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Israeli Culture Risks Endemic Violence

Historian Dominic Erdozain argues that the American tendency toward violence stems in large part from slavery. In One Nation Under Guns, he notes that slave owners in the South relied on violence to control their slaves. Massachusetts Senator Graham Sumner claimed in the 1850s that “Slavery must breed Barbarians in the individual and in the society to which he belongs.”



The reasoning is this. Normal contractual relationships depend on mutual consent, even if one party uses economic power to gain the other party’s consent to an arrangement that isn’t fair. Slavery, by contrast, constitutes a social and economic relationship that isn’t based on mutual consent, but rather on violence, hence the use of chains on slave ships, as well as the whipping and killing of slaves on plantations.



White Southerners came to believe that some human lives are worth more than others, because slaves would be uncontrollable if masters couldn’t kill disobedient slaves with impunity. But acceptance of such violence infected the culture as a whole. Violence among men in the South was much greater than among men in the North. The willingness to kill engendered a culture of honor that promoted violence over peaceful conflict resolution that depends on mutual consent.



This aspect of Southern culture persists long after the Civil War. Studies of male college students at Northern universities show consistently that those raised in the South were more prone to a violent reaction to gratuitous insults than those raised in the North. Israel is now in danger of developing a similar culture; differential regard for human life and recourse to violence against members of a subjugated population.



Israel does not have slaves. Also, unlike the ante-bellum South, where slaves were imported and their fertility encourage, Israel would rather not have any Palestinians in the country so it could remain a Jewish state. But there is a crucial similarity between the relationships between Jews and Palestinians (in Gaza and on the West Bank) and the relationship of slave masters with their slaves. In both cases, the relationship doesn’t depend on mutual consent, but on frequent recourse violence.



Long before the Hamas War, Israeli “settlers” engaged often in violence against their Palestinian neighbors while IDF and Israeli law enforcement declined to intervene. Gaza was kept by force in significant economic isolation. Israel limited its imports, exports, and banking out of a well-justified fear that Hamas, which is officially dedicated to Israel’s destruction, would use commercial ties and economic strength to facilitate killing Israelis. So the relationship between Israel and Palestinians, on the West Bank and in Gaza, is based on violence, not consent.



When the Palestinian Authority produced about 15 years of reduced Palestinian violence on the West Bank, most of the Israeli electorate ignored the unenviable plight of these Palestinians. Palestinians gained nothing from promoting peace. It’s only when Palestinians are violent that the Israeli public is aroused, and then it uses its superior force to reestablish the status quo, Israeli domination of a non-consenting people.



In recent decades, when Israelis have heightened anxiety about future Palestinian violence, they seek not to transform the relationship into one of mutual consent, but to gain ever more power to suppress Palestinian activism. The Israeli government started issuing guns to Jews in some towns to help them protect themselves from potentially violent Palestinian neighbors. A gun culture is developing in Israel similar to that in the US South, and for the same reason – fear of a violent uprising by a people kept in subjugation.



Our Jewish Federation had a speaker from Israel recently who “Othered” all Muslims; they (all Muslims it seems) will never give up on taking back control of any land that they had previously ruled. Opinion polls in Israel show that a majority of Israelis are unconcerned by civilian deaths in Gaza, as if all Gazans are enemies, including women and children, whose lives don’t matter.



Just as slavery in the US made barbarians of Southerners, as Senator Sumner claimed, subjugating Palestinians threatens Jewish values. Moral degradation can be avoided by Israel empowering peace-loving Palestinians instead of Hamas, which it had secretly supported for years. Such empowerment requires giving up the right-wing religious dream of ethnically cleansing Israel of Palestinians “from the river to the sea.”



Hamas fighters will always hate Israel. But according to the IDF they number about 80,000, about 7% of Gazans. The other 93% can delegitimize Hamas if they’re empowered to do so by Israel supporting a peace-loving Palestinian state. The Symbionese Liberation Army didn’t gain traction in the US, nor Che Guevara in Bolivia, because they lacked popular support. Israel and Palestinians can reduce popular support for violence.



In short, Israel can carry through a two-state solution and remain a civilized country, or it can continue subordinating Palestinians, with the moral degeneration of slave holders.



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