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Dan Schueftan on the Palestine-Israel Conflict

Pamela Paresky interviews the outspoken Israeli academic.

· 33 min read
Dan Schueftan on the Palestine-Israel Conflict
Dan Schueftan speaks with Pamela Pareksy for Quillette's Israel Series.

Quillette contributor Pamela Paresky interviews Israeli academic Dan Schueftan about the Israel-Palestine conflict, why he wasn't surprised by October 7th, and his hopes for the future of Israel.

Dan Schueftan was an advisor to Israel's National Security Council, and to former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. He has served as a lecturer and researcher at several prestigious institutions, including the University of Haifa and the National Defense College of the Israel Defense Forces.

Dan Schueftan: People usually tell themselves stories about themselves that are sometimes funny and it doesn't really matter if something is archaeologically true or not. To give you an example about the Jews, say the archaeologists prove that the Jews have never been in Egypt or the Israelites have never been in Egypt. I don't care. It's the story I decided that is mine. I'm a Jew, not in the religious sense of the term, but in the sense that I've decided that the Jewish past is my past and the Jewish presence is my presence and the Jewish future is my future and it's my decision. We are a people because we behave like a people, and it quacks like a people and it walks like a people so it's a people.

A people is neither something good or bad. Some people say, oh, the Palestinians are people because they're a bad people. It's strange. Now, when the Palestinians want to tell themselves stories about being the descendants of the Canaanites, I don't really mind. Saab Erekat was the chief negotiator for the Palestinians for 30 years, and he comes from Jericho, and I told him that he insists on being the son of the only person who remained alive in Jericho, and you remember what her profession was. That's fine with me, I don't care. It's funny, it's okay, but it's ridiculous because they have nothing in terms of linguistic or cultural ties. But by the way, neither have the modern Greeks to ancient Greeks, neither have the modern Egyptians, with the possible exception of the Copts, have something to do with ancient Egypt. But it's okay for people to tell themselves stories.

The Palestinian people was created about 100 years ago when they couldn't be Syrians or Lebanese or Egyptians or Transjordanians. So the only thing left was to be what they called Palestinians at the time. By the way, the Jews called themselves Palestinian Jews and the Arabs called themselves Palestinian Arabs and my father and mother had a Palestinian passport.

Okay, so this area was called by the Romans Palestine in order to eradicate the names Judea and Israel. So they took the Philistines and they called it Palestine. This term was used again and again. Even the early Zionists called themselves Palestinian Jews and you had Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs. So this people is about 100 years old.

The problem with these people is not that they don't have roots going back to thousands of years. Neither have the Americans by the way. The Chinese and we , and maybe a few others, are the only ones who can claim something thousands of millennia back, but again, it doesn't really matter very much because the assumption is that if you are a people, then you deserve A, B and C and so on.

It is limited for everybody and the political implications are not clear. So you can look at it objectively and say there is a Palestinian people for about 100 years. At a certain point, a very early point, the Jews were willing to partition the land so that you have, once you have states here, once the British mandate leaves after the Ottomans that were here for 400 years already left, you could have a Jewish-Palestinian state and an Arab-Palestinian state, which is, from the Jewish point of view, Israel, and they could have had a Palestinian state. I mean, even in the 1930s, it could have had the embryo of a state, and then in 1947, an independent state.

The Palestinian perspective is, and this did not change in the last 100 years, that the very collective existence of the Jews here in the Middle East is illegitimate, except as individuals of the Jewish religion. They deny the existence of a Jewish people. Even today, the so-called president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, gave a speech. It's so ridiculous, it's unbelievable. I mean, he tells stories about there's never been a Jewish people and so on, and the Khazars and the Caucasus, and it's ridiculous. They even deny the existence of a Jewish people, and of course they believe that Israel is a product of a colonial British act and the very existence of Israel is illegitimate and they make the option of national coexistence of a historic compromise impossible. Therefore, they don't have a state.

Now the way they behaved in terms of violence, persuaded the Jews, and after October 7th more than any time in the past, that since whatever they have they weaponise, what they want in the final analysis, and they say it openly, is to obliterate the state of Israel. Hamas even speak about obliterating all the Jews. Their charter relies on the protocols of the elders of Zion. So this is an attempt by the Palestinians to terminate the existence, not only of the state of Israel, but also of the Jews as a national collective, as a sovereign entity in this region.

This is a problem that, at least in the foreseeable future, doesn't have a solution. You see, one of the problems Americans have, and you said you're a psychiatrist.

Pamela Paresky: Psychologist.

DS: Psychologist, so you should be aware of it. Americans have an operational-oriented mind. They look at problems like engineers do. There's a problem, what's the solution?

If you want to be a historian, if you want to understand human behavior, you say to yourself, this is the kind of operational thinking, while strategic thinking is: What do you do when a problem doesn't have a solution? In other words, what is the response or the damage control that you can apply if a problem doesn't have a solution?

I tell people that most serious problems don't have a solution. Poverty doesn't have a solution. Crime doesn't have a solution, but if you have a good law enforcement system, you can bring crime from an unacceptable level to an acceptable level. If you have a good welfare state, a well functioning welfare state, you can bring down poverty from an unacceptable level to an acceptable level.

People speak in terms of the two-state solution. By the way, in my recent visit to the U.S. Congress, I suggested to a number of senators that the United States should adopt a two-state solution for a state for the Republicans and a state for the Democrats because the polarisation in American society is alarming. Okay, but the whole idea of a solution, the only thing in life that has a solution is a crossword puzzle. For people who insist that every problem has a solution, I remind them of their marriage, and then they finally understand that there are some problems that have no solution and that don't even always have a damage control system. Not all marriages have that.

So you need to think in terms of what can you do when a solution is not available. Any serious thinking about the Palestinians or about Israel should start from that assumption. If somebody feels good about himself by playing with himself intellectually or politically, and he wants to think about solution, it's okay. I mean, Americans come to Israel now and say, tell us what your end game is, and I tell them, oh, we really need to learn from you. You had an end game bringing democracy to Iraq. Then you had an end game bringing women's rights to Afghanistan. Let's learn from you. Tell us how after bringing democracy to Iraq and women's rights to Afghanistan will you bring peace to the Palestinians.

PP: So what is the acceptable level of violence for Israel to achieve its goal?

DS: Whatever it takes. Limited by what we are willing to do based on our values. It's not you can have violence for a week but not for a month or you can kill 100 people and not 500 people. The question is what do you have to do and there is no other way of doing.

For instance, if you want to deter Stalin from using nuclear weapons, you adopt a policy that basically says, we will obliterate the human race. If you do this to us, we'll do that to you. Or when in the second world war, people are threatened in Britain, they burn Hamburg and Berlin. When the Americans want to invade Japan, they burn Tokyo and they nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So the question is, can you use less violence and still obtain your objective? For instance, if you have precision guided ammunition, you can kill the terrorist without killing the people around him. So use it to minimize collateral damage.

If, as we have today in Gaza, we have the most fortified position ever in human history, because it's not only fortified by every house being booby-trapped and full of weapons under the beds of children in hospitals and schools and in mosques and whatever, but also it is fortified by the New York Times and Amnesty International and Joe Biden and everybody else, you must be very careful in terms of getting what you need, namely to root out the barbarians with as little civilian casualties as possible. But since the Palestinians want us to kill their children, not only by putting their weapons in their bedrooms and in their schools, but also because they want the pictures of their children killed so that they can use public opinion against Israel, we can try to minimize it, but you cannot avoid it altogether.

When people are dumb enough, and by the way, most people are dumb, not evil. I don't know if you even know the term, it's a very Jewish term, chelm. It's a city in Eastern Europe and all Jewish jokes in the 19th century, when they wanted to speak about dumb people, they spoke about the people of Chelm. When dumb people or evil people say "stop the war" because civilians are being killed, they're basically saying, once the barbarians embed the weapons in their children, the barbarians will win because civilised people cannot respond and root them out.

If that will happen, then the barbarians won not only vis-à-vis Israel. They will win everywhere. Because if this works, barbarians are looking for things that work. The number one weapon of the barbarian is our values and the dumb application of our values.

Now, our values we need to keep because we are civilised people. We are not like them. The one thing Israelis are frightened of more than anything else is that we become like the Palestinians. That's the one thing we don't want. In other words, behave like barbarians as they do.

When the barbarians, rape and decapitate and burn families alive, between 75 and 90 percent of the Palestinian people support them. The only role model that the Palestinians have are people who kill Jews. They don't have other role models. Their schools are called after terrorists. So when you're faced with it, you have to find your way between getting what you must have, namely root out the barbarians, and keeping your values. Because if the Palestinians will force you to become like Palestinians, this will be the worst that they can do to us. The one thing we don't want to let them do is to make us be like them. Whoever understands it, fine. Whoever doesn't understand it, either because he's an antisemite from the extreme right or an antisemite from the extreme left, or just stupid, or just too shallow, or was brought up on TikTok or anything else, wherever it comes from, we are strong enough to ignore them.

For instance, we are strong enough to ignore the United Nations. Now what is the United Nations? It's an organization based on the majority and the majority of countries in the world are uncivilised. Authoritarian, totalitarian, barbaric. You have people, I don't know, from Cuba and North Korea and Libya sitting in judgment on human rights. Now in the Hague you have a Somali judge. I mean, that's a great oxymoron. It's like good morning, military intelligence.

PP: Can you say a little more about the Hague, about what's happening at the Hague right now?

DS: It's an insult that such an organization even exists. I mean, we helped bring it about because we couldn't imagine the idea of a Somali judge, or a Lebanese judge, or the South Africans really cuddling a terrorist organisation and then claiming to speak for morality.

I mean, you see, it's okay when people want you to be more modest, but if it's a whore, then you should be a bit more skeptical. These guys speaking for morality are a joke. Now, even when you have judges from civilised countries they can come up with judgments, and we've had it before, that are so ridiculous because they want to be supported by the United Nations and what is the majority of the United Nations? These countries. So we can't afford to listen to them. If we had listened to the United Nations, we would have had to commit suicide. You see, the General Assembly adopted the resolution in 1975, if I'm not mistaken, that Zionism is racism in the decade of the elimination of racism. So we should have eliminated ourselves. We simply can't take this seriously.

There is only one question: Do we have the American veto in the Security Council or not? The rest is a joke because even the Europeans are trying to be nice to people who come from uncivilised countries because they need a majority. When you're fighting constantly for your existence and listening to people who have no moral justification or legitimacy to come up with the kind of accusations they do, if we can ignore them, we're in good shape. If we can't ignore them, we're in trouble. But politically, not morally. Morally, it is not even being considered by Israelis. I mean, imagine sitting here asking, what do the Libyans think about democracy? What do the Afghanis think about human rights in Israel? What do the Afghanis think about women's rights in Israel? Are they satisfied with the left? You can't take it seriously.

So we're arrogant, you may have noticed, but even by Israeli standards, I'm arrogant. So I'm sure your listeners won't like it. I must admit I don't care.

PP: So getting back to the idea of a problem and a solution, and when people say, what's the end game? The question remains, what is the goal that is achievable and that is being attempted?

DS: Not only achievable. We've already achieved it. We only need to continue to achieve it.

In the last 100 years, Palestinians tried to butcher us. Nothing has changed. You look at the 1929 event when they butchered the entire Jewish community of Hebron. By the way, a non-Zionist community of people who were just religiously ultra-orthodox. They wanted to pray and be buried here, and they butchered the whole community. And the most representative body of Arab citizens in Israel now glorifies the people that butchered Jews in 1929. They have a procession every year to commemorate them. And the person who is bringing them as martyrs, speaking about the martyrs of Gaza and then the martyrs of 1929, is Muhammad Barakke, who used to be a member of the Israeli parliament and is now the head of the highest body that represents Israeli Arabs.

So we've had that for more than a hundred years and in these hundred years, Israel flourished. Every decade, our economy is stronger, our democracy is more robust, our culture is more diverse, our science is more developed, and that's what we do. We're a constructive society. Palestinians don't have a constructive bone in their national body. They are corrupt and they weaponize practically everything. Look, they weaponized kites. They took kites and hung incendiary bombs on them and sent them to Israel with the wind. They weaponized condoms. They took condoms, filled them with helium, attached bombs to them and the wind carried them to Israel so it will kill Jews. That's what they do. In the Gaza Strip they were given billions of dollars by the dumb supporters of the UNRWA organisation. And 100% of their money goes to missiles and tunnels and bombs and what they did on October 7th with these weapons.

PP: And education.

DS: And their children are being told by their nannies and by their mothers and by their teachers and by their poets and by their political leaders and what have you, "Kill a Jew." In the Gaza Strip this is what they say, and in the West Bank this is how they educate their children. If you kill a Jew, you're a hero. Your family will get respect and you will get money and on a very high level.

So in spite of that, we are building. We used to be, when the state of Israel was established, 6% of the Jewish people after the Holocaust. Today, we are 46% of the Jewish people. So we're bringing in the Jews from throughout the world. When the American Jewish community dwindles away, as it does, then the percentage of Jews in Israel, of the Jewish people, will be even higher. So we have more Jews, they're better off economically, they're better off in every possible sense, we have a good life in Israel, and from time to time we have to fight.

So is that a solution? No. Is Isaiah coming here and studying war no more? No. But do we have a good life? And is our life better every decade? Yes.

I'm not 20 years old. So I remember when in Israel we didn't have enough food to eat and today the problem is are you eating too much or you want to go on a diet? We are the strongest power in the Middle East and strong not only militarily but economically, technologically, politically, whatever. I mean look at what's happening now. We're conducting a war. Not perfect, but quite well, without a government. We don't have a functioning government. We have a joke of a government. Now, would I like to have a better government? Yes. Would I like to have a better prime minister? Yes. But the Israeli society is so strong and robust that it can conduct a war without a functioning government. It says a lot about Israeli society.

So basically I don't have a solution for you know a two-state solution, a 52-state solution or something. I only have a good life. That's good enough.

Now you want to be perfect. My grandmother was a great strategist. She used to say, it's better to be young, healthy, and rich than old, sick, and poor. So could it be better? Yes. Could it be much better? Not really. Compared to other states, Israel is a phenomenal success, and the fact that people hate us, well, we're used to it. You have it for a few millennia and then you get used to it.

PP: Do you think that this current conflict is existential?

DS: No. No, Israel will exist even if we make major mistakes.

There is only one mistake that if we make, it will be existential. If we will not break the Arabs in the Gaza Strip and North Lebanon to the point where Israeli citizens can come back to their villages and come back to their towns. If God forbid, they will be in a position to threaten them in the same level or a similar level than they had before October 7th, then we're done. So whoever likes it or doesn't like it, we will do it. And if it doesn't look good, okay.

We live in an age where the question is no longer is something good or bad, but does it look good or does it look bad? I don't care if it looks good, okay? I will give security to my children and to my people. And if my enemies don't like it, I'll kill them. And if somebody doesn't like the fact that I kill terrorists, okay, then.

I will not be loved. You see, Jews were loved throughout history so much. We're afraid of losing it.

PP: What is the acceptable level of terrorism?

DS: Look, you cannot eradicate terrorism altogether. It's impossible. So don't even aim for it.

After the so-called Second Intifada, where the Palestinian people tried to kill every Jew, was every Palestinian a terrorist? No. But did the Palestinians as a collective support everybody who killed Jewish children in Tel Aviv, blowing up buses and pizzerias and what have you? Yes. So we brought down terrorism after the second Intifada about, I don't know, 95%. Did it eliminate terrorism? No.

This is the essence of Palestinian culture. Palestinian culture is terrorism and then some. That's Palestinian culture. That's what they have. They're also good in whining. Their favourite whine is, "We've been wronged, we are victims." You know, they shoot you, and then they say, "Oh, I'm a victim. I can decapitate children because I'm a victim." Okay. If anybody wants to buy it, you should study in Harvard.

PP: What do you make of the campus anti-Semitism that has just risen to extraordinary levels?

DS: A: I'm not surprise. B: I enjoy, you know, visiting La La Land, and I've been speaking in American campuses for a long time, for decades, and I've seen this La La Land. I enjoy a hostile audience because, as you may have noticed, I'm a very aggressive person. So I need a good excuse, a legitimate reason, to become aggressive, and when I feel the need for it, I go to an American campus to say to the People's Republic of Berkeley or any other place and to hear people in La La Land coming from a place that is completely cut off from reality.

Now, I must give credit. I came for a year as a visiting professor to Georgetown University, and they asked me to stay for another year and they could tolerate me, which is really to their credit and they were very fair.

PP: When was that?

DS: Ten years ago. Maybe today it would not have been possible. I don't know.

I don't want to go there again because I'm not willing to live two years out of Israel. It's so much fun here, and I don't want to miss any wars. You know, you leave the country and suddenly you miss a war. I've been in eight of those in my time.

So actually I'm delighted with what we've seen in recent weeks. Let me put it this way. There's three situations in life: good things that look good are good, bad things that look bad are okay because you see that they're bad and you can fix them, but bad things that look good are dangerous. Okay. And American universities were bad things that look good.

And now with this unbelievable show in Congress, you know, this was priceless. This was, I mean, if this would have been on Saturday Night Live, I would have said you're overstating it. It can't even approach this. And then the responses of some of the people who, you know, are the foreign minister of La La Land and the prime minister of La La Land and so on, people who believe they can have a parallel universe in universities, and the understanding that the worst restrictions on human freedom come from the deep left. It's not that the barbarians and the fascists on the deep right have given up, only they have a mirror image in the deep left.

And here is something very interesting. I don't know if you're interested in it, so if you want to cut it off the discussion, because it doesn't really have to do directly and or primarily with Israel. The danger to nationalism came from excessive nationalism called fascism, Nazism, chauvinism, what have you. So the enemy of nationalism is really too much nationalism. The enemy of liberalism is too much liberalism. People assume there can't be too much of a good thing and it's wrong. There can be too much of a good thing. You see, for instance, pluralism. I've been asked very often, particularly in universities, if you say there should be a limit to pluralism, you're not really a pluralist. I mean, why wouldn't you let somebody from Hamas, you know, come and advocate killing Jews? I mean, after all, it's pluralistic. And my suggestion was, this was with a faculty in one of the American universities, why don't we all go for dinner? You'll have chicken, you'll have beef, you'll have vegetarian, you'll have halal, you'll have kosher, that's fine. What about the cannibal saying "I want to join you for dinner"? I want to know if I'm on the guest list or on the menu. Okay, so pluralism is when the good guys say what the limits of pluralism is. Who are the good guys? We are the good guys. Pluralism is superior to lack of pluralism. Treating women like cattle is inferior to treating them equally.

So we are the best. Are we perfect? No. Are we better than others? Yes. Who sets the rules? We do. Who doesn't set the rules? Harvard. Okay? Because you live in La La Land. You don't ask yourself questions concerning real life. Okay? You have an idea and you don't realize that there can be too much of a good thing.

I mean, look what's going on with transparency. Is transparency a good thing? Yes. What happens with rampant transparency? Decision makers no longer speak to the problem, they speak to the protocol. So they don't care if they're doing good, they care if they're looking good. And why don't we have one leader throughout all democracies? Why would people like Churchill or Ben-Gurion or FDR today not even be able to succeed in politics? Because you need the kind of schmekel that look good and say things that sound good so that people in Harvard will love them. Okay, and that's a problem. And we need to ask ourselves not how to maximize every good things but how to optimize the combination of good things so that the overall will be what we consider promoting our basic pluralistic values. This should be the question, but you came to speak to me about the Middle East and I'm speaking to you about nationalism and fascism

PP: People feel like there was pre-October 7th and then there's post-October 7th. Does it feel like that was as dramatic a change for you?

DS: Not for me because, you see, a lot of what Israelis recognised today is exactly what I advocated for a very long time of time. Okay? And I have a...I won't say unique, but an exceptional position in Israel because I'm being accused very often of being radical left and being accused of radical right because I'm trying to think. A.A. Milne, the guy who wrote Winnie the Pooh, what he says is: "A third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. A second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. A first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking." Okay, so I'm trying to think.

So for instance, I want to partition Jerusalem because there are about 350,000 Arabs in Jerusalem. And if they want to live in an Arab state, go ahead. Why should they be inside of Israel? So let's have less territory, but have people who want to be part of Israel.

I've advocated, and I'm not sorry for it today, leaving the Gaza Strip completely in 2005. I'm advocating, since 1967, for getting out of the West Bank. In the beginning, I wanted to do it in agreement with Jordan. After I realized that the Palestinians are not a partner, I wanted to do it unilaterally. I've written a book about unilateral Israeli disengagement from the West Bank, as well as from the Gaza Strip, about 25 years ago or so. So, I'm saying, let's not be there because I don't want to be contaminated by controlling them. I don't want to be contaminated by controlling people who don't want me there. So, would I give up holy places for the Jewish people? Yes, because as far as I'm concerned there is no holy location or holy stone there, only holy ideas.

So in this respect I've been advocating let's get out, but on the other level I was advocating for realising what we are facing. Look at the Palestinian people, not the way we would have wanted to see our enemy, but the way our enemy is. They're not even willing to pretend as if they don't want to destroy us. They say so openly and it's only when we cheat ourselves by saying, "Yes, they say it, but they don't really mean it deep in their heart." We became cardiologists of the Palestinian people. Deep in their heart, they don't really mean what they say, and I said: "Yes, they do." And I said, the moment they can, they will, and they just did. I didn't have to wait to see them do it. I knew that this is what they cherish. Now it's being proven. I mean they say, "It happened and we are happy with what happened."

So did it change my view? No, but it brought people back to Daddy. In other words, people realised that they must listen to things they didn't want to listen to before.

It happens to me again and again. It happened to me when the Oslo process crushed as I predicted. I said to Rabin at the time, "Look in terms of concessions, I go beyond you. My problem is not your concessions. My problem is your belief that you can do it with Arafat. Arafat is a barbarian. He represents a people who want barbarian things for Israel. So it won't work. The question is not how many concessions." Again, my concessions were beyond those of Rabin. And my argument with Rabin, I worked with him for a while, was not the magnitude of the concessions, but the partner or the non-existence thereof.

Then, the Arab Spring proved what I've been saying for decades. In other words, that the problem in the Arab world is not the leadership, but the society. My colleagues in the university constantly said, once the Arabs rise up and get rid of their old leadership, the Mubaraks and the Gaddafis, then the people will produce a flourishing democracy or at least the beginning of a way leading in this direction, and I said look, King Hussein is better than the Jordanian people. Mubarak is better than the sentiment of the enormous support in Egypt for the Muslim Brotherhood. So the problem is not the leadership, the problem is in the society.

When this came out, I was not surprised. I just repeated my favourite replica: I told you so. This is what I get up in the morning for, to tell people I told you so. And on the 7th of October, that's exactly what I told people, including the people who make decisions in Israel on the military level, on the intelligence, in the intelligence community, on the political level. I told you so.

Was I surprised that it happened on the 7th of October and that they succeeded so well because we were unprepared? Yes. I was surprised by how unbelievably unprepared we were in both the intelligence and the operational sense.

PP: Why was Israel so unprepared?

DS: We failed because we assumed that the Palestinians come from the same value universe we come from. I have heard the most important people, I will not name names, but practically everybody making the decisions say the following: Yes, you are right, ideologically they want to slaughter each and every one of us, but don't you realise people essentially want a good life. So we give them oil and water and medications, and even when they fire rockets at us, we supply them with food and medications. And we hospitalized their people in our hospitals so that they can get, you know, treatment of cancer that they don't have developed enough in the Gaza Strip and so on. And our people come to the border so that they can drive them to hospital so that they feel comfortable. And 18,000 of their people work in Israel every day and we give them money and allow Qatari money to come so their life becomes better and better so why should they attack us?

And I said, because their life becomes better and better. Okay, you don't understand. They come from a different value universe than you. The second Intifada, when they tried to butcher every Jew in Tel Aviv, not along the Gaza Strip, but in Tel Aviv, came when their economic situation was the best, their chances to get a state was the best, when the situation improved dramatically and there was a way charted for them to improve much better.

PP: Why then?

DS: Because they want to destroy us. Because they feel that they have the right to destroy us. Because this is the only thing they were brought up with, okay, from early childhood, for more than 100 years, one generation after the other, and still do.

I don't want to cure them. I don't want to change them. I just want to be strong enough to prevent them physically from killing me. And every time they have something that can kill me, I will destroy it because they have it. Because when they have it, they will use it to destroy me. And people that weaponize their condoms will also weaponize their missiles, okay? That's what they do.

I mean, look at the Gaza Strip. People speak about the poverty in the Gaza Strip. The standard of living in the Gaza Strip before October 7th was about two to three times higher than in Cairo. They had more hours of electricity than in Beirut. Try to go into the streets with Google Maps before October 7th and see the resorts in Gaza.

There is also poverty in Gaza, among other things, because they have never built anything except something to kill Jews. It is a different cultural universe. Let me give you an example that perhaps will demonstrate it. Most people in Gaza were unemployed, sitting on the beach smoking Marlboro. Now, their children are playing in raw sewage for generations. The people sitting on the beach doing nothing, the majority of Gazans, could they dig a sewage tunnel in Gaza? Have the Gazans heard about the art of digging tunnels? Could they have the best tunnels in the world? Tourists would come to Gaza to view the sewage tunnels. It would take them a day, all these people sitting on the beach doing nothing. It will not stop them killing Jews. They can still kill Jews, others can dig a tunnel. Why haven't they done it? Why don't they care that their children play in the sewage? Do they have money? Yes, more than you can imagine. Billions of dollars coming from the United States, from Europe, from Muslims all over the world, from Qatar. What have they used every penny of this money for? Weapons and tunnels and whatever can kill Jews. Why don't they dig these sewage systems? Because they come from a different universe in terms of their values than we do. They're not a version of us.

We are being told that everybody is a version of us. Now most people who listen to you don't even know who Pol Pot was. Okay but is Pol Pot coming and are his people coming from the same moral and cultural universe that we're coming from? No. Do you have to recognize it? Yes.

People want to feel guilty. They're obsessed with the need to feel guilty. Knock yourself out. You're doing it at my expense and I will disregard it. But can I cure you? I don't know, you're a psychologist, I'm not.

I'm not trying to cure people. And by the way, I don't use the term mentality because I don't have a mental-ometer. I know how people behave. I can speak about patterns of behavior that when they repeat themselves over a very long period of time, it's part of a culture, okay? I'm not speaking about the individual. The individual can be the finest person. I'm speaking about what dictates the behavior of the collective. I also am not saying that people are born with it or that it's their DNA. Cultures can change. I mean, look at Turkey. In one century, you had two major changes of culture, one with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a hundred years ago, and now with the present barbarian only 20 years ago or so. That's a cultural change. Zionism is a cultural change. I mean, we basically came and said, 200 years ago, 150 years ago, the Jewish culture in exile has reached a dead end. We want to present a completely different way of life, which is a cultural change. Look at the achievements in Singapore, in South Korea, a democracy, okay, or developing democracy or a democracy starting up. Cultures can change, okay?

Our problem is, including particularly in universities, the assumption that if culture can change, it must change. It has already changed or is in the process of changing and every change must be in the positive direction. This reminds me of this great saying, one day I was sitting in my room, grooming, and then a voice came out of the darkness and said, cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough, things did get worse. Change is not necessarily for the better.

The change in Turkey in the last 20 years is negative. The most important change in the Arab world, Islamic radicalism in the last 100 years is negative. There are some negative changes in Israel in culture with the ultra-orthodox. We have more parasites and primitive parasites particularly in the the hardcore of the ultra-orthodox.

I've recently spoken to the finest Palestinian I know, Salam Fayyad. He used to be prime minister because the Americans imposed it on him and on the Palestinians. He's a nation builder in the best possible sense the Palestinians had. Why couldn't he do anything? Because he never had more than 2% of support in the Palestinian people. I'm not saying if you're born a Palestinian or you're raised a Palestinian there's something wrong with you. What I'm saying, unfortunately, those who dictate the collective behavior of the Palestinians for the last 100 years are people like the Mufti of Jerusalem, the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, the terrorist Arafat, or the disgusting Abu Mazen.

PP: His dissertation was a Holocaust denial?

DS: But you see you can't even take him seriously and he's considered a moderate. By the way, corrupt to the core on top of everything else, because the whole system is a kleptocracy.

So what I'm saying is, you cannot change the culture of another people. You know these jokes, how many this and that does it take to change a bulb? One of the versions is how many psychologists does it take to change a bulb? And the answer is only one, but the bulb really needs to want to change. Okay? Cultures need to want to change. You cannot change it from the outside. You can't come to Afghanistan and say, hey, why don't you treat women equally?

PP: That brings up the question of how Germany changed.

DS: Ah, two reasons. A: there was an infrastructure. Look at what Berlin was in the 1920s. There was an infrastructure. And second, they had a few seminars about cultural change in Hamburg by the RAF and in Berlin by the American Air Force. When you burn their cities and kill their leaders and you say, hey, you either change or we'll break your neck, then people tend to change.

PP: And is that what people are suggesting to do in Gaza?

DS: You can't do it. The Japanese and the Germans didn't have the option, and there were enough in the Japanese people and the German people who wanted to change.

The Japanese have done something very impressive. They said, we will change our behavior, but we will keep our ancient culture. I have a lot of respect for it. We will become democratic. We will treat women equally and so on, but we have our culture and we want to stick by our culture. I respect it very much.

The Germans didn't need to change because they had the infrastructure and Hitler was the aberration. So you could go back to something.

There are Arabs, and I'm very impressed by them, who are not only trying to change, but they've already started the change in the UAE. I have good friends in the leadership of the UAE and I'm deeply impressed by their success to tell their people that tolerance is a basic value. Look, I don't know if I can come into a mosque in Israel, but in the UAE, the most beautiful mosque in the world, by the way, at least as beautiful as the Taj Mahal, and I'm not speaking about splendor, I'm speaking about delicate beauty, is in Abu Dhabi. And there is a deep inscription in marble on the wall in Hebrew saying, "Welcome to the mosque of Sheikh Zayed." When I go to a coffee house at 11 o'clock at night and I see women sitting alone without a chaperone or a brother or their husband and I see women walking along the corniche at night, I'm impressed. I'm deeply impressed. By the way, is it a democracy? No. Okay. Frederick the Great was not a great democrat. It doesn't start with a democracy. Okay. It starts with an enlightened authoritarian leader who says that they want to educate for tolerance.You don't have it among the Palestinians.

PP: So what was the failure on October 7th? That before October 7th, Israel had not eliminated the capability?

DS: We had two failures.

The first was that after leaving the Gaza Strip, with the first missile we didn't bring devastation to Gaza, saying, we will not tolerate you having the capability of sending thousands of missiles, let alone doing it.

And then, because we developed the Iron Dome so much and we had such perfect protection, we contained. You shouldn't contain, and by the way, from now on, I think Israelis are persuaded of what I advocated before. Don't contain anything. They do something, break their neck, humiliate them, kill them.

For instance, have a parameter around the border. Anybody who comes close to the fence should be killed. We should initiate violent activity the moment they have the capability of doing it. Okay? And we will do it in Lebanon as well. Because this idea, we will buy tranquility as long as things are quiet, no. Not with barbarians. You need to destroy what they have that they built to kill you. Otherwise, this will kill you. Okay?

Is it a solution? No. Can we live for a very long time without a solution and better and better our lives? We spoke about it before. Yes.

PP: So it's a strategy, it's not a solution.

DS: When you're a doctor and somebody comes to you and he's ill, will you then say, unless I have the solution that you will live forever, I will not cure your illness? No. If you can make him suffer less, will you not do it? Will you not try to alleviate his suffering? Can you still have a good life? A good life, not a perfect life. Not life forever. By the way, who wants to live forever? Okay. Usually people who don't know what to do this afternoon, they want to live forever. What for? I'm not sure. Okay. But this whole obsession with solution, keep it for your crossword puzzles.

PP: Let me ask you just one more question. What is your hope for the future of Israel? For your children, for your grandchildren, for your great grandchildren in Israel?

DS: You know, if I were in a beauty pageant and they asked me "What do you really want?" I would say world peace. But if I live in the real world, I want my children to have what I mentioned before: to live in a society with more cultural diversity, more educational capabilities, a better science, a better health system to grow up children.

Look, Israel is the only country in the world where a well-educated, economically well-off, secular woman wants three children. Okay? Israel is a Jewish and pedocratic state. The children are in power. I couldn't live anywhere else in the world. Even if I were not a Jew or a Zionist, I would want to live here because this is the place where people want children. I don't mean people who can't afford to keep their children, you know? In terms of people who are, again, well-educated, secular or traditional, and with a good job and with a good life and with a career, and more than anything else, they enjoy their children.

This is the kind of Israel I want my children to grow up in. This is the kind of Israel I want my grandchildren to grow up in, and my great grandchildren will probably fight in Gaza, okay? Because, forget about Israel for a moment, what do Arabs do to each other? Forget about the Jews. Look at what is happening in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Algeria, in Sudan. What is happening in this whole region? It is a different value universe than we are used to in Israel, in the States, or in Europe. In this part of the world, if somebody is not afraid of you, you should be afraid of him. The whole idea of live and let live is alien to this region.

I don't expect the Arabs one day to get up in the morning and say, ah, isn't life with the Jews live and let live a good idea?

The situation of Israel in the Middle East is better than ever before. Here is the interesting paradox. Arab states want us to win in Gaza more than many Israelis, because they understand the Muslim Brothers, these barbarians in Gaza, are threatening Egypt and Jordan and Morocco and the UAE and Saudi Arabia. So letting the barbarians win is bad for the whole region.

We used to hope that the Arabs are willing to acquiesce with our existence. Now they need us. You see, America is infinitely more powerful than Israel, but Israel is infinitely more trustworthy than the United States because you may have somebody like Obama, okay? Obama, I spoke to his closest circle and I quoted to him what Moshe Dayan used to say. He used to call certain people, "This is a good guy in the bad sense of the term." Okay, Obama was the guy in the bad sense of the term, supporting all the enemies of the United States and undermining the allies of the United States. So the Saudis and the Emiratis, and by the way also the Japanese and the Indians, say America is great, only you can't trust these guys. Because you may have somebody like Obama coming. On a personal level, Obama is the kind of guy I would have wanted to have as a neighbor, as a friend, as a member of my PTA up to the sixth grade, approximately, otherwise it's too complicated. He's a nice guy, not corrupt or anything, but President of the United States? I want a Richard Nixon, okay, not a nice guy. Nice guys finish last. I need somebody who can have my enemy by the short and curly hair and make them do things that they don't want to do.

My favorite quotation is from Lyndon Johnson. When Kennedy said you have to win the hearts and minds of people, Johnson is reported to have said, "Once you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." Okay? The President of the United States is in charge of human liberty. He can't afford to be a nice guy. Look at Obama. He loved the Erdoans of this world. He appeased the Iranians at the expense of Egypt, of Saudi Arabia, and of Israel. If I would write a book about what not to do in the Middle East, Obama would sue me for plagiarism.

So Israel is perceived as being trustworthy, and the Arabs need Israel because they're both their enemies. Iran and the Muslim brothers are also the enemies of Israel. Only a few months ago, an aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force shot down a cruise missile directed from Yemen to Israel. Okay, think about that. We can have a Middle East air defense command based on the capabilities of Arab states and Israel together against our common enemies.

So are the Palestinians our enemies? Yes. Is Assad our enemy? Is Hezbollah our enemy? Yes. But are most of the Arab states our allies? Who, by the way, curse us every time they get up in the morning. That's okay. I'm willing to give them the text to curse us, as long as they do the opposite. They should tell their people whatever their public opinion wants to hear. Oh, Israel is undermining human rights and so on. Okay. Let them spew this bullshit, but they cooperate with us in a very intimate way, because they know we have a common interest.

So I want my children and children's children to live in a country that has all the good things of an open society that we discussed before, but also to be part of the most important regional power in the region. Israel, which has excellent relations on the security level with the Arab states. Now, would I want every Arab to love me? Okay, if they insists. But I would feel somewhat uncomfortable if most Arabs in this region loved me. I would ask myself "What's wrong with me if I am loved by people who have such different values than I have?" But do I want them to cooperate with me? Certainly yes. And we are.

So our situation is difficult, but actually very, very good. You know in Vienna in the Austro-Hungarian empire they used to say the situation is hopeless but not serious. When it comes to Israel, I would say the opposite. Not only is the situation serious, but not hopeless. The situation is serious, but very hopeful. Already, we have a very good life. We're going to have an even better life and from time to time shit happens. Okay. And it's painful. But the question is not are things good or bad, but the question is what can you do about things when they're bad and how can you use it to your benefit when they're good?

You see, let us perhaps end this interview by introducing the difference between a smart optimist and a dumb optimist. A dumb optimist says things will be better. A smart optimist says things will be worse, but I will get stronger faster than things get worse, so that the gap between the good guys and their enemies in my favour is growing, which is basically the situation, and when the messiah comes then we will all live happily ever after and ride on our unicorns into the sunset

PP: Okay. Thank you very much.

Pamela Paresky

Pamela Paresky, PhD, is a Fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute, an Advisor to the NYU Mindful Education Lab, and an advisor at Open Therapy Institute. She writes for

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