The final act of mythology’s ‘Samson’
For many years, the rhetorical tool in efforts to probe the self-destructive side of Israel’s political reflexes has been the refrain: “Israel has a ‘Samson Complex.’”
We can find no other explanation for a dawn assault on a flotilla challenging Israel’s blockade of traumatized Gaza. The killing of as many as 19 activists with reports that the count could climb is inexcusable, unnecessary and of such political folly that it boggles the mind as it shocks the world.
These few moments of violence will bury far into the future whatever fragile hopes remained for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation over the two countries’ differences of late. More profoundly, it completes the transformation in recent decades in the basic narrative of the Jewish state.
Once the struggling story of a devastated people seeking to build a home from the ashes of the Holocaust, Monday’s actions complete and seal the new narrative in the international mind: an arrogant and vindictive nation that blindly tramples on any innocent who questions its power.
So let’s return to the story of Samson. A mythical figure in the first century AD, his story appears in the “Book of Judges” of the Jewish Bible as well as the Christian Old Testament. A Herculean figure, Samson can wrestle with lions or single-handedly slay an entire army of “Philistines.” His end comes when, captured by his pursuers and chained between two pillars of a temple, Samson pulls the two pillars from their foundations. He perishes along with his enemies.
Samson played a role in early Zionism and in the reconstruction of a collective Jewish memory.
The image of the invincible fighter leading a people from the helplessness of exile was part of the national myth-building that resulted in the founding of Israel in 1948.
More recently the imagery has drawn from a different side of Samson’s character; elite commando units have been dubbed in the Israeli media as “Samson units” and Israel’s nuclear weapons capacity is often labeled the “Samson option.”
That the aid flotilla is an act of provocation is beyond dispute. That among the ranks of activists there is no small number of publicity-seeking European sycophants is well known. That a sincere effort to ease Palestinian suffering might have sought accommodation we will concede. That a few knives or even guns might be found on the aid ships is a possibility. But all of this is meaningless in the face of the events of the last few hours.
No serious observer can argue that Israel lacked better alternatives at its disposal. But the trigger-happy Likud-led government responded with an all-too-familiar reflex of maximum and brutal force.
This time, it pulled down the temple.
It is a tragedy for those activists who have lost their lives. It is a tragedy for the Palestinians of Gaza. Above all it is a tragedy for the people of Israel, victims too of a vain and foolish government.