Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The Israeli mentality and the militaristic undertones of society

In the shadow of the wall. Israel / Palestine
Forfatter: Tomas Andersson, Stefan Focconi
Forlag: Carlssons, (Sverige)
ISRAEL / Two Swedish authors portray the people of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a large reportage book.


Over time, many attempts have been made to describe the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in book form. In the early 1980s, the now-deceased Israeli writer Amos Oz formed the school by doing so in traveling reportage form. That was with the book In the land of Israel ', which was also published in Norwegian (JW Cappelens Forlag, 1984), and a few years later David Grossman wrote the equally masterful The yellow wind following roughly the same pattern.

Now two Swedish journalists, Tomas Andersson and Stefan Focconi, have written a brick of more than 500 pages, where they take a similar journey in the conflict area. For more than 20 years they have had their regular visit to the Middle East and this deep background has turned into a kaleidoscopic account, which at first glance seems both overwhelming and slightly unstructured. But it seems like an idea to reproduce reality in this way, because the conflict that they depict in the book is both extremely complex and difficult to get a firm grip on.

A Jewish state?

That's why they choose a clever angle with these many cuts. Along the way, many of the difficult questions are asked, and it would not make sense here to spread all this out. Instead, let's choose a single one, which in many ways is characteristic of the project:

In town Safe in northern Israel, the authors are hospitably received by a young Jewish couple, Or and Ewa, who are both students. They live for rent in an old building. From Ottoman times, and it may have belonged to a Palestinian family before. In particular, Or talks about the military conscription. He is a gifted young man, and was therefore selected to become an officer. He talks about the togetherness, and how he got to know new people along the way. It is the famous melting pot, of which Ben Gurion spoke so much.

Quite naturally, the two Swedish guests ask if Or could not imagine these things in other settings? That is, in a non-military context. Or is not dismissive, but at the same time sees military service as something completely natural, a bit like paying taxes. "When a new state is established, it often ends in conflict, there are many examples of that," he says. And that leads to the question of the controversial nation-state law from 2018, which defines Israel as a Jewish state?

The Wall In Jerusalem. Photo: Truls Lie

Yes, the answer is more or less, the Jewish people have only one state, while the Arabs have a whole series.

That is the classic automatic answer, which resonates far from Israel's political center, and it also applies to large parts of the Jewish population, who are neither religious nor particularly nationalist. But just where it all starts to get exciting, the authors have to interrupt the conversation. Everyone has to move on in a busy everyday life, and thus an interesting problem will be left a little unreflected.

The right-wing national Zionism, which would become today's Likud party.

But the book helps the disoriented reader in a refined way. A longer passage about Menachem follows right after Begin and revisionism, the national right Zionism, which would become today's Likud party. Here we get the explanation of how Polish Jews during the Second World War took up arms and stood up against the Nazi genocide. Or is himself a descendant of holocaust survivors, and although he may not identify himself with it Likud-the party's strong nationalism, in this way gives the story a link, which helps to create the necessary understanding.

Right from the start, they got Orthodox religiosity in through the back door.

According to the authors, it was this attitude that came to stand up against socialist Zionism, when the state of Israel was almost established in 1948. There was a divergent perception of territorial possessions in Palestine, where the right wing favored a Greater Israel and ethnic cleansing of the original Palestinian population. This is true enough to some extent, even if the book's explanation is very simplified – there were thus also maximalists among the left-wing Zionists. But the simplification probably comes above, where we learn that the Workers' Party (or rather its predecessors) sat with a monopoly of power from 1948 until the 1970s, when we got the first Likud government with Menachem Begin at the helm in 1977. Here the authors cheat us of perhaps the most important explanation, namely that secular left-wing Zionism certainly had no monopoly on power, but made itself dependent on orthodox support parties, solely to keep the revisionists at bay. Right from the start, they got Orthodox religiosity in through the back door, and it has since been an unavoidable part of Israel's development.

No archaeological evidence

After this important problematization of the Israeli mentality and society's militaristic undertones, the reader waits to hear about the counterpart, the Palestinians. Or and Ewa admit that their rental property probably belonged to Palestinians a few generations ago, so it would be natural to get a little sense of where these former residents are today. If we keep Safed for a moment, they could have mentioned, for example, that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was born in the city in 1935 and fled in 1948 with his family.

Back in the 1950s, Masada served as an argument for Israel to have nuclear weapons.

Instead, the story gallantly jumps on to the rock fortress Masada, where "rises like a monolith against the blue eternity". We hear about the famous suicide, which the Jewish fundamentalists in the year 73 chose rather than fall into Roman captivity – and the authors have decided to include that, even though the archaeological research many years ago has proven it to be a falsity and a national myth. But back in the 1950s, Masada quite rightly served as an argument for Israel to have nuclear weapons, which is the story the authors also find it important to bring as one of the many historical essays between the meetings with real people.

The Israeli domination

What could thus look like a bias in the weighting of the material, will instead reflect the Israeli dominance in the narrative. For example, they mention that "there is no archaeological or historical evidence whatsoever for a united kingdom under the leadership of King David and Solomon during the ninth century before Christ. As always, it is the victors, in this case the survivors, who write history."

Yes, it is usually the winning side that writes the story, and when the two authors here mainly let the winning side, i.e. the Israelis, have their say on the many pages of the book, there is clearly a meaning to that. In part, they provide an insight into the Israeli psyche, which provides insight and understanding – and that is not the same as an apology or an explanation. But not least, it sets up all the arguments in the conflict – even when they ring hollow in the gloomy Middle Eastern reality.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

You may also like