Israel’s Ministry of Fear – Uri Avnery

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Israeli soldiers hold Palestinian children under arrest in the West Bank city of Hebron in August 2011. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA
Israeli soldiers hold Palestinian children under arrest in the West Bank city of Hebron in August 2011. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

Fear is also the instrument of rulers. Create Fear and Rule. This has been a maxim of kings and dictators for ages. But no one does it better than Israel’s Netanyahu. He has no equal in fear mongering

URI AVNERY | Special to Caravan Daily

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]E have nothing to fear but fear itself, said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was wrong. Fear is a necessary condition for human survival. Most animals in nature possess it. It helps them to respond to dangers and evade or fight them. Human beings survive because they are fearful.

Fear is both individual and collective. Since its earliest days, the human race has lived in collectives. This is both a necessary and a desired condition. Early humans lived in tribes. The tribe defended their territory against all “strangers” – neighboring tribes – in order to safeguard their food supply and security. Fear was one of the uniting factors.

Belonging to one’s tribe (which after many evolutions became a modern nation) is also a profound psychological need. It, too, is connected with fear – fear of other tribes, fear of other nations. But fear can grow and become a monster.

Recently I received a very interesting article by a young scientist, Yoav Litvin, dealing with this phenomenon. It described, in scientific terms, how easily fear can be manipulated. The science involved was the research of the human brain, based on experiments with laboratory animals like mice and rats.

Nothing is easier than to create fear. For example, mice were given an electric shock while exposed to rock music. After some time, the mice showed reactions of extreme fear when the rock music was played, even without being given a shock. The music alone produced fear.

This could be reversed. For a long time, the music was played for them without the pain. Slowly, very slowly, the fear abated. But not completely: when, after a long time, a shock was again delivered with the music, the full symptoms of fear re-appeared immediately. Once was enough.

Apply this to human nations, and the results are the same. The Jews are a perfect laboratory specimen. Centuries of persecution in Europe taught them the value of fear. Smelling danger from afar, they learned to save themselves in time – generally by flight.

In Europe, the Jews were an exception, inviting victimizing. In the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire, Jews were normal. All over the empire, territorial peoples turned into ethnic-religious communities. A Jew in Alexandria could marry a Jewess in Antioch, but not the girl next door, if she happened to be an Orthodox Christian.

This “millet” system endured all through the Islamic Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and still lives happily in today’s State of Israel. An Israeli Jew cannot legally marry an Israeli Christian or Muslim in Israel.

This was the reason for the absence of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, apart from the detail that the Arabs are Semites themselves. Jews and Christians, the “peoples of the book”, have a special status in an Islamic state (like Iran today), in some ways second-class, in some ways privileged (they do not have to serve in the army). Until the advent of Zionism, Arab Jews were no more fearful than most other human beings.

The situation in Europe was quite different. Christianity, which split off from Judaism, harbored a deep resentment towards the Jews from the start. And the fact that the Jews in Europe were the only people (apart from the gypsies) who had no homeland made them all the more suspicious and fear-inspiring.

The continued suffering of the Jews in Europe implanted a continuous and deep-seated fear in every European Jew. Every Jew was on continuous alert, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously, even in times and countries which seemed far from any danger – like the Germany of my parents’ youth. My father was a prime example of this syndrome. He grew up in a family that had lived in Germany for generations. (My father, who had studied Latin, always insisted that our family had come to Germany with Julius Caesar.) But when the Nazis came to power, it took my father just a few days to decide to flee, and a few months later my family arrived happily in Palestine.

The new Hebrew community in Palestine, founded by refugees from the pogroms of Moldavia, Poland, Ukraine and Russia, and later reinforced by the remnants of the Holocaust, lived in fear of their Arab neighbors, who revolted from time to time against the immigration.

The new community, called the Yishuv, took great pride in the heroism of its youth, which was quite able to defend itself, its towns and its villages. A whole cult grew up around the new Sabra (“cactus plant”), the fearless, heroic young Hebrew born in the country. When in the war of 1948, after prolonged and bitter fighting (we lost 6,500 young men out of a community of 650,000 people) we eventually won, collective rational fear was replaced by irrational pride.

Here we were, a new nation on new soil, strong and self-reliant. We could afford to be fearless. But we were not. Fearless people can make peace, reach a compromise with yesterday’s enemy, reach out for co-existence and even friendship. This happened – more or less – in Europe after many centuries of continuous wars. Not here. Fear of the “Arab World” was a permanent fixture in our national life, the picture of “little Israel surrounded by enemies” both an inner conviction and a propaganda ploy. War followed war, and each one produced new waves of anxiety.

This mixture of overweening pride and profound fears, a conqueror’s mentality and permanent angst, is a hallmark of today’s Israel. Foreigners often suspect that this is make-believe, but it is quite real.

Fear is also the instrument of rulers. Create Fear and Rule. This has been a maxim of kings and dictators for ages.

In Israel, this is the easiest thing in the world. One has just to mention the Holocaust (or Shoah in Hebrew) and fear oozes from every pore of the national body.

Stoking Holocaust memories is a national industry. Children are sent to visit Auschwitz, their first trip abroad. The last minister of education decreed the introduction of Holocaust studies in kindergarten (seriously). There is a Holocaust Day – in addition to many other Jewish holidays, most of which commemorate some past conspiracy to kill the Jews.

People wonder what is the special quality that enables Benjamin Netanyahu to be elected again and again, and rule practically alone, surrounded by a flock of noisy nobodies.

The person who knew him best, his own father, once declared that “Bibi” could be a good foreign minister, but on no account a prime minister. True, Netanyahu has a good voice and a real talent for television, but that is all. He is shallow, he has no world vision and no real vision for Israel, his historical knowledge is negligible.

But he has one real talent: fear-mongering. In this he has no equal.

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