Israel's 'Iron Wall' stands in the way of cease-fire

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The humanitarian disaster unfolding in the southern Gaza Strip, where more than a million people face famine after months of war with Israel, has many causes.

There is, of course, the spark that began the war: the massacre of Israelis by Gaza-based Hamas militants on Oct. 7, 2023. But like so much in the Middle East, the roots of the brutal war in Gaza go back much further. In his story today, historian Eran Kaplan brings readers back 100 years to a prominent Zionist activist named Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his idea of how to build a Jewish state in Palestine, the land where both Jews and Arabs lived at the time.

Kaplan quotes "On the Iron Wall," Jabotinsky’s manifesto: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized.”

That meant, writes Kaplan, “Zionism’s sole focus should be on developing Jewish military force, a metaphorical Iron Wall, that would compel the Arabs to accept a Jewish state on their native land.”

That stark view of Palestine’s Arab population – that they were to be dominated with force – has animated one strand of Israeli politics for the past century. Jabotinsky’s legacy can be found in Israel’s conservative Likud Party and the longtime leader of that party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Writes Kaplan: “The massive and wantonly destructive war that Netanyahu has led against Hamas and Gaza … is the Iron Wall in its most elemental manifestation: unleashing overwhelming force as a signal that no territorial compromise with the Arabs over historical Palestine is possible.”

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Naomi Schalit

Senior Editor, Politics + Democracy

A view of Khan Yunis in Gaza on Feb. 2, 2024, after weeks of continuous Israeli bombardment and bulldozing. Abdulqader Sabbah/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel’s ‘Iron Wall’: A brief history of the ideology guiding Benjamin Netanyahu

Eran Kaplan, San Francisco State University

The destructive force that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has unleashed in Gaza is rooted in a century-old ideology that says overwhelming power is how Israel should deal with Palestinians.

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