HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

January 19, 2009
The Gazan Hell:
Ambivalences and Atrocities and Unendingness

James Adler


My  first instinct back on Saturday, December 27, was to support what I thought was going to be a short (a few hours or a couple days) and purely aerial so-called (and euphemistically called) "Op," (or operation), to take out some Hamas missile launchers.

My first instinct was to feel this way: That I supported Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and back on December 27th couldn't help thinking that it would be hypocrisy for to oppose the Israeli defense of its homes and schools and towns against the bombardments that have not stopped since Israel withdrew.
Even on the first day of supposed mere takeouts of some launchers, there was already heartbreak, but for the first few days I was in personal conflict and an agony of ambivalence:

I just wished somebody could explain to me why I shouldn't find it still more difficult to oppose in good conscience Israel's eventual coming to its own defense against Gaza's unprovoked and willful terror and bombings for years on Israel's own civilian population and the ensuing and continuing roll of innocent Israeli victims.

I shared Israel's frustration completely.  Actually, I still do.

But by now this has never seemed to have anything to do with “proportion."

Now, among many other things I see, it is that Israel's intentions were not what I had thought at the time.  Not just to take out a few launchers and stop the bombs.

Now, three weeks later, it is hard for me to fail to recognize that the Israeli "operation" (read war -- war -- and again, war) has been based on other things: First, a legitimate hatred of Hamas's detestable ideology. Second, legitimate indignation about Gazan bombs still falling even long after the Gaza withdrawal. Third, the failure of Israel's 2006 Lebanon war and its anxiety ever since about the future of the "deterrent effect" against attacks.  And fourth, the frustration about all these things accumulating and put together and growing, and these combined with the lack of any peace in the foreseeable future, despite Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

Just one problem is that if the bombs could strike Israel even after its military had occupied Gaza for several decades, then how could the rockets be stopped with a one-time-only and external assault?

And so: What is the rational alternative, instead, to seeing the massive Gazan civilian carnage as having been, though accidental, yet foreseen, and so the victims sacrificed to an attack that was known even at the beginning would not stop the rockets?

The attack was to ventilate Israel's frustration and in some inchoate and enraged way crush or least punish the hated and hateful Hamas.

If Israel couldn't stop the rockets during the occupation or a one-time external assault -- or a future long occupation, then not only why would Israel decide, accidentally but forseeably, to kill a thousand Gazans, including hundreds of innocents like children, but also to fuel yet more hate and rage -- translated doubtless into violence -- against it, now and for the next further generations?

And if Israel couldn't stop rockets from Gaza, then it's easy to see why couldn't from the much larger and hilly and forested wilderness of Lebanon in 2006.

And now or in the future suppose Hezbollah initiates more unstoppable rockets from  Lebanon? Suppose they become concurrent with those of Hamas? And increasingly long-range? From both sides? And fueled by the hate generated by the carnage of this war?

And also: If Israel could take out all of the launchers in the miniscule and flat and adjacent and thoroughly well-known topography of Gaza,  even after protracted and pin-point strikes and a near-carpet-level bombardment, how does Israel think it could take out the  secret and dispersed nuclear sites in colossal and still more unknown and opaque and far-distant Iran?

I wish it could be understood that if I have felt personal horror at scenes of mass carnage inflicted by Palestinian suicide bombers on innocent Israelis -- often inflicted by the hateful Hamas -- at their bus stops and nightclubs and wedding parties , and if I have written  to Israeli newspapers, excoriating such terror, that I might have a similar sensitivity, and feel similar personal  horror, about the -- accidental, yes, but absolutely foreseen -- "mass slaughter of the innocents" in Gaza.

A passage in a piece by Jerusalem Post conservative correspondent and columnist Herb Keinon opened my eyes further about what a "disproportionate" attack and asymmetry of power means here.   Herb Keinon writes:

Another problem facing Israel, according to Foreign Ministry sources, is that while
the world is being fed dramatic pictures from Gaza, there are few dramatic pictures
from Israel, and gaping holes in apartment buildings hit by Grad rockets can't compete
with footage from Gaza of crying children splattered in blood.

Well.  Hmm.  Now.  Am I now supposed to be closer to an understanding?

Another instance of disproportion: The liberal Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz sometimes displays photos of Israeli victims of "shock” and destroyed walls or roofs in Sderot and Askelon.  These acts by Hamas are unacceptable and worse -- they are war crimes --  but the pictures from Gaza remain extraordinarily more horrific and disturbing, and Haaretz hasn't displayed these photos as well-- mutilated corpses of children and babies, sometimes decapitated, sometimes with (and I hate to say this) with brains pouring out of holes in  their heads.

Next to them, there is simply no way pictures of healthy middle-class Israelis with destroyed furniture, or who are perfectly physically healthy but "in shock," can remotely compare.

All this one-sided display of photographs does is give the impression that Haaretz has not been reporting news, but posting pictorial propaganda.  And for those of us who have viewed some of these pictures, the one-sidedness of the pictures in Haaretz has served only to underscore the imbalance between which side is suffering from the actual blood and slaughter.

Why hasn't Haaretz published pictures of both Israeli and Gazan victims? The problem is that Haaretz may think it would look frivolous or embarrassing to publish a picture of an otherwise healthy Israeli woman "in shock" and a corpse of a Gazan child with, well, its brains oozing out.

Here are two links to photos of some of these atrocities -- to some of the worst pictures coming out of Gaza.  WARNING to readers. They might take some readers and viewers straight to the toilet or a bucket.  They are EXTREMELY GRAPHIC.  Open only if one has a very strong stomach.  (And keep your kids away.)

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=bM4LuiusZzw&feature=related

www.informationclearinghouse.info/article21673.htm

The problem, inadvertently brought out by Keinon's words in the Jerusalem Post, is that Israel is an advanced First World Country, and has in the past 60 years displaced a Third World people from its indigenous land; that for most of the  past forty years it has occupied them in Gaza; that there in Gaza they remain stateless, powerless,  jammed and crammed together in one of the most densely populated corners of the planet,  impoverished to the point of destitution; and that large numbers of  them (and their families and children and grandchildren) still  languishing and stagnating in the same old refugee camps since their original displacement.  It is as if they lived (if it could be called living) in a sixty-year-old time capsule.

And a few miles away, in this flat land basically within eyesight of the Gazans, live the newcomers, on the Gazans' old land, some in their old apartments and homes, others on top of the Gazans' razed-to-the-ground villages, and in general in futuristic Disney World, a newly-created Silicon Valley adjacent to the tossed-out refuse and rubble.

And this nearby trash heap of Gaza is what Israel has been bombing with advanced First World weapons, even more "back into the Stone Age."

That is what the world sees.

And the reason Israel's public relations (or "Hasbara") cannot make much headway against the observation is that Israel just cannot counter its simple basic and striking and unpalatable and sordid truth.

Gazans are still angry at Israel at the forty years of displacement, refugeeship and  occupation.  Why shouldn't they be?  Just as many Jews around the world  understandably identify with Israelis (though many don't), so the Gazans  understandably identify with the rest of the Palestinians on the West Bank  and in East Jerusalem, likewise largely displaced, in refugee camps, divided  into military zones, using different license plates and roads and with different voting rights, filled now with 500,000 new settlers from Israel  who have come into the last 20% remnant remaining for a homeland for  Palestinians in historical and traditional Palestine, and the Palestinians'  home massively demolished while the Israelis build and build and build on  their last remnant of land.

Why shouldn't the Gazans identify with their brothers and sisters, again the same way Jews the world over often and understandably do with their fellows in Israel?

We are told that Israel has the right to self-defense the way, in the example often used, England did against Nazi Germany. But the example is not realistic.  It is too abstract.  The reality is more this along these lines, changing the analogy considerably:

Suppose Germany had been under English military occupation for 40 years. And Germany was destitute, tiny, jam-packed-overpopulated, and filled to bursting with refugee camps filled to bursting with refugees who had been forcibly expelled from England. And the English people had newly come and forcibly seized the British Isles, displaced in general as many as possible of the English people to miniscule "Germany", which was a trapped hell-hole from which there was no escape. And that unlike the English, the exiled indigenous refugees from England, now trapped in "Germany,"  were without any state, protection, or freedom of movement, and jammed together like sardines, filthy-poor, primitive, and hopeless. That is the reality.

If Israeli's often-used "World War II analogy" made any sense, then... that is the jammed and miniscule human dumpster that England would have "retaliated against."

Once I called it Switzerland in the Middle of Bangladesh.  But it is worse.
It is the Swiss who came in and displaced as many as possible of the indigenous Swiss into now stateless and overcrowded and destitute Bangladesh.

The Boston Globe recently noted that Israel has taken hundreds of "Palestinian lives, about a third of whom were women and children," and that this will "make it harder for the 22 states of the Arab League to keep the pledge of their Arab Peace Initiative: to establish normalized relations with Israel."

And there is where the Globe radically and precisely turns into reverse the order of events.

Israel could already, in the past, have chosen to end the conflict and have peace and security, by acceptance of the 2006 Arab League peace plan of withdrawal from Palestinian territories it occupies back to its 1967 borders. But, so as to placate Israel's 500,000 settlers it keeps in the occupied territories, it refuses.

I wish somebody could explain to me why Israel at least appears to prefer a continuation into the present-day of the current conflict to security and peace.  Even though this deliberate choice has now meant its slaughtering of scores of Palestinian women and children and babies.  And if this is not what Israel is doing, and preferring, I wish somebody would explain that-- what instead Israel is allegedly doing and preferring.

I wish somebody could explain why Israel at least appears to prefer the settlers and expansionism and continuation of the conflict, now entailing mass killing and slaughter in Gaza, to the Arab League plan for normalization and peace and security for all. And again  if this is not what Israel is doing, and preferring, I wish somebody would explain that-- what instead Israel is allegedly doing and preferring.

Once again. The way out is for Israel to accept the Arab League Peace offer.

Once again.  Israel's 500,000 settlers won't allow it.

And so the bottom line seems to remain, unless somebody can convincingly explain it differently (which remains possible), that Israel prefers a continuing so-called "managed conflict," one that factors in the possibility of the slaughter of hundreds of Gazan innocents, to having the decency and courage to eyeball down the settlers and accept the Arab League Plan and get normalcy and recognition and peace and security for all.

I wish somebody could explain to me-- not through slanders arising from disagreements, but rationally, what is wrong with this, my -- anguished -- present understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict as it now stands.


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