It seemed strange, if not out of context, when Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin told Arutz Sheva-Israel National News that “Muslims are not afraid of us anymore”.
Feiglin’s comments were made on 25 October, less than three weeks following the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Flood operation and the genocidal Israeli war which followed.
The former Knesset member who, in 2012, challenged Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the leadership of the Likud party, proposed, in the same interview that, in order for the Muslims’ fear to be restored, the Israeli military has to turn “Gaza to ashes immediately”.
Feiglin perceives Gaza as something much larger than the 365 km² of land mass. He understood, rightly, that the war is not just about firepower but perceptions, and not only those of Gazans, Palestinians and Arabs, but all Muslims, as well.
The events of 7 October have exposed Israel as an essentially weak and vulnerable State, thus conveying the idea to Arabs, Muslims – in fact, the rest of the world – that the perceived power of Israel’s ‘invincible army’ is but an illusion.
Currently, the problem of perception is Israel’s greatest challenge. Feiglin has expressed this dichotomy in his usual far-right extremist language, but even the most ‘liberal’ of Israel’s leadership shares his anxiety.
When Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, for example, declared on 16 October that “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza”, he was not only preparing his society and US-Western allies for one of the greatest acts of military revenge known in history. He, too, wanted to restore fear in the hearts of Israel’s perceived enemies.
In a more recent statement, on 1 February, former Shin Bet chief, Carmi Gillon, asserted, in an interview with Channel 12, that Palestinians will not be able to carry out another 7 October-like attack.
Gillon’s comments could easily be mistaken for a rational military assessment. But this cannot be the case, simply because Israel has failed miserably to prevent the Al-Aqsa Flood operation in the first place.
Gillon was speaking of psychology. In his mind, the war on Gaza has always been a revenge war, one that aimed at extracting the very idea from the collective mind of Palestinians that they can stand up to Israel.
To understand the relationship between Israel’s existence and the power – or the perception of power – of its military, one must examine the early political discourse of Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party is the direct heir of the right-wing, in fact fascist, ideology that was largely articulated by early Zionist thinker, Vladimir Jabotinsky. Though Jabotinsky’s politics is deeply nationalistic, his ideas ultimately branched into, or at least inspired, the ideological school of religious Zionism.
Unlike more liberal leaning Zionists of that era, Jabotinsky was straightforward regarding the Zionist intentions and ultimate objectives in Palestine.
“A voluntary reconciliation with the Arabs is out of the question, either now or in the future,” he wrote in his book, The Iron Wall, in 1923, adding, “If you wish to colonise a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf.”
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For Jabotinsky, it all came down to this maxim: “Zionism is a colonising adventure and, therefore, it stands or falls by the question of armed force.” Since then, Israel continues to invest in building ‘iron walls’, real or imagined.
In fact, Jabotinsky’s iron wall was a symbolic one. His was an impenetrable fortress of military power, cemented through violence, the relentless subjugation of the natives, which is designed for the purpose of their expulsion.
The fact that Israeli ministers and other leading politicians quickly began advancing plans for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza immediately after 7 October, indicates that Zionism has never abandoned those early ideas. Indeed, the genocidal language in Israel is older than the State itself.
But, if Jabotinsky was still alive, he would be utterly ashamed of his descendants, who allowed their personal interests to trump their vigilance in keeping the Palestinians caged in, crushed by an ever-expanding iron wall. Instead, the wall has been breached, physically, on 7 October, and psychologically, ever since. While physical damage can be easily repaired, psychological damage is hard to fix.
The ongoing genocide in Gaza is a desperate Israeli attempt at raising the costs for Palestinian resistance, so it may reach the future conclusion that resistance is, indeed, futile. This is unlikely to work.
But can Israel re-implant the fear in the collective heart of the Palestinian people? And why is such a fear a prerequisite for Israel’s survival?
Peace “will only be achieved when the hope of the Arabs to establish an Arab State on the ruins of the Jewish State is dashed,” Israel’s Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, tweeted on 1 February.
Even though the ‘Arabs’ are not calling for the destruction of anyone, Smotrich believes that the very idea of a Palestinian State will automatically lead to the destruction of the Zionist fantasy of racial purity.
Note how the Israeli politician did not speak of the Arab political discourse but rather of Arab ‘hope’. It is a different way of saying that the problem is the collective perception of Palestinians and Arabs that justice in Palestine is possible.
Again, this notion has nothing to do with 7 October. In fact, three months before the war, precisely on 1 July, Netanyahu was even more blunt in his description of the same idea, when he said that Palestinian hopes of establishing a sovereign State “must be crushed”.
This ‘crushing’ has been underway in Gaza and the West Bank for several months now.
This time around, Israel is adopting an even more extreme version of Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’ strategy because Israel’s ruling classes truly believe, in the words of Netanyahu, that “Israel is in the midst of a fight for (its) existence”.
By existence, Netanyahu is referencing Israel’s ability to maintain its status of Jewish racist supremacist, settler-colonial expansion and monopoly over violence. Israel calls this deterrence. Many countries and legal experts around the world refer to it as genocide.
In truth, even this genocide will hardly change the new perception that Palestinians have the kind of agency that will allow them, not only to fight back but, ultimately, win.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.