Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip have the potential to deeply influence the dynamics of the Arab Spring. Israeli policy makers may find ways to convince themselves and their Western allies of the immediate legitimacy of the operations, but there is no excuse for the neglect of the foreseeable repercussions of the operations on regional politics. The Jordanian royal family is already feeling the wrath of youngsters seeking regime change in their country, not because they want democracy, human rights and equal distribution of wealth, but because they want a regime willing to fight Israel.
This is already a lose-lose situation. The Israeli government refuses to see the fact that it is losing not only the regional battle, but also the war for democracy.
Palestinian tragedy has always been a determinant of daily politics in the Muslim world. Dictatorships legitimized their iron-fist policies on the pretext of Israeli occupation. Extremely militarized regimes explained their military expenditures and financial unaccountability on grounds that they were fighting a “holy war” against Israel. Political figures built their whole careers on anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian rhetoric. Failures of developmental, educational and cultural policies were all tolerated “thanks to” the mental occupation of the minds of the Muslim Arab peoples. Israel was demonized not because it deserved it, but because autocratic regimes in the region needed a demon.
The Arab Spring (or with the latest neologism, the Arab Awakening) changed the reactionary dynamics of Arab politics. The youth began to question the leadership credentials of their rulers, rather than being swayed by their oratorical capabilities. The main determinant of the Arab Awakening was a proactive questioning of the price of bread; cost of livelihood; unjust distribution of wealth in Middle Eastern and North African countries. Together with the world, we applauded the wisdom of the Tahrir youth in not cursing the Americans or the Israelis, but basing their criticism of the regime of Hosni Mubarak on universally identifiable experiences of torture, discrimination, poverty and authoritarian policies.
It worked. For the first time in recent history, the Arab mind was emancipated from the perceived Israeli occupation, and the Palestinian tragedy ceased to be the general framework of political activity in the region.
Whatever its reason, the new Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip has the potential to push the Muslim-Arab mind back into its own mental occupation. We may once again find our leaders trapped in an unproductive vicious cycle of Israel protest. We may once again find our intellectuals stuck in the useless reproduction of old anti-Israel invective.
This is not to say that Israel does not deserve criticism or condemnation. It does! But Israeli occupation of Palestinian (and Syrian) lands is a temporary reality of history. It is an accident that will eventually be undone. Time, education, change in international power balance and smarter use of human capital are enough to solve the problem. The Arab Awakening, on the other hand, is a cure for a much more serious and chronic sickness. The soul of the awakening should not be possessed by the demon of occupation.
In such a situation “who started this?” is a silly question. Rather, we should ask, “Who will stop this?”
(Kerim Balci is a writer for Today’s Zama where this article was published on Nov. 21, 2012)