The Israeli army’s trigger-finger against Palestinian protesters close to the fence surrounding Gaza at the weekend, killing at least 18 and injuring hundreds more, has an explanation rooted in more than normal conceptions of security.
Even before Israel’s creation, its leaders were obssessed with demography and winning a zero-sum numerical war of attrition with the Palestinians. The consequences are still playing out to this day.
Last week, ahead of the Gaza protests, the Israeli army made an unexpected admission. It told parliamentarians that for the first time Jews are outnumbered by Palestinians living under Israeli rule, both inside Israel as citizens and in the territories under occupation.
It was a moment whose significance was not lost on Israeli legislators. Many were appalled, refusing to accept the army’s assessment that there are now half a million more Palestinians than Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and the river Jordan.
Avi Dichter, a right wing legislator and a former head of Israel’s secret police agency the Shin Bet, called the data “disconcerting”.
In 1948, when the Zionist movement saw a chance to seize control of as much of Palestine as possible, it understood that this goal could be achieved only through the ethnic cleansing of most of the native population. It was Zionism’s moment to create the “empty land” mythologised in its early slogans.
Today, the demographic successes of 1948 have been largely reversed. The…