Why Israel's war is driven by fear

Outrage at Israeli actions has mounted across the world as the Gaza conflict goes on. But as Israel expands its military action, support for the aggressive strategy is growing, while sympathy for Palestinians is receding. Yeela Raanan says she would prefer not to know about the war in Gaza. She doesn't want to see the pictures of dead children cut down by Israeli shells or read of the allegations of war crimes by her country's army as it kills Palestinians by the hundreds, guardian reported.

But there is no escape. Raanan can hear the relentless Israeli bombardment by air, sea and land from her home, just three miles from the Gaza border. Hamas rockets keep hitting her community. And somewhere in the maelstrom of Gaza, her 20-year-old son is serving as an Israeli soldier.

"I'd rather not know. I can't do anything about it. We didn't see the pictures of the Palestinian kids who were killed. It's easier not to feel," she said. "I just turn on the news for five minutes a day and that's it, just to see if anybody says anything about my kid."

But when Raanan thinks about her son - whom she prefers not to name - she also thinks about Palestinian mothers and their sons in Gaza. And that's when she finds her herself out of sync with the neighbours. "I don't talk to the neighbours about it any more," she said. "Hamas is violent. Hamas is stupid. I don't like what they are. But I don't feel angry towards them. I understand why they were elected, I understand why they act as they do."

Attempting to understand has earned Raanan, a former operations officer in the Israeli air force, denunciations as a traitor and accusations of "selling her nation to the devil". Doesn't she love her son?, they ask.

The world has reeled in horror at revelations of Israeli atrocities as the Palestinian death toll has climbed toward 800. The International Red Cross was so outraged it broke its usual silence over an attack in which the Israeli army herded a Palestinian family into a building and then shelled it, killing 30 people and leaving the surviving children clinging to the bodies of their dead mothers. The army prevented rescuers from reaching the survivors for four days.

Israel's shelling of a UN school that had been turned into a refugee centre near Gaza city, killing 42 people who had fled the fighting, drew further accusations of indifference to civilian lives. And Israel has struggled to justify the eradication of entire families, including small children, in pursuit of Hamas officials.

But ordinary Israelis have been told little about this and when they are they generally brush it aside with assertions that it is sad but Hamas has brought it on the Palestinian people. Israel is the real victim, they say. The mainstream Israeli press has stuck firmly to the official line that it is a war of defence, a moral conflict forced on Israel by Hamas rocket fire.

The scale of Palestinian civilian casualties is played down. The dead are overwhelmingly described as terrorists. The accounts of entire Palestinian families being wiped out are buried beneath stories of the Israeli trauma at Hamas attacks.

"The news said the Israeli army had killed 100 'terrorists' and also a bomb fell and 40 lost their lives," said Raanan about the shelling of the UN school. "That was more or less the rhetoric that was used, so the focus was on the fact that we had managed to kill terrorists rather than we had also killed 40 other people. We weren't told who they were." There are alternative voices in the press, but they are mostly dismissed or shouted down. Israeli Arabs who protested against the war have been arrested for undermining national morale. Television anchormen berate critics of the onslaught on Gaza, questioning their patriotism.

The paradox of Israel is that most of its citizens tell the pollsters they agree with Raanan and the peace lobby that there should be a negotiated agreement of the establishment of a Palestinian state. But a significant number of Israelis now question whether this is possible. They view the continued conflict after Ariel Sharon pulled Jewish settlers and the military out of Gaza in 2005 as evidence that Arabs don't want peace; that giving up territory does not bring security.

Support for the vague notion of peace has been further buried under the rhetoric of the looming Israeli election, where the right in particular, led by a former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is playing on fear of a nuclear Iran in league with Hamas. Netanyahu, who is likely to win the 10 February ballot, has no intention of dismantling settlements or relinquishing the control that Israel exercises over the lives of Palestinians on the West Bank. He dances around the issue of a Palestinian state and has made clear in the past that what he wants to see amounts to a canton or bantustan (homeland) surrounded by Israeli control.

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