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From the 'Iron Wall' to the 'Villa in the Jungle', Palestinians demolish Israel's security myths

Palestinians climb on top of Israel's controversial separation wall between the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah and the Israeli settlement of Modiin Ilit during a demonstration against settlements in the area, on February 17, 2017 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]
Palestinians climb on top of Israel's controversial separation wall between the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah and the Israeli settlement of Modiin Ilit during a demonstration against settlements in the area, on February 17, 2017 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

Twenty-five years before Israel was established on the ruins of historic Palestine, a Russian Jewish Zionist leader, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, argued that a Jewish state in Palestine could only survive if it exists "behind an iron wall" of defence. Jabotinsky was speaking figuratively, but Zionist leaders after him who embraced his teachings eventually turned the principle of the iron wall into a tangible reality. Israel and Palestine are now disfigured by endless walls, made of concrete and iron, which zigzag in and around a land that was meant to represent inclusion, spiritual harmony and coexistence.

Gradually, new ideas regarding Israel's "security" emerged, such as "fortress Israel" and "villa in the jungle", an obviously racist metaphor used repeatedly by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which depicts Israel falsely as an oasis of harmony and democracy amid Middle Eastern chaos and violence. For the Israeli "villa" to remain prosperous and peaceful, according to Barak, the state needed to do more than merely maintain its military edge; it had to ensure that the "chaos" does not breach the perimeters of Israel's perfect existence.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a meeting of his Likud party in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2012 [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

"Security" for Israel is not, therefore, simply viewed through military, political and strategic lenses. If so, the shooting of an Israeli sniper, Barel Hadaria Shmuel, by a Palestinian at the fence separating besieged Israel from Gaza on 21 August should have been understood as the predictable and rational cost of perpetual war and military occupation.

Moreover, one dead army sniper for over 300 unarmed Palestinians shot dead by snipers should, in terms of a crude military calculation, appears to be a "reasonable" price to pay in a purely military sense. But the language used by Israeli officials and media following the death of Shmuel — whose job included the killing and maiming of young Palestinians — indicates that Israel's sense of dejection is not linked to the supposed tragedy of a life lost, but to the unrealistic expectations that military occupation and "security" can co-exist; that one can ensure the other.

Israelis want to be able to kill, without being killed in return; subdue and occupy Palestinians militarily without the least degree of resistance, armed or otherwise. They want to imprison thousands of Palestinians without the slightest protest or even the most basic questioning of Israel's military judicial system. And yet these colonial fantasies, which have satisfied and guided the thinking of successive Zionist and Israeli leaders since Jabotinsky, work only in theory.

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Time after time, Palestinian resistance has made a mockery of Israel's security myths. The resistance groups in Gaza have grown exponentially in their capabilities, whether in preventing the Israeli army from entering and holding positions in the Gaza Strip or in striking back at Israeli towns and cities. Israel's effectiveness in winning wars and keeping its gains has been hampered greatly in Gaza, just as its efforts have also been thwarted repeatedly in Lebanon over the past two decades.

Even the Iron Dome missile defence system — an "iron wall" of a different kind — has been a failure in terms of its ability to intercept crudely-made Palestinian rockets. Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has argued that the success rate of the system is "drastically lower" than what the Israeli government and army have reported.

Even the Israeli "villa" was compromised from within when the popular Palestinian uprising of May 2021 demonstrated that Israel's native Palestinian Arab citizens remain an organic part of the wider Palestinian community. The violence meted out by police and right-wing militants, that many Arab communities inside Israel had to endure for taking a moral stance in support of their brethren in occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, showed that the supposed "harmony" within Barak's "villa" was a fragile construct that shattered within a few days.

Nonetheless, Israel still refuses to accept what is both obvious and obviously inevitable: a country which exists solely due to "iron walls" and military force will never be able to find true peace, and will always suffer the consequences of the violence it inflicts upon others.

Another attack on Gaza: Israel squeezing the life of Gaza - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Another attack on Gaza: Israel squeezing the life of Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A public letter issued by the Israeli army's chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, on 4 September in response to the widespread public criticism of the killing of the sniper, highlighted further one of Israel's major national fault lines. "The readiness to sustain a loss of life is crucial to national resilience," wrote Kochavi, "and that resilience is vital to the continuation of our very existence." His assertion rang alarm bells throughout the country, leading to political controversy.

This was compounded by the news that six Palestinian prisoners had escaped from Israel's high-security Gilboa Prison on 6 September. While Palestinians celebrated the daring escape, Israel plunged into yet another major "security" crisis. This single act by Palestinian freedom fighters seeking to escape the Israeli gulag that lacks the minimal requirements for justice or the rule of law was treated by Israeli media as if the very collapse of the security state was imminent. The recapture of four of the escapees did little to alter this reality.

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Israel's iron walls are falling apart at the seams and the fortress is crumbling, not only because Palestinians never stop resisting, but also because the militaristic mindset through which Israel was conceived, constructed and sustained was a failure from the very start.

Israel's problem is that its military fortress was built with major design flaws that were never corrected or even addressed. No nation on earth can enjoy long-term security, peace and prosperity at the expense of another nation, as long as the latter never ceases its fight for freedom. It's possible that the early Zionists did not factor in that Palestinian resistance could last for so long, and that the baton of freedom fighting could pass from one generation to the next. It behoves Israel to accept this unavoidable reality because until and unless it abandons its endlessly foolish "security" fantasies, there can never be true peace in occupied Palestine, neither for the occupied and oppressed Palestinians nor for the Israeli occupiers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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