POST TIME: 22 May, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Palestinians need a Gandhi-like figure
Hussein Ibish

Palestinians need a Gandhi-like figure

More than 60 Palestinians, mainly unarmed protesters, were killed by Israeli troops at the Gaza-Israel border on Monday, bringing the total to more than 100 since the end of March. The question echoes: why did Israel rely mainly and immediately on lethal force against unarmed protesters?

Why didn't Israel use its sophisticated non-lethal crowd control techniques and instruments? Why didn't Israelis try to defuse the situation between March 30 and May 14 or do anything to mitigate the loss of life, which instead intensified, as Hamas obviously hoped?

These questions reveal a failure to understand the structural nature of the occupation and the essential relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis hate to recognise it and Palestinians also usually shy away from the truth, both preferring to pathologise each other's supposed essential nature.

Yet this relationship is inherent in the very architecture of the occupation. These tragedies have happened before and they will keep happening as long as the occupation persists. That has nothing to do with culture, politics or personalities on either side. Change all of those – or just imagine switching both sides, with Palestinians in the role of occupiers and Israelis as the occupied people – and each would adopt the role that the occupation scripts for them.

Each side blames the political culture and attitudes of the other for such tragedies. Palestinians cast Israeli troops as racists and brutal oppressors. Israelis claim that the dead Palestinians are mostly, if not all, terrorists or pawns manipulated by terrorists.

Each side ascribes to the other what the pro-Israel American lawyer Alan Dershowitz has cynically called a "dead baby strategy". Palestinians claim that Israeli soldiers are happy to kill unarmed Arabs, including children. Israelis insist that Palestinians are trying to force and trick them into shooting unarmed people, including children. Both are preposterous caricatures. No Israeli soldier, except the occasional psychopath, wakes in the morning plotting how many Palestinians they will be able to murder that day. No Palestinian, again except a few psychopaths, plots how to sacrifice their children or to take a fatal bullet while protesting unarmed at a border.

Yet both are plainly willing to do just that. Why?

The role of Israelis in the occupied territories, whether they admit it to themselves or not, is to discipline and control others through force – and ultimately deadly force, including against unarmed people – because the occupation cannot be enforced otherwise.

The writer is a senior resident

scholar at the Arab Gulf States

Institute in Washington