Why are the Gazans setting Israel on fire?
Why are the Gazans setting Israel on fire?

The cultural abyss separating Israel and Gaza provides the explanation for the senseless events taking place in the border area over the past 13 years.

Why do the Gazans want to burn down the Jewish State? The questions hovers in the air in Israel, because after all, Israelis say, we left Gaza in August 2005 during the "Disengagement," but ever since the Hamas Movement took over the region in June 2007, it has been investing billions in developing rockets, digging attack tunnels, sending masses of people to try to breach the border fence – and now it is encouraging Gazans to send up terror kites and balloons to set us afire.

Don't the Hamas members want to ensure that Gazans lead decent lives? Why are they investing their money in destruction instead of construction? Why haven't they built a single school, hospital, power or desalination plant with all the aid they receive and try to improve the lives of Gaza residents?

A related question is why the Gazans, groaning under the despotic rule of Hamas, refrain from going out in the streets to try to put an end to their ongoing nightmare.  Why has there been no public demand to reunite the Palestinian Arab ranks since Hamas took over the Strip and dissolved the Palestinian Authority while murdering tens of its security personnel?

During the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, rockets launched from Gaza damaged a high tension line providing Gaza itself with electricity, and Israelis wondered what the logic was in hitting the electricity line that supplies Gazan power. Why did they also aim at the Erez Industrial Center which employs them? Why did they dig tunnels under the Kerem Crossing through which they receive the food they put on their tables? Why do they continue to shell that crossing every so often?

Are the Palestinians unaware of the damage caused by the split between Hamas and Fatah? Why does Mahmoud Abbas refuse to meet with Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt although they are preparing the US goverrnment's  "plan of  the century" ? Where is the logic in boycotting the US government, the only power capable of helping the Palestinian Arabs achieve anything? These and many more questions express our inability - and that of the West -  to understand the motives and compulsions that make Hamas and  the PLO tick.

These questions are not at all limited to Gaza and Ramallah. What about Syria's citizenry? Don't they see the horrible destruction their country has suffered over the past seven years? Don't the anti-Assad rebels understand the Russian involvement that destroyed them, razing their cities and villages to the ground? Why did they continue the rebellion for so long? Why doesn't the Syrian regime show the slightest interest in the deplorable condition of its citizens and the country's wrecked infrastructure?

Why do the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq and other countries continue their 1400 year old struggle against one another? Are the millions of victims killed during this struggle not enough?  Why can't the Libyan tribes find a formula that will allow them to live as neighbors instead of spilling each other's blood? Don't the tribes and ethnic groups in Yemen see the havoc and disease their internal war has brought upon them?

All this leads to the key question that includes them all:  What is it in the Middle East's way of thinking that leads the entire region, and Gaza in particular, to act in such a self-destructive manner? 

The answer is straightforward: There is a basic, profound, widespread and all-embracing difference between the way Israelis think and the way Gazans think, but it is just as accurate to say that this is also the case for the difference between Western and Arab-Islamic culture.

The source of the difference is in the way each side pits logic versus emotion. In Israel, as in many Western cultures, rationality is the basis for decision-making and the cost-benefit ratio is taken into account at every step of both individual and group planning. As a result, Western society – including Israel – invests in education, development, construction, agriculture, technology, medicine, industry and improving the quality of life. In the Western world.  Individuals also invest in studying, acquiring a profession, joining the work force, building their own lives and that of their families for their own benefit, that of their families and that of society. Victory over the competition is measured by individual accomplishment – income level, the value of one's home and the quality of one's life. Those who invest more means and effort in advancing themselves do well in the race and enjoy life, while those who don't, lose out.

In Gaza, as in much of Islamic and Arab society, feelings are the basis for behavior as opposed to rationality, leading societies and political entities to invest energies, money and time in destroying and injuring others, even if this involves self-destruction as well.  Individuals are not inner-directed, but other-directed to the point where a person will neglect himself, his own life, health, the quality of  his life, his property and employment, all for the sake of expending  efforts, time and strength in attempts to hurt someone else and cause him injury. In the Middle East, victory is measured in terms of the damage one side manages to inflict upon the other, and an individual's pleasure grows in direct proportion to the level of that injury, even if the price is so high as to be horrendous.

Naturally, what I have written above is a generalization, because there are many people in the Arab and Islamic world who studied in the West, were educated according to its culture and adopted its value system and priorities. The way they look at the events in Gaza and in the entire Arab world is similar to the way Israel views them, but, unfortunately, they have little or no influence on events because anyone who has the courage to criticize the emotional, irrational way Hamas directs its activities is portrayed as a traitor and as someone casting doubt on the social axioms of the Arab and Islamic nations.

The difference between using logic and acting according to one's feelings is easy to understand if we analyze divorce proceedings. A couple who handle the divorce process rationally will achieve an organized property settlement, each side taking its share and the two litigants remaining on amicable terms.  On the other hand, if the sides cannot control their feelings, taking revenge and hurting the other side become the main objectives of both – they argue over everything, their money is wasted in lawyers' fees and they end up hating one another forever. The children have an immeasurably easier transition in the first case in comparison to the second, emotional, one.

The gap between rational and emotional behavior can be observed in the economic trends that characterize the Middle East. Rational Western thought leads to the appointment of officials to governmental and economic positions according to their suitability for the challenges they are to meet. In the Middle East, it is perfectly acceptable to appoint one's relatives to head organizations, whether or not they have the prerequisites for success. Using feelings to appoint officials creates untalented administrative echelons whose chances of succeeding in running the country or its finances in optimal fashion approaches zero.

Another issue in which the emotional Middle East differs from the rational West is in the choice of spouses. In most of the Middle East, marriages stay within the family or the tribe.Cousins marry one another as a matter of routine, despite the high probability of having children with genetic disorders. It is rare for someone to marry off his daughter to an outsider, because the feeling in most places is that outsiders are "not one of us" and may even be considered enemies.

In contrast, Western parents allow their sons and daughters to find mates outside the family circle, resulting in a low incidence of the genetic disorders that can occur when relatives marry. Despite the fact that the negative outcomes of marriage within the family are well known in the Middle East, particularly the prevalence of genetic diseases, emotions are allowed to run the show and many places continue to ensure marriage within the family or tribe.

This, then, is the cultural explanation for the enormous gap between the emotional behavior of the Arab-Islamic Middle East on the one hand and the rational behavior of the Western world – including Israel – on the other hand. This gap has an effect on the economic, familial, health and security aspects of life in Middle East society and explains the fact that despite all the natural resources in the region, it remains in a problematic and undeveloped state, while the rational Western world functions on a much higher level.

And as for our "burning issue": As long as Hamas lets its feelings lead the way, it will continue to be self-destructive, continue making the lives of the Gazans in the state it has established into Hell on Earth, and go on trying  to set Israel ablaze.

If Hamas decided to act rationally, the Gaza Strip could become a much better place for its own residents and for its neighbors. Israel can accelerate Hamas' progression to rational behavior  if Hamass leaders learn that the price they are going to pay for irrational behavior is too steep for them to bear – that is, if Israel threatens to sever the connection between their heads and shoulders, permanently. Nothing less will do the job. That is the only way rational cost-benefit analysis has a chance of replacing the emotional and irrational behavior of those who control the Gaza Strip..

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky