Israel and Its Enemies: Why Culture Matters

A passage from a landmark American novel shows why attempts to appease Israel’s enemies have always failed and always will fail.

Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man (1964) is the story of Jack Crabb, a fictional 19th-century frontiersman. In 1852, when Jack is 10 years old, he comes to live with the Cheyenne of the Northern Plains through a set of circumstances too complicated to recount here. On his first morning among the Indians, out of a desire to be accepted and liked, Jack makes an error that earns him the lifelong enmity of another boy. Jack explains (emphasis is added):

After our bath [in the stream] them boys fetched bows and we played war in and out of a buffalo wallow near camp, shooting one another with arrows that didn’t have no points. And then we did some wrestling, at which I was none too good and somewhat shy to try too hard, but after getting badly squeezed, I turned to boxing and bloodied at least one brown nose. The latter was the property of Younger Bear, and the event caused him to receive a good deal of jeering, because I’d say Indians are given to that trait even more than whites. I felt sorry for Younger Bear when I saw the ridicule I had let him in for.

“Which was a big mistake: I should either never have hit him in the first place or after doing so should have strutted around boasting and maybe given him more punishment to consolidate the advantage: that’s the Indian way. You should never feel sorry about beating anybody, unless having conquered his body you want his spirit as well. I didn’t yet understand that, so throughout the rest of the day I kept trying to shine up to Younger Bear, and the result was I made the first real enemy of my life and he caused me untold trouble for years, for an Indian will make a profession of revenge.

Like the Cheyenne, Arabs operate in a shame/honor culture in which a beaten enemy sees the winner’s concessions and goodwill gestures as further humiliation. Being the recipient of magnanimity underscores subordination. After all, only victors can afford to be generous. Therefore, no Israeli offer will ever be good enough. Only subjugating the Jews can expunge Arab shame. Honor won’t be restored until the Zionists are dead, driven out, or reduced to a degraded remnant.

Psychologist David Gutmann (1925-2013) believed this was why “Palestinian leaders have rejected or sabotaged every proposal for statehood since 1947.” Gutmann, writing at the American Spectator, explained: “The calculus of Shame dictates that the Palestinian stigma of defeat can only be removed by a bloody victory over the Jews who inflicted it. By the same token, their state cannot be handed to the Palestinians by some benign international arbiter, or by a generous Israeli government. . . . The gift of a state that was not won in battle would only increase Palestinian shame.”

So there is no “peace partner” and no “peace process,” although Arab leaders will pretend these things exist while playing for time—which they believe to be on their side. It appears to them that the nations (gentiles) don’t much like the Jews, and they conclude that Israel is isolated. “We Arabs are so many and the Jews are so few,” they observe. They therefore see Israel as an ephemeral Crusader kingdom. Unlike Westerners, Arabs are patient—in it for the long game. European vilification of Israel and international pressure on the Jewish state do not facilitate peace. On the contrary, they give heart to Israel’s enemies and prolong the conflict.

What circumstances, then, favor peace? Conditions that convince more and more Palestinians that Israel is here to stay and fighting the Zionists is for chumps—a sucker’s game. Who wants to be the last shahid in a doomed undertaking?

Historian Daniel Pipes calls for Israeli victory rather than containment or calm. His research indicates that only about 20 percent of Arabs accept peaceful coexistence with Israel and that 80 percent seek its brutal elimination. Peace will come when those numbers are flipped. And the numbers will flip when Israel is unambiguously victorious on all fronts and its enemies acknowledge defeat. How will this be achieved?

Pipes contends his formula for victory is not primarily military and offers the example of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam in 1975. “We didn’t lose because we ran out of bullets or soldiers or dollars,” he told attendees at the David Horowitz Freedom Center on November 19, 2017. “We ran out of will.”

True. But unlike Palestinians, American hippies—whose voices came to dominate the national discourse on Vietnam—had neither honor nor shame. They invited defeat. Now, in advanced age, they still glory in it. No. An Israeli victory over the Palestinians would have to look much more like the Union victory over the Confederacy or the Allied victory over Germany and Japan. Once the goal is defined the specifics can be worked out. Peace may be expected only when the Palestinian will to victory is broken.

Photo credit:  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

About Louis Marano

Louis Marano, a Vietnam veteran, is an anthropologist and a former journalist. He served two deployments to Iraq as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army. He lives in The Plains, Virginia.

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