An American friend who has lived in Jerusalem for almost two years tells me she thinks Israel is unnerved by recent testimonies from soldiers who were recently in Gaza.
The Israeli soldiers were graduates of the Oranim College military academy, which has just published the testimonies. They describe attacks on civilians, including what one soldier described as 'The cold-blooded murder' of an elderly Palestinian woman, and incidents of soldiers being ordered to trash civilian houses and throw the contents, furniture and all, out of the windows. The academy director, Dany Zamir, told an Israeli radio station that, '[The testimonies] conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians.' [see www.pchrgaza.org]
Alongside these disturbing but unsurprising revelations which the Israeli military says it will investigate, is the ugly scandal of T-shirts with vicious slogans being worn by some young Israeli soldiers. According to reports in the Israeli media, and BBC news, one of the T-shirts has the slogan 'Bet you got Raped!' over a picture of a bruised woman in a head-scarf. Another shows the picture of a clearly pregnant head-scarved woman with the words, 'One shot two kills.'
The Israeli military was quick to point out that, 'This type of humour is unbecoming and should be condemned.' This isn't very convincing when you consider the graffiti left by Israeli soldiers who recently occupied houses across the northern Gaza Strip: 'Death will find you ... soon' scrawled on the bedroom wall of Majeda Abu Hajaj, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as she attempted to lead a group of civilians to safety after they had been ordered out of their homes by the same soldiers. After killing Majeda, and her 64 year old mother, Raya, the soldiers occupied their house and left graffiti in every room.
The rooms of other houses occupied in Gaza were daubed with slogans such as 'Death to Arabs', 'An Arab brave is an Arab in a grave' and other racist taunts. The graffiti was often accompanied by houses being trashed, or burnt, or even having bags of human shit left for the Palestinian home-owners to clear up, though the toilets were working.
Palestinian civilians bore the overwhelming brunt of the Israeli offensive in Gaza - the Gaza City-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) estimates that 83 per cent of the 1,417 people killed were civilians. These graffiti, and the vandalism alongside them, offer an insight into how Israeli soldiers (or at least some of them) think of Palestinians.
At the same time as these soldiers were speaking out, 100 extreme rightwing Jewish Israelis were causing violent mayhem in the mainly Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, in northern Israel, by arriving in the city en masse and demanding local residents declare loyalty to the State of Israel. The Israeli High Court gave the Jewish Israelis permission to march on Umm al Fahm, but the local Arab-Israeli residents were told their counter-demonstration was illegal. Violence predictably erupted, and so the distrust and hatred between the two sides deepens even more.
I think my friend in Jerusalem is overly optimistic: it's hard to get any perspective on Israel from here in Gaza, especially so soon after the devastating offensive. But mainstream Israeli public opinion seems to be that although the Israeli military offensive in Gaza was clearly brutal and disproportionate, Palestinians got what they deserved. Meanwhile, discrimination against Arab-Israeli citizens of Israel is blatant, systematic and ongoing. There are courageous Israelis who oppose these policies, but they remain a beleaguered minority.
Another friend of mine, Khaled, who is a psychologist in Gaza, tells me he thinks that Israel is a society profoundly ill at ease with itself. It is fragmented and sick, and often blames the Palestinian population (including Arab-Israelis) for being the source of all its complex problems. Israel, he says, needs to heal itself, stop blaming and hating Palestinians, and learn to start seeing them as people with whom it has to forge a relationship. Israel's hatred of the Palestinians is poisoning its own people.