Yesterday's Wall Street Journal -
An Israeli aircraft struck a pair of Palestinian militants on Sunday, killing one man and wounding a second. On Saturday, nine militants and an Israeli civilian were killed in some of the worst violence in the area in months.
"When all of the jet fighters leave the skies of Gaza we will stop firing rockets," said Dawud Shehab, a senior member of Islamic Jihad. The latest round of violence was set off by a rocket attack last Wednesday by Islamic Jihad.
When the overall situation is reduced to a single incident one can see clearly what the problem is. Shehab and his organization started the exchange by firing rockets last Wednesday. And four days later he was indignant about the reprisals for it.
Ordinarily can imagine the Palestinians having some sort of amnesia about their aggressions and their imagining the Israeli reprisal to have been unprovoked. But this was last Wednesday and Dawud Shehab knew exactly the sequence of events. So how could he with a straight face make such a demand and even be indignant about it?
All the usual adjectives about such a person - fanatic, bigot, racist, terrorist - are all too general. Those address only why he would be a senior member of an organization like Islamic Jihad. But the question here is, what went wrong in Dawud Shehab's brain that he was unable to connect what he did on Wednesday with the consequences of it the next few days? If one could understand that, one would understand why there is no peace.
I suspect the problem may be one of national identity. Most nations have long histories reaching back centuries. They are defined by shared history, shared traditions, shared language, shared religion, shared customs, shared literature, shared art, shared cuisine, by a sense of solidarity. The Palestinians have none of these.
What defines a Palestinian? Their language is not distinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, or Egyptians. Having persecuted and driven out the Christians among them, they have merely the ordinary Sunni Islam of the places they immigrated from - primarily Egypt and Syria. There having been no Palestinian people before the British Empire separated what few of them there were from centuries of Turkish and Egyptian rule, there are no Palestinian traditions and no history separate from reaction against Israel. There is no Palestinian literature, no national epic. There is no distinctive Palestinian cuisine, no famous art works.
Tellingly, there are no Palestinian holidays whatever that have no reference to Israel. Land Day is a protest against Israel, not a celebration of anything Palestinian. There was no Palestinian history until the Zionist settlers arrived because there was no Palestinian people before that. When the Jews arrived, their economic activity attracted the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of the Palestinians from Egypt and Syria with the prospect of jobs in Palestine.
There have never been Palestinian kings or kingdoms, no great victories, no heroes, no literature. Nothing defines the Palestinian national identity but their hostility to Israel. Palestinian personal and national identity is recently formed and has no content except hatred of Israel. That is pretty slim pickings to look inside yourself and your society and see so little, so very little.
The arrival of the Zionist pioneers and their hiring of Arab immigrants from Egypt and Syria led to the formation of an amorphous proletariat, a fellaheen, of people who could define themselves only by what they were not.
That is apparently what Dawud Shehab is saying. He is not saying that he has forgotten that he and his friends started shooting rockets at Sderot and Ashdod last Wednesday. He was saying that he was feeling empty because he had not restated his identity recently. While this seems a blanket condemnation of Dawud Shehab, one has to sympathize with him slightly. It would be horrifying to look within oneself and to see nothing. Or at least nothing but hatred.
It also explains why there can never be peace until the Palestinians suffer so vast a catastrophe that they are able to construct some other identity from it. The Germans were able to forego their Aryan superman national identity only when American bombers and Red Army tanks crushed those pretensions out of them. Only when the Palestinians are forced by some vast catastrophe to absorb the reality of their situation will they be able to construct some other identity for themselves as individuals and as a people.
My guess is that only an existential disaster will change them. Only when people like Dawud Shehab can look inside and see some sort of identity and self-image other than hatred of a neighboring people will there be peace. It won't be soon but it will one day come.