace and no particular reason to waste tons of paper on your lamentations.

      And no, Israel can not, unfortunately, change the “reality of the region”. It can not force Turkey and Qatar to stop funding Hamas. It can not force Al Jazeera to stop being Hamas’ propaganda arm. It can not force Iran to recognize Israel or to stop having crowds running through the streets of Tehran chanting “Death to Israel”. It can not force the Arab Muslim World to stop praising the cult of martyrdom or reverse the centuries of religious teaching according to which Muslims by right have the divine right to rule and all others must bow. It can not get Muslim preachers to pronounce that it is acceptable that the land of Israel is ruled by Jews. It can not create a political culture in the Middle East (outside of Israel) that accepts the legitimacy of democratic rule rather than autocratic or theocratic rule. It can not undo decades of preaching among Muslims according to which the Jews have no place in the Middle East except as a powerless minority forever to be “protected” by Muslim rulers and repressed if it forgets its place.

      Yet Israel is a powerful state. It can defend itself. It can ensure its own survival. It can wait for natural processes to run their course until the next wave of secularization hits the Arab/Muslim worlds. It can wait until the Arab/Muslim world get used to the existence of Israel. It can sear into their consciousness the fact that should they embrace as their goal the destruction of Israel they will never know a day of happiness. It can deter or defeat those that rise up against it. It can and should continue to develop its economy and keep building up the Jewish State so that its success and permanence are a permanent proof to the contrary to those in the Muslim world that argue that it can’t last or that they can wait it out. It can and should educate its population to continue fighting and to continue building and to believe that which is true – Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people – and we can and will overcome any challenge thrown our way.

      Ok, I may have gotten carried away..

      Reply to Comment
    3. rose

      you need your barbarians, without them you would be lost. These ideologies make you blind and push you to write that Israel “can defend itself”. If you would know a bit better the situation on the ground you would know that Israel’s actions beyond the Green Line have very little to do with “security”. But I know, I am just losing time.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        Rose, I don’t particularly need the barbarians but, unlike you, I don’t have the luxury of pretending that they don’t exist as they are shooting rockets at me. If preventing rockets from being shot at Israeli cities has very little to do with “security” then I don’t know what does.

        Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          “If preventing rockets from being shot at Israeli cities has very little to do with “security” then I don’t know what does.”

          Try to stop instigating those rockets from being shot at Israeli cities in the first place. Try accepting the Abbas/Hamas unity government without protesting against it by firing a rocket at North Gaza while the ink was still dry on that agreement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            As far as Hamas is concerned Israel is “instigating” rockets by merely existing. We are going to continue instigating to the best of our abilities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            You can delude yourself by saying that until the cows come home, but that doesn’t make it true.

            That was the same argument used against making peace with Egypt and Jordan. Just as Hamas has specific grievances against Israel (see its conditions for a ten year truce – none mention dissolving Israel), so did Egypt and Jordan have theirs. You negotiate with your enemies, not your friends.

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            “You negotiate with your enemies, not your friends.”

            You are a liar Goldmarx.

            Israel is the party that wanted to negotiate and still wants to negotiate a peace deal since 1967.

            Hamas still does not want to negotiate. It wants to do this:


            Next time you see Arabs demonstrating against Israel, just listen to what they say. You might hear slogans like:

            Khyber, Khyber ya yahoud …

            Ask them what it means.

            Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            No you are the liar, swastika breath. The Jewish Press is a paper of the far right that helped launch the career of Meir Kahane. As such, nothing it says that promotes its partisan interest.

            Israel has opposed negotiating with its creation, Hamas since Hamas won Gaza’s 2006 democratic election (other than prisoner swaps). In addition, Hamas agreed to join a unity government headed by Abbas, who recognizes Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            Yea, and Hamas has been knocking on our door pleading to negotiate with us right?

            Wrong! They have been threatening to destroy us while at the same time demanding that we should make it easier for them to do so.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Cristina Garcia

      Great article! Congratulations Nir! Let’s find for new ways to get the peace, let’s try to think different to change things. I liked reading it, fresh air!

      Reply to Comment
      • CigarButNoNice

        Hippie Hipppie Kumbaya!
        Hippie Hipppie Kumbaya!
        Gandhi Gandhi Gandhi! Nasrallah Nasrallah Nasrallah!
        Aquarius Mystic Crystal Isis! Mystic Crystal ISIS! Al Qaeda!
        All You Need Is Love! Hummus! Hamas!
        The Future Is So Sunni! Shia Shia Shia!
        Hippie Hippie Kumbaya!
        Boko Ono! Boko Ono! Boko Hamas!
        Hippie Hippie Kumbaya!
        Drum Circle! Kassam Circle! Katyusha Natasha Nadia Hilu Haneen Zoabi!
        All we are SAAAAAYIN’… is… give BEACE a chance!
        Hare Qaeda Hare Qaeda! Hare Osama Hare Osama!
        Sixties Sixties Sixties Kumbaya!
        HAIR! Hijab! Hamas! Hezbongchilom!
        Hamas! Hezbolavirus! Boko Haram!
        All we are SAAAAAYIN’… is… give PiecemealEliminationOfTheJewishState a chance!

        Reply to Comment
        • Reza Lustig

          Thank you for that totally well-reasoned, articulate rebuttal.

          Reply to Comment
        • jg

          Life must a happy one in the home for retarded where this poor soul lives. But his medics aren’t working for days now….

          Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            You two are great exemplars of the humorless Left. Both of you failed to get the point that I was mocking the sixties-radical pipe-dreamers who think the Jewish–Arab Conflict can be solved by negotiation that gives the Arabs a few material demands rather than a zero-sum game where a Jewish nation-state even the size of the Tel-Aviv region is an affront they want wiped out.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Albert

      Iran is gone? Hello ?

      Reply to Comment
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