The Palestinians have every reason to hate Israel; it is a settler-colonial apartheid state erected on the ruins of their homeland. But why does Israel hate the Palestinians so much? It has sadistically and systematically terrorised, blockaded and imprisoned them after taking control of their lives and livelihoods, denying them fundamental rights and freedoms
The obvious answer may not be the right answer. Yes, Israel abhors Palestinian violence and terrorism that has touched more than a few Israelis but it is nothing compared with the wholesale violence and state-terror exacted by Israel on the Palestinians, launching vengeful and preemptive wars, as it has this past weekend.
To my mind, Israel’s hatred of the Palestinians is shaped and driven by three basic sentiments: fear, envy and anger.
Fear is a chief factor – it can be irrational but also instrumental.
It should come as no surprise that Israel has continued to fear the Palestinians well after it occupied all their lands and became a mighty regional and nuclear power. Because its fear of the Palestinians is not merely physical or material, it is existential.
Under the apt title: Why all Israelis are cowards, an Israeli columnist wondered in 2014 what kind of a society produces cowardly soldiers who shoot unarmed Palestinian youth from a long distance. Some four years later, in 2018, it was indeed surreal to watch Israeli soldiers hide behind fortified defences as they shot hundreds of unarmed protesters for days on end.
Israel basically fled Gaza in fear back in 2005, imposing an inhumane blockade on the two million, mostly refugees, living there.
Israel fears all that is Palestinian steadfastness, Palestinian unity, Palestinian democracy, Palestinian poetry, and all Palestinian national symbols, including language, which it downgraded, and the flag, which it is trying to ban. Israel especially fears Palestinian mothers bearing new babies, which it calls a “demographic threat”. Echoing this national Israeli obsession with Palestinian procreation, a historian warned 12 years ago that demography is a threat to the survival of the Jewish state much like a nuclear Iran, for example, because in his view, Palestinians could become a majority by 2040-2050.
Fear is also instrumental for a garrison state like Israel, known as “an army with a country attached”. In a book summarising his decades-long experience in Israel, an American journalist noted that: “Today’s government stirs up fears, most of them imaginary or at least wildly exaggerated, painting Israel as an isolated, lonely, threatened, little country, always on the defensive, always on the lookout for the next sign of hate somewhere, eager to overreact.”
In sum, fear generates hatred because, in the words of another Israeli observer, a state that is always afraid cannot be free; a state that is shaped by militant messianism and ugly racism, against the indigenous people of the land, cannot be truly independent either.
Israel is also angry, always angry at the Palestinians for refusing to give up or give in, for not going away; far away. Israel, for all intents and purposes, has won all its wars since 1948, and become a regional superpower, forcing Arab regimes to bow in humiliation. And yet the Palestinians continue to deny the Israelis victory, they will not submit; they will not surrender, rather they continue to resist come what may.
Israel has the world powers on its side, with the United States in its pocket, Europe behind it and the Arab regimes sucking up to it. But the isolated – and even forgotten – Palestinians still refuse to cede their basic rights, let alone concede defeat. It must be infuriating for Israel to have so much innocent blood on its hands, to no avail. It kills, tortures, exploits and robs the Palestinians of all that is dear, but they will not acquiesce. It has imprisoned more than a million of them over the years but the Palestinians refuse to recapitulate. They continue to yearn and struggle for freedom and independence, with many insisting on Israel’s own demise as a colonial state.
Israel is also envious of Palestinian inner power and outward pride. It is envious of their strong beliefs and readiness to sacrifice, which presumably reminds today’s Israelis of early Zionists. Today’s Israeli conscripts-turned-Robocops face off against bare-chested Palestinian bravery from behind their armoured vehicles, cowardly shooting with vengeance.
Israel is most envious of the Palestinians’ historic and cultural belonging to Palestine; of their attachment to the land, an attachment Zionism has had to manufacture in order to entice Jews into becoming colonial settlers. Israel hates the Palestinians for being so integral to the history, geography and nature of the landscape it claims as its own. Israel has long resorted to theology and mythology to justify its existence, when the Palestinians need no such justification; belonging so effortlessly, so conveniently, so naturally.
Israel has tried to erase or bury all traces of Palestinian existence, even changing the names of streets, neighbourhoods and towns. In the words of one Israeli historian, “to find accurate parallels for the reconsecration of places of worship by a conqueror, one must go back to Spain or the Byzantine Empire in the middle of the late 15th century.”
Israel hates the Palestinians for being the living proof that the foundations of Zionism – a people without a land settling in a land without a people – is mythical at best and violent and colonialist in reality. Israel hates them for impeding the realisation of the Zionist dream over all historical Palestine. And it especially hates those living in Gaza, for turning the dream into a nightmare.
Yet, it would be wrong to glorify any of this. Love is always better than hate. Hatred is destructive and feeds into more hatred. Hatred is devastating to the hateful and the hated. Israel could still turn all that hatred into tolerance, envy into appreciation, and anger into empathy, if only it has the courage to atone for its violent past, apologise for its crimes, compensate the Palestinians for their suffering and start treating them with the respect and honour they deserve as equals, even privileged equals in their homeland. Israel’s hatred will not drive the Palestinians out but it may well drive the Jews out and away.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.