Cross-posted from To The Point Analyses
Part I -- Rationalizations
With the Israelis once more inflicting collective punishment in Gaza (a tactic which happens to constitute a war crime) it is time to consider the mind-set behind their repeated violent and sadistic behavior. One way to do so is to listen to the rationalizations they use, also repeatedly, to justify their actions.
Among the many rationalizations offered by Israeli leaders for their violent behavior is the assertion that the Arabs, and Palestinians in particular, "only understand force." If you do not use force against them they interpret its absence as a sign of weakness and this only encourages them to stand against the Zionist state. This notion that the Arabs only understand force is one of the holdover stereotypes of a mostly, but obviously not completely, bygone age of imperialism
Actually, when it comes to the Israelis, this persistent myth is mixed up with their own post-Holocaust determination to "never again" react to a threat passively. They believe that sort of reaction is what killed millions of European Jews, and so it is no longer psychologically acceptable.
The only problem with these lines of thought is that they are seriously misleading -- both in terms of Arab/Palestinian perceptions and European Jewish behavior.
Part II -- The Palestinians Only Understand Force Fallacy
Since coming into existence in 1948, Israel has attacked Palestinian individuals and infrastructure thousands of times. Israeli conventional wisdom would claim that this has been done in self-defense and to dissuade the Palestinians from future attacks. The self-defense rationale is misleading because Israelis have, from the beginning, been acting offensively: most of what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories was taken violently and then ethnically cleansed of most of its Arab inhabitants with the ongoing goal of setting up a religiously exclusive state. Palestinian violence has always been a reaction to Israeli aggression.
The argument that harsh retaliation against Palestinian acts of resistance would dissuade them from further resistance (that is, the Palestinians "only understand force") proved long ago to be false. It has never worked, and yet too many Israelis have clung tenaciously to this lie (a small minority, such as the Israeli journalist Gordon Levy, know the lie for what it is and bravely keep proclaiming the truth). Why has the lie persisted so long? Well, there is the old adage that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a form of insanity, but perhaps that is a bit too superficial for the case at hand.
One reason for Israel's repetitive violence is that if they admit it is a tactical failure and desist, they might have to negotiate a genuine peace treaty with the Palestinians. Many will immediately say that they have, repeatedly, tried to negotiate while always coming up against Palestinian intransigence. However, if one takes a close and objective look at these efforts at negotiation, one finds that they are facades or false fronts behind which we find Israeli intransigence.
As the liberal Zionist M. J. Rosenberg has pointed out, the Israelis have never negotiated in good faith. When the Palestinians react to Israel's bad faith, the Israelis break off negotiations and blame the Palestinians. Israel then returns to its pattern of repetitive violence. In truth, negotiating in good faith means compromising Israel's ambition to settle all of the land of Palestine, and that is something the hard-core Zionists will not do. As a consequence, it is not the Israelis, but the Palestinians who have lacked a partner who will negotiate responsibly.
Another reason is that once Israel has raised several generations of citizens to believe that the Palestinians are implacable enemies who "only understand force," it becomes politically difficult to change the message despite its elemental falseness. The myth of the impossibility of negotiating with the Palestinians is believed by so many Israelis that if a politician started advocating a genuine compromise, he or she would be marginalized or worse. Remember the fate of Yitzhak Rabin, who almost certainly was not operating in wholehearted good faith toward the Palestinians, but was assassinated anyway because of the fear that he was moving in that direction.
Part III -- The Fear of Showing Weakness
In other words, the Israeli fear of showing weakness is not an attitude that references outside groups. It references only the Israeli concern for their own self-image. It is the fear of seeing themselves as akin to European Jews passively going to the gas chambers that stands as the greatest psychological barrier to an Israeli decision to halt their repetitive violence. As noted above, this is so despite the fact that their interpretation of European Jewish behavior is historically misleading.
For hundreds of years Europe's Jews faced discrimination and persecution that periodically turned violent. These episodes of violence, known as pogroms, were murderous but short-lived. The Jewish communities learned that if they kept their heads down and allowed the storm to wash over them, their casualties were less. They learned this not just by being passive, but by comparing such behavior with the consequences of active resistance.