By Dr Meir Margalit, from Jerusalem

Until when will this useless strife continue?
Kenneth Boulding, English economist and philosopher, coined a concept called-“the sacrifice trap” which explains, in a way, the current Israeli escalation in the Gaza Strip. According to that view, political or military leaders tend to cling to lost conflicts to prevent their people from questioning why so much hopeless sacrifice is carried out in vain. Politicians who have sacrificed their children for the sake of an absurd goal prefer to continue the conflict rather than admitting that they are wrong and that all that suffering is meaningless. For them, it is preferable to continue fighting rather than recognising they made a mistake, and the higher the price paid, the greater their inability to understand the effects of their behaviour. This kind of “trap” is very common in the military, where generals prefer to continue fighting despite already losing this battle, due to their inability to recognise their mistake. During the second world war generals on both sides continued the trench warfare despite knowing it was pointless, just to keep the public from asking embarrassing questions, just as the war in Vietnam continued to wreak havoc when it was clear that to keep fighting for a lost cause did not make sense, for the simple reason that – “after losing 54,000 soldiers we cannot leave now!.” The same happened during the late 80’s when the Israeli army refused to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, just to avoid uncomfortable questions.

This same mindset prevails today in Israel and is one of the main reasons why this war will continue until some international power takes charge and stops this madness. At this stage of the fighting, it is clear that this contest does not make sense, by the mere fact that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, not even achieving the minimalist objective proposed, which is dismantling Hamas’ arsenal. The proof of this in the fact that after so much bombing, missiles flying from Gaza continue unabated. But despite this, the most popular argument among those who urge the government to continue fighting is – ‘after having spilled so much blood, it is not feasible to end the war just like that, without a decisive victory”. Negotiating a truce with Hamas is considered an unacceptable position, since “the enemy has to be annihilated” even if it is just to honour the fallen, or out of respect for the parents of those who lost their lives in the struggle for the homeland.

Every leader needs to justify their wars and the best way is to justify them is to continue them. In their imagination, all that is need to win the battle is a little more effort, and that “small effort” always leads, inevitably, to a quagmire that destroys more lives and makes it more difficult to end the war. The government is tethered to this position knowing that otherwise it may pay dearly in the next election. That is why the Israeli government cannot admit that this is meaningless and continues inventing wild reasons or excuses to continue fighting without knowing until when.

This irrational attitude offers one of the explanations of Israel’s inability to end the conflict, because in the collective sub-unconscious there is a destructive voice, a ‘death wish’, if we use the classical Freudian concept, which induces them to continue to sacrifice “a little more”, so as not to recognise that the struggle has gone astray.

Meir Margalit

Center for Advancement of Peace Initiatives and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
23 \ 7 \ 2014.