On the Edge of Dystopia: Thoughts from Israel

Over the summer, as part of her English class, my fourteen year old sister was asked to read George Orwell’s 1984. Halfway through the book, she looked up at me, yellowed pages clenched in the dripping hands of a Tel Aviv heat wave, and asserted, “I know this isn’t going to end well.”

I laughed. Dystopias never end well, I told her.

Image courtesy of Israel Defense Forces © 2014, creative commons
Image courtesy of Israel Defense Forces © 2014, creative commons

At the moment – and, arguably, since its inception – Israel is a dystopia. It was founded in 1947 as part of a United Nations effort to somehow, in the smallest way, make up for the horrors wrought on the Jewish people during World War II. For decades, the country was borderline illegitimate; formal diplomatic relations with numerous countries in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the Middle East were not established until late into 20th century, when the United Nations – honorable in intent but ultimately paradoxical in practice – decided to rescind resolution 3379, which claimed that the creation of a Jewish state “is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”[1]

Israelis live in a constant existential limbo – people roam the streets, they buy coffee, they rent houses, but there is a niggling dread – an expectation, perhaps – of dissolution. Originally, the country was created as a haven for the Jewish people forced into itinerancy and hardened by a world that for reasons they could not understand neither liked them nor accepted them. The hatred of the surrounding world – spread across millennia and doled out in shocking amounts – was, and is, incomprehensible, a fact of life: reluctantly accepted but never justified.

Last night began a ground offensive by the Israeli Defense Force into the Gaza Strip, the source of a back-and-forth bombardment for the past ten days. It is an extension of “Operation Protective Edge”, otherwise known as “Operation Cast Lead”, otherwise known as “Operation Israel Is Frightened and Confused, Please Don’t Bomb Us Anymore.”

After multiple fruitless calls for ceasefire by both third parties – most notably Egypt, whose interest in this conflict is mainly the prevention of a refugee spill from Gaza as well as the disempowerment of a Muslim Brotherhood-sanctioned terror organisation – and the Israeli government, Netanyahu has implied that there is no choice: Israelis cannot continue to live in an anxious, suspended reality, where one hand clutches the phone (that serves as a source of information) and the other is used to hurry children and relatives into a bomb shelter.

It appears to make sense. Netanyahu is doing what every other head of state would do when under fire – retaliate. When that proves ineffective, raise the stakes. Yet Netanyahu, like many of those before him, insists on being a modern-day Sisyphus, rolling the tanks into Gaza only to watch them roll back out days, weeks, months later, with Hamas still as formidable an enemy as ever (perhaps even more so, as more Palestinians, galvanised by the bombing campaign, begin to support the only ‘cause’ available to them.)

Yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no Greek tragedy – there is no hero, no hamartia, and no cathartic end. It is a battle set in a dystopia, a nascent democracy that through years of conditioning itself to face inwards – an ‘us against the world’ mentality befitting Jewish precedent – and despite perpetual opposition and opprobrium from both the surrounding nations and the international community (here’s to you, BBC!) has achieved rapid social, economic, and technological growth; yet all it knows is war.

War sat like sediment at the bottom of the milk that nursed the Israeli nation, rising to the top when the bottle is shaken, becoming more viscous as the years go on. Israel wins wars – this is what it does to protect itself. 1948, 1967, 1973, 1982, the gaps become smaller and the rationale more elaborate as years pass.

Yet in a dystopia, wars are not won – they are merely survived, until the next war. Some – including prolific Israeli author Amos Oz – have claimed that the issue at heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is land, banal as that sounds. Not even beautiful land – it is dry, desert, Canaanite land. Land may be a large part of the problem, but it is fixed; there will be no Venice on the beach of Gaza. What is mutable, part of the problem and the solution, is society and government – dystopian on the one hand, sadistic on the other. War is the shovel that unearths a well of nationalism, but it is a shallow one, under which lie dark and muddy substances better left buried.

Israel usually does not start these wars. But Israel also knows that Hamas will never stop them, and that the people of Hamas – supposedly the Palestinians – will fare worse for it. Its intractable hold on the West Bank and – until 2005 – the Gaza Strip has led to frustration, anger, and death, on both sides of any colored line the country wishes to draw.

However – and this is important – Israel cannot be blamed for doubt and skepticism. Israel is trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination and approbation, faced with population demographics shifting at an alarming rate, bullied by the international media for not adhering to a moral ideal to which no other country can feasibly live up to – “you are better than Hamas,” they say. “Act like it.”

And then, with the same breath, they say, “…but still, you do not deserve this land.”

Israel is a dystopia, a unique country where the lives of its people and its very legitimacy is always seemingly at stake. So long as it remains this way it will not end well. It never does.

[1] http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/761C1063530766A7052566A2005B74D1

4 Replies to “On the Edge of Dystopia: Thoughts from Israel”

  1. Fairly sure there is in fact quite a bit of hamartia present, both in this article and on both sides in everyone’s favourite conflict! The really tragic mistake, though, was the creation of a Jewish state in the first place.

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