By Joel Brinkley

A week in the life of Israel tells a lot about its place in the world. It's not a pretty story.

As prelude, last month the state suffered the worse spate of murderous attacks in many years. A Palestinian infiltrated a West Bank settlement and killed five people, including three young children. A bomb exploded at a Jerusalem bus stop, killing one woman and wounding dozens more.

During that same period, Israel killed eight Palestinians, including three youths and an elderly man, while responding to a massive but mostly ineffectual volley of rockets and mortars from Gaza. So as last week began, the place was on edge.

On Monday, Israel asked Facebook to pull down a page with 350,000 "fans" calling for what it called "the third Palestinian uprising." Facebook refused. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel will not tolerate "a drizzle of rockets" from Gaza. An air strike killed two people there.

On Tuesday, Gaza militants fired one missile into Israel. It landed in a field. The parliament passed a law allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone found guilty of any act deemed harmful to the state. Arab legislators called the new law "racist." The government said it may annex major West Bank settlements if Palestinians follow through with their plan to ask the United Nations for full recognition -- a potential diplomatic disaster for Israel. Facebook changed its mind and took down the "third intifada" page. Israel announced it will build 1,600 new homes in Arab East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, an air strike killed one person in Gaza. About 200 Carleton University students occupied a building so the board of governors could not meet, demanding that the university divest its pension funds from companies doing business with Israel.

On Thursday, militants fired another rocket from Gaza. It landed in an empty field. Transport Minister Yaakov Katz said Israel is close to approving a plan to build an island off the coast of Gaza with air and sea ports, under the control of an international security force. The idea, he said, is to be rid of any responsibility for Gaza. The foreign ministry acknowledged that some Israeli diplomats disagree with government policy and would like to see Israel recognize a provisional Palestinian state right now.

And on Friday, the leader of the Greens Party in Australia reprimanded a fellow Green, a senator-elect, for advocating a trade boycott against Israel. An engineer from Gaza working in Ukraine appeared in an Israeli court and said Israeli security agents kidnapped him while he was riding a train in Ukraine. Israel said he was a Hamas member "who holds valuable information." And around the world the last of the seventh annual Israeli Apartheid Week demonstrations, calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, closed down.

Violence punctuated the following days, but also a vindication. The head of the U.N. panel that investigated the Gaza flotilla incident in 2009 retracted his assertion that Israel deliberately killed civilians.

This chronology is not intended as an anti-Israel screed. I respect Israel, but not its present leaders -- the most reactionary and self-destructive the nation has ever had.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, visiting last month, urged Israel to show restraint as revolutions sweep through the Arab world. Right now, he said, demonstrations are "directed inward," so Israel shouldn't "divert the narrative of reform" so that it turns into still another anti-Israel rant.

It may already have been too late. The day before, the parliament passed two extraordinary laws. One allows small towns to set up "admissions committees" with authority to reject prospective residents -- certainly Israeli-Arabs -- it found to be "unsuitable." This law is similar to the real estate covenants that forbade Jews to live in certain American neighborhoods 60 years ago.

The second law allows the state to levy stiff fines on Israeli-Arab towns for allowing "disloyal" demonstrations on Israeli Independence Day -- the day in 1948, as Arabs see it, when thousands or their people were expelled from their homes.

Given what it could potentially do, Israel's military has shown restraint, as Gates requested. But its political actions have been as inflammatory as anything the nation has ever done -- detailed in newspapers and Web sites worldwide. Don't Israelis know that everyone is watching just as intently as if the Air Force were dropping bombs?

Maybe these new laws and the rest make the state's extremist politicians feel good inside. But can't they see the terrible damage they are doing to their state and its people?


Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times


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