Palestinians don’t want a ‘good life’ like westerners, they are zealots – Israeli expert tells Americans

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  May 25, 2023

The Israel Policy Forum, an Israel lobby group, hosted Israeli reserve Colonel Michael Milshtein, a former expert on Palestinians in Israeli Military Intelligence, to spout anti-Palestinian comments.

The Israel Policy Forum, an American Israel lobby group, hosted Israeli reserve Colonel Michael Milshtein, a former expert on Palestinians in Israeli Military Intelligence, and he spouted anti-Palestinian statements with no pushback from his hosts.

In the podcast on May 19, Milshtein called for a “dramatic” and “strict” change in Israel’s Gaza policy to deny the people economic benefits, such as Qatari money and work permits in Israel, so as to compel Hamas, which governs Gaza, to clamp down on militants. When his host suggested that this policy will likely lead to another war, Milshtein said that it would, but Israel must be “more brave.”

Milshtein said Hamas head Yahya Sinwar doesn’t speak the same language as westerners who care about prosperity.

You know, this is the Middle East. This is the language people speak. It’s quite odd to speak with people like Yahya Sinwar in western language, and to convince them that good economy and good life is better than promoting your radical ideology, but you know, they are different people in the Middle East. 

This sort of bigotry is common from Israeli officials, and inside American Israel lobby organizations too. Arabs are zealots who don’t care about life, they just want to destroy. Much like when the former New York TimeJerusalem bureau chief said Gazans aspire to martyrdom, and so they are “ho-hum” about the deaths of relatives.

The idea that war is the only language Arabs understand is also part of pro-Israel propaganda — though in fact Israel inflicts great violence on Palestine. Gazans have been under a cruel blockade for 16 years, denied freedom of movement and subject to frequent civilian massacres by jet bombers.

In calling for Israeli bravery, Milshtein is just rationalizing more brutality.

The Israel Policy Forum, a centrist Zionist organization, offered only encouragement to Milshtein’s hawkish views. Neri Zilber, an Israeli reporter who works for the organization, said that since 2018 Israel has given Gaza “really unprecedented economic and financial and humanitarian benefits,” from over 17,000 worker permits, to greater imports and exports from Gaza, “and in return Israel asks of Hamas one thing, and that is quiet.” But there have been four rounds of fighting since 2019 and the intervals between hostilities get shorter.

Milshtein said Israel needs to get tougher on Gaza. Hamas was extended economic opportunities and it has failed to keep Gaza quiet; Israel has found itself again and again in a confrontation with a “B League terror organization” — Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“There are a lot of… wishful thinking of Israel really to believe that by good economy, permits for workers to get out, civil projects and salary for the public sector you will achieve a calm. This formula failed… Israel should not permit Hamas to dictate the rules of the game.

If there are clashes as a result of this policy, well, that’s inevitable, he said, Israel has to be “brave.”

“Israel is not strict enough. If you do want to demonstrate or make it clear to Hamas that you are serious enough and there is a lost price to every move, I think that Israel should explain that its basic policy toward Hamas will change, and maybe it will cause clashes and maybe it will cause military tension, but I think at the end of the day it will make Hamas understand that Israel is much more serious than in the past and maybe it will make the number or the rate of rounds of escalations between Israel and the organizations in Gaza much more limited. So I do think that Israel should be much more brave, much more strict…if Israeli policy or strategy is to achieve less tension on the long term with Gaza.

Zilber warned that if Israel becomes “stricter,” Sinwar will escalate, and this could lead to a long and sustained military campaign — like in 2014, a two month war, in which 2200 Palestinians were killed. Milshtein brushed off the concern.

When you analyze it logically… there will be escalation. Actually, in every scenario there will be escalation. I think it is better that Israel will find itself in a much more strict and much more serious stand in future scenarios, and I do think that maybe a clash will happen after Israel will promote or limit the economic moves toward Gaza, but I think that in the day after this round of escalation, Hamas will understand that Israel is not ready to pay any price in order to preserve the current situation in Gaza…and maybe it will be much more cautious regarding the situation in Gaza, try to impose much more seriously its control over the other factions in Gaza. Because right now I think the current formula is really ridiculous…Israel suffers from rounds of escalation, whether workers are getting out of Gaza [or] whether they are not. So I do think this is the time for initiatives, and first of all we must… redesign again the whole concept of the relations between economy and security.

This is heartless thinking. Two million Gazans live in an open-air prison, and this entire podcast was indifferent to the collective punishment. Israeli leaders have never offered any vision of the future that does not entail periodic clashes with a persecuted population, clashes that always result in many more Palestinian deaths than Israeli ones.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-2006