Israel's Painful Search For Answers After Hebron

THE aftershock of the Hebron massacre continues to reverberate through the Israeli consciousness, raising serious questions about fundamental Israeli ideology and understanding of the ethos of being Jewish at this historic juncture.

The massacre has posed anew the principal question of Israeli and Palestinian rights to the same land. It casts a dark cloud on their capacity to coexist with dignity and mutual respect. As the painful soul-searching continues, the Israelis have come to discover some startling things about themselves, both in relation to each other and in their relationship with the Palestinians.

Somewhere in the hills of Judea and Samaria during the Likud rule from 1977 to 1992, the balance of being an Israeli Jew, of knowing what one is, tipped. Confusion crept in; personal identity has become blurred, hovering between being victim or ruler, friend or perpetual foe. Many thoughts grew cluttered with prejudice, intolerance, self-righteousness, and hate.

The Israelis must now find a way out of this self-besieged mentality. They must carefully examine the perception of the Arabs that has fed their consciousness and led them to this state of self-doubt.

The first bitter discovery was that Baruch Goldstein was not an aberration. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and many Israelis were horrified by Goldstein's gruesome behavior. But they were as deeply shocked that so many held him as a martyr rather than a murderer. Was Goldstein a product of 15 years of misguided Likud policy that has compromised Jewish morals and subordinated Zionist values in the blind pursuit of a Greater Israel? Or was he, as Israel's leading philosopher on Jewish thought, Rabbi David Hartman, suggests, ``a product of the Middle East ... a product of a long history of enormous violence by both communities.''

IN either case, Goldstein was a product of the Israeli-Palestinian abnormal reality, filled with fear and anxiety and nurtured by Likud's shortsighted policy and the relentless violence of radical Palestinians. He was the product of the ``you or me'' dictum that leaves no room for accommodation or compromise. Mr. Hartman says: ``He grew out of a deep climate of `never again the Kach mentality, a deep feeling that no moral discourse with the world was possible. After living in an ambiance of war and hatred for such a long time, something gets blunted and in some sort of undifferentiated sense of the enemy you become obsessed with that image.''

The images of ``you or me'' have also produced a pattern of behavior that has dominated the Israeli-Palestinian discourse. The Commission of Inquiry investigating the massacre was repulsed to discover that the soldiers were forbidden to shoot at Jews even if they were caught in the act of killing.

Granted, the enemy is perceived differently from one's compatriots, and force was not used indiscriminately. What hit a raw nerve is that Israeli soldiers have been conditioned over the years to place two distinct values on human life. The day-to-day confrontations with the Palestinians and the distasteful measures taken to quell the violence have further compromised the soldiers' integrity. The confrontations have reduced that mighty Army to loathed intruders battling Palestinian women and children in the dusty streets of Gaza and Hebron. It seems as though some evil force has handed down a decree from which there is no escape: ``Thou shalt dehumanize yourself and your enemy.''

``The Israelis,'' Hartman insists, ``do not want to dehumanize the Arab community ... they would love to see the flourishing of human dignity, but at the same time they are asking how that could come about without making [themselves] vulnerable to [the Palestinians'] language of violence.'' Although this may be the case, reality has dictated different terms. Israel's obsession with national security, though understandable, is often invoked to justify transgression against the Palestinians, compromising human rights principles.

On a deeper level, even though Israel is the occupier, the Israelis have never developed the psychological disposition of conquerors. The mentality of the victimized Jew persists and is even more prevalent in the territories. It is the same ghetto mentality that suspected and feared the outside world, the mentality of the besieged always on the watch for the enemy. For some, the massacre is only a battle in a continuing war, as was cynically suggested by a leader from Kiryat Arba.

THE Zionist ideology had accepted the United Nations partition plan and the creation of a Palestinian state. Zionism succeeded because it appeared moderate, willing to compromise. With Likud's coming to power in 1977, the partition idea was basically scrapped and the concept of Greater Israel was given notoriety. During the following 15 years, the settlements in the West Bank were portrayed as the continuation of the early settlements of Jews in Palestine designed to lay the foundation for a Jewish state, only this time the settlements were meant to deprive the Palestinians of the right to self-determination.

Only the blind and politically naive could not understand the Palestinian's opposition to the settlements in that context.

The path to a Palestinian state does not rest with the dismantlement of settlements. On the contrary, only if Israelis and Palestinians learn to accept each other in the West Bank and in Israel proper as indigenous to the land, and not as alien implants, will they have a reason to accommodate each other and make coexistence their unmitigated goal.

The Israeli-PLO agreement - a clear departure from the Likud policy, which emphasized Palestinian pride - offered promise for the future. Although the agreement lacks the coherence and the vision needed to evoke trust by either side, it is a major step toward liberating the Israelis and Palestinians from the bondage of occupation and its consequences. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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