A few days ago, on July 31, 2014, the news on the situation in the Middle East brought to us by Brasil de Fato (“A popular” – or common people's ? – “vision of Brazil and the World”) was both disconcerting  and saddening. A day ago, the Israeli armed forces killed 119 Palestinians and wounded more than 500 human beings – children, old and young adults, men and women – in densely populated Gaza. Since the day when the attacks started, one thousand three hundred and forty-nine people were killed in Gaza and more than seven thousand five hundred were wounded.* Many of them very badly. Many of the wounded may still die. As in practically every war since World War II, the majority – today, the vast majority – of the dead and the wounded are civilians.

If we follow the news, we see the figures climb to new levels, day by day.

If we remember more than the last few weeks, we know that this is not the first bloody conflict in the area. Since 1948, many wars shook the country and brought suffering to human beings. Violence below the level of war was almost a continuous fact.

The Israeli armed forces suffered losses, too. The two sides engaged in conflict, the Israeli government and their armed forces on one side, the Hamas organization and a number of small, but militant  Palestinian groups on the other side, give us different figures. The Israeli side tends to downplay its casualities, because every Israeli soldier who died is one human being too much for the public that must be fed so-called positive news by the media, about a sophisticated, technologically and morally superior army of gallant, dedicated soldiers who wage a blitzkrieg and who suffer hardly any casualties. It is the same with US forces and US media in the diverse wars that country engages in: US soldiers must not be returned home in coffins; their life is too valuable. It is true –  even during the Vietnam war, army units risked a lot to pick up the wounded and to evacuate encircled comrades under fire by a superior adversary. To risk your life for a buddy is a virtue in every army that's not in a desolate state. The other side of the coin is that war planners in Washington gambled and lost the lives of a least 55,000 young Americans in Vietnam. In that sense, even American lives did not count. (Incidentally, and in fact, hardly by accident, the media in the West never told us how many lives were sacrificed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – both during the war, and as belated consequences, in the wake of it.)

The Israeli mainstream media and politicians copy the American strategy of giving the home public the image of a clean, good war – it's only the Others who suffer badly, and they are the bad ones.

If critics point out how many civilians die on the “other side” of the conflict, they retort that Hamas (and maybe it wasn't even Hamas in many cases, but the small militant groups not controlled by Hamas) killed Israeli civilians, too. How many? Five, since the fighting started? Ten? A dozen? It would be cynical perhaps to say that when dying they served Israeli war planners well, in “justifying” more than a thousand dead “Others”  and between seven and eight thousand wounded who “do not count,” because – the Israeli government says – they are simply so unfortunate to live close to the evil-doers who continue (for so many years, it is implied) to attack Israel. These unfortunate people were given 10 or twenty minutes or even more time to get out of their neighborhood, as leaflets were dropped. Too bad if they did not do it. If I would be a Hamas leader fearful to be a prime target, I would get out after the leaflets were dropped. If the pinpointed Hamas leader in that apartment house in Gaza was really the target, would not a missile or bomb be on its way without prior notice? Probably. There are those attacks without prior warning. Those who die in them – always many more than one “targeted person” – are “unfortunate  collateral damage.” We heard that before, when reports came in, about U.S. attacks in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Philippines. I don't want to be cynical; I try to be fair. Are those who talk about “collateral damage”  cynical? Is life so cheap? For whom? For the powerful.

Of course with the images of the wounded and dead coming in from Gaza, public opinion is not solidly pro-Israel, no matter how much Western governments and Western mainstream media try to influence us.

Human beings, at the core – most of us, at least – are humane. We are terrified when we see the naked legs and feet of a teenage girl sticking out of a heap of rubble, with a heavy concrete block on the invisible rest. We want to shut our eyes and look away when we see an image of a father holding in his raised hands the charred, coal-black body of his three or four-year-old child. 

No, I don't hold this against “Israelis” – and I certainly don't hold this against “Jews,” against those taken to be Jews and those (or should I say, or those) who see themselves as Jews.

I hold it against war, and those who command soldiers to go to war, and against the soldiers who go. I also hold it against those who are seeing themselves  – or who are seen –  as fighters but not as soldiers. They, too, shoot. And they, too, kill.

Every war is like that. We have to probe deeper than the images in the news let us see – in order to understand what is happening.

The suffering is plainly visible.

The causes are not.

To put an end to the suffering, we must grasp the causes, and find peaceful solutions.

I'm concerned when I hear friendly people in the United States or Europe say that they don't like that Jew-bashing, the rampant anti-semitism that resurfaces again with the images of Gaza victims and anti-war sentiment.

Are they totally wrong?

On the other hand –  Why are many of those who harbor such thoughts apparently so blind (or disconcerted) when they should be able to see what someone called “the disproportionate force” used by Israel to “deal with the Hamas threat.”

Is it a Hamas threat?, I even ask – not denying that rockets fired at Israeli settlements and towns do pose a threat to civilians and soldiers in Israel. Innocent, peace-loving people, maybe. People who may not concur with what the Israeli government does, maybe.

And yet I ask, pointedly, is it just a Hamas threat – to these people in Israel?

Is there no Israeli threat, and often more than a threat, but an actual wound, an actual death brought about, or a ruined livelihood, that threatens Palestinians?  Casually? As a customary practice? Day by day, year by year?

You see, I try to comprehend how both threats are interconnected, related, how – perhaps – they reenforce each other.

The parties opposed appear as schematic abstractions, which they are.

What is “an Israeli”? “A Jew”? “A Palestinian”?

Don't we see the rich diversity of human beings any more when we classify them and count them as members of a group?

And yet, groups are real – they are a sociologically comprehensible fact. Do socio-cultural traits define them? Do these traits transcend class-specific characteristics? How are we “determined” – and to what extent do we (creatively perhaps) transcend what determines us?

Does the look of Others define us – the hetero-image he forms of us? Does our auto-image, the view we have of ourselves, define an “identity”? What makes us an “American,” a “Protestant New Englander,” a “Muslim,” a Sunnite” or “Shiite,” a “Catholic,” a “Socialist”,  a “Believer”, an “atheist,” a “Jew,” a “Greek,” an “Israeli,” an “Arab,” a “Palestinian”? And so on. And do  such “identities” or auto-images respectively hetero-images overlap each other, at times? Can they qualify each other mutually? 

I admit that I'm doubly concerned, regarding the auto- and hetero-images that may circulate and play a significant role, in the context of the  conflict in Israel/Palestine.

I fear (a) – but not necessarily firstly, perhaps secondly – that there exists in the discourses (and thus minds?) prevalent in what we have learned to call the Arab World, something that may be correctly diagnosed as an – at least implicit, and sometimes explicitly emerging – anti-semitism.

It is  – if this perception is valid – a poisonous strain of thought (forgive the imprecise metaphor!) that was, so to speak, “exported” from the Western world (Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand etc.) to the Middle  East. In all likelihood this happened around 1900 or 1920 (when, perhaps, the first Zionist settlers arrived). And it got a boost, I think, in the 1930s and '40s. And another, since the Suez Canal Crisis.

I fear (b) – and not necessarily secondly – that among a considerable portion of the population of Israel, in other words, among the immigrants and offspring of immigrants, there exists something that is very much like a superiority complex: We are cultured – they are primitive. We are intelligent – they are much less so. We are refined – they smell. I abbreviated the descriptive part here, I just want to indicate a broad tendency that I suspect to exist. I even suspect that if confronted with this analysis, somebody who fits this description might say, “But it's true. Just go out in the street and see how they behave. Go to a sukh, and see the chaos; smell everything. They are primitive. Just look how they treat their women.”

I may overdo things here in order to make clear what it is I sense. It is the typical attitude of Europeans and North Americans, versus “the natives.” Whether they are Taiwanese farmers in the South Taiwanese back country or Bengali construction workers, inhabitants of a Brazilean favela, Congolese miners, or Zapatista rebels, does not matter. If we meet a cultured gentlemen from Kolkata, we treat him (almost) as our peer, and the Spanish looking billionaire from Medellin is almost certainly so internationalized and speaks such perfect American English and such bad Spanish that he can join the club of our “Western elite” almost immediately. The Nazis had one or two Jewish bankers they considered “honorary Aryans.” Europeans and North Americans, regardless of their diverse ideological preferences, are often not much better. If old-fashioned “biologically” (or biologistically) “justified” racism is no longer tenable except in the so-called “lower class” (a precariate that is kept stupid on purpose and that is fed a daily portion of racism by the yellow press and perhaps Fox TV and its European equivalents), there still exists a cultural racism, a way of looking down on other socio-cultures and assessing them negatively, as medieval, violent, mysogynist,  superstitious, lazy, and generally, in many other way, dumb, backward, offensive. As if all these qualities did not exist in our own socio-culture, and as if what is humane in our socio-culture, would not exist in other socio-cultures.

A binary logic that confronts “us” and “the Others” and that leads us to claim what is humane as inscribed in “our universal values” (which do not always lead us to humane action) propels a certain one-dimensionality of thought. “We” are only “this” – and “they” are only “that.” How stupid! And at the root of misunderstandings, or injuries, of strife.

Anti-semitism is of course no small thing either. Let me make quite plain what I mean by anti-semitism. Linguistically, both the diverse Arab dialects and Hebrew are classified as Semitic languages. To speak of Semites would normally mean to refer to groups of speakers of a Semitic language. In 19th and 20th century political or more generally, ideological discourses, however, the term anti-semitism simply implies a negative, prejudicial attitude (and often, also an animose praxis) vis-à-vis a constructed social group, “the Jews.”  

It was Sartre who pointed out that the Others make, create and define “the Jew.” The Prussian bureaucracy, in the short-lived German empire of 1871-1918, had its files – it listed your religion: Catholic, Protestant, Mosaic faith. It was as easy as that. The common people, those who were seen as non-Jewish, had their own hetero-images, usually amounting to no more than a  prejudice.  The poor refugees from Ukraine or Eastern Poland who fled because of bloody pogroms were perceived as dirty. Well, refugees who arrive with next to nothing, often arrive in rags, regardless of background. The fact that media reporting gave prominence to bankers like the Rothschilds, the Oppenheims, and so on,  gave rise to the hetero-image of the Jew as a very rich, very successful, very influental banker. Thus the image of the Jew in rags and the image of the Jew as banker coexisted. The fact that, since at least Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, Jews could be socialist thinkers and activists gave rise to the hetero-image of the Jew as the source of “evil Bolshevism.”  Intellectual achievements of Einstein or Freud gave rise to the hetero-image of the intelligent Jew. The young female workers in the textile factories and the engineers were disregarded though they thought of themselves as Jewish, perhaps. Their class status (worker) or their tight connection to the sphere of production did not fit the pattern of prejudiced expectations. 

If Sartre says that the Others define “the Jew,” he makes a valid point. The Nazis had their files; the files said that your grandfather or your mother was registered by a Prussian bureaucrat as a “Jew.” It was easy for them to mechanically classify people as 100 percent Jewish, 50 percent Jewish, 25 percent Jewish. If you were 25 percent Jewish you had no problem anymore, unless you actively opposed them. If you were 100 percent Jewish according to their logic, which was the logic of the historical record preserved by the bureaucracy, you were practically dead (at least since about 1940 or '41 when they increase the efforts to feed their death machinery).

Quite apart from the fact that it is sick to murder a person for whatever reason, I ask myself of course, what substance can be attributed to the bureaucratic records and the method of classification that was applied.

Who is a Jew? What does it mean to be a Jew – apart from the racist attributions, the hetero-images that seek to impose an externally defined “identity” on the Other?

Quite clearly, in-group-defined as well as individually constructed auto-images play  a role in forming identities while biologism (and with it, biological racism) is absurd.

If you look at Jews from Russia in Israel, how many are blond or red-haired and blue-eyed? The traditional definition that a Jew must have a Jewish mother never guaranteed a linkage to the people of pre-Roman and pre-Muslim Palestine (Judah and Israel). Much of this link, in genetic terms, is a myth. What is not a myth is the socio-cultural bond, the bond of the language and the religious tradition that kept an exiled group together, regardless of how much “genetic input”  there was from outsiders. All those groups we call  “a people” (peuple) today, whether they are Italians or Basques or Chinese, are defined by vague cultural bonds and, broadly speaking (in view of the different dialects within each such group), by linguistic bonds. Even more, they are defined by a shared history – often of suffering, of famines and wars endured, aggressions resisted, and so on.

If I discard the genetic factors, it does not mean of course that genes don't exist. But people mix. In Europe, for instance, there were waves of invading tribes and invading people who conquered, asserted themselves, and mixed. Elsewhere, it is probably similar. Unique genetic traits are best preserved in fairly isolated places, by people with little contact to outsiders. Peasants in traditional societies, unless faced with invasions and rape, remained more uniform genetically than urbanites. The Jews from Palestine were positioned in a corridor important for commercial exchange, like the Phoenicians. And when they were compelled, after their failed revolt against the Roman empire, to move to Asia minor, North Africa, Italy, Spain, Southern France, Dalmatia and the Bulgarian coast, I wonder whether they really did not intermarry. Even in the old scriptures, we find invectives against taking “foreign wives.” Not a particular Jewish trait, this warning: In Western European villages, young men can get into a brawl with guys from “the other village” if they try to date “their girls.” Catholic parents, a few decades ago, used to warn their kids not to marry a Protestant.  In China, a girl who may consider to marry a foreigner, might hear from her father that this man “is not of the same blood.” Prejudice – but also rejection of prejudice – is widespread. You find that everywhere, I think.

So what does this lead to? If a Jew is not defined biologically (despite the rule that you should have a Jewish mother in order to be considered Jewish – a rule that constructs a very thin, very theoretical continuity of Jewishness) and if he (or she) sheds his (or her) Mosaic faith, what remains? A socio-cultural identity, despite all? Which one? A North American identity, that of a New Yorker for instance? A Central European identity? The socio-cultural identity of a woman or man who grew up in a family of people raised in a city of the Maghreb, with ancestors who all lived in the Maghreb? Obviously, all these socio-cultural influences exist. In countries like Egypt, popular Muslim socio-culture impregnates, to a large degree, Marxist atheists, Nasserists, Sunnite merchants, bureaucrats, workers, fellachs, and of course the Copts and the few remaining Jews. You can't easily separate yourself from everyday customs essential for good neighborhood and swim against the current in this way, even if you swim against the current as an atheist in Cairo or as a Jew, in terms of your loyal bonds that connext you to the Jews in Israel. 

I think what makes contemporary Jewish identity (of orthodox and of liberal believers, of atheists, of the non-committed who don't even care to be atheists, of intellectuals and those kept stupid, of the economically clever and the economically naive or dumb or untalented or those unwilling to make a buck...) is the faint memory of ancestor being exposed to discrimination, Christian anti-judaism, the inquisition and its penchant to burn people alive, the ghettos, the pogroms. And then, the much more acute memory of the genocide committed by I don't  what kind of people in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied territories.

I think that Palestinians who want to understand the situation of Jews in Israel should be aware of that. I can't say to what extent traumas are really passed on to more than just one generation, but I suspect it can very well be the case. Family history and in-group discourse shapes collective memory. Recent genetical research claims that the “physiological memory” of trauma is transmitted inter-generationally by DNA. If confirmed, this is not only interesting for offspring of American GIs who came back traumatized, from the war in Vietnam –  or for children and grandchildren  of Vietnamese who were subjected to an inhumane effort to “bomb their country back to the stone age.” It is vital knowledge for those traumatised due to the fact that their parents, or aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers perished in the Nazi death camps.

There is something else that I would wish Palestinians would understand a bit better. It is the fact that perhaps Jewish settlers arriving in Palestine in the 1920s and 30s were, in part, filled with the typical spirit of Europeans who would think of themselves as representatives of a superb, very advanced, very modern civilization, while encountering “primitive backwardness.” 

But the people who arrived since 1933 were trying to save their skin. The United States practically closed the door, leaving only a narrow slit open for the privileged few. During the war, Switzerland extradited Jews when they crossed the Swiss border illegally. There was hardly a place that welcomed fleeing people persecuted by Hitler Germany as Jews.

Those who survived the death camps were kept behind barbed wire in Germany by the British occupation authorities. Supposedly in order to protect them. In fact in order to keep them from emigrating to Palestine.

In 1948 or '49 – I don't remember it accurately – Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide still lived in Bergen-Belsen, for instance. They had wooden barracks. THEY SLEPT IN STORY-BEDS – almost the same kind of bunks they had in Auschwitz or in the Bergen-Belsen death camp before the arrival of the allies. They closed their door carefully at night.

The only difference was that now, three or four years after their liberation,  they slept in the clean, sturdier barracks of the guards and torturers, in another part of the old death camp. Yugoslav volunteers of the British army who did not want to return to Yugoslavia, presumably because they were anti-communists, were supposed to guard their Jewish comrades. Parcels arrived for some, from relatives in the US or from Jewish organizations in that country. Typically, nylon stockings. They could be used for barter, on the black market, in order to buy food. Or save a little money, because almost everyone dreamed of leaving damn old Germany, that place of horrors, and go to Palestine.

The dream to return is an old dream of this widely dispersed group. For centuries it had a transcendental, spiritual significance – like the love for an unattainable woman that only gets stronger, or that lasts, at least, while you know you will never marry her.

I think that the Palastinian brothers and sisters of all the Jews who went to Palestine should know that.

In the end, we are all humans, with our insufficiencies, our faults, our lovable qualities. All of us are – :  Palestinans and Jews and Greeks and Chinese, Native Americans and the sisters and brothers deported as slaves to the Americas, and their offspring, and their distant relatives who stayed behind in mother Africa.

I have said so much about some of the things I feel Palestinans should know about, to understand Jews in Israel.

Yes, they should understand their suffering. The traumas. The insecurities inside that some try to hide behind the mask of tough American warriors, I don't know out of which movie or computer game.

You find the same types among Palestinians, too. Rambos – who have a lot of pent-up, yet distorted emotion inside, and who were not encouraged enough, as children, to love, and to learn, and to be curious – also for others.

The Israelis, as occupiers, certainly did not encourage them. Or love them, for that matter. Did they ask how somebody feels when you drive him from his land?

Settlers from Europe almost always came as colonizers: In North America, in South and Central America including the Carribean, in Africa, in Oceania. Ask the Maoris or Australian aborigines how they felt, dear soldier serving in the Israeli Defense force. Ask the Guarani, in Brazil and Paraguay, or the Hopi in Arizona. Do you treat the Palestinians like that? Do you look at them like that? Did your folks take their land, very much in the same way? Ah, your grandparents bought vast plots with Rothschild money from some Aga, before they evicted the peasants? Would you like to be evicted? Can money buy everything, even your hometown, your street, the house you grew up in?



Frankly speaking, I think there are different attitudes that can color the relations between newly arriving persons and locals.

One attitude that I cherish is hospitality. It is an old virtue, and certainly was not foreign to Arabs, to Palestinians. Neither was it foreign to Greeks, or to native American peoples.

You shelter the refugee. You are hospitable to the visitor. You do not expect him to stay forever. This was a custom in societies for centuries. Scarcity of land was the rule, and scarcity of food. An invasion of thousands and thousands never was welcome.

Today, industrial dynamics and their effects,  the global capitalist market logic and its effects, have wrought havoc in many parts of the world, setting loose considerable “waves” of refugees.

The rich countries today share a human responsibility to open their gates wide. The productivity of industry allows us to cope with the problems of scarcity. There is no longer any justification to reject those who need help; if we help we do not risk our own survival.

But, I say, if a Palestinian thinks it is normal that he can make a home in practically every part of the world, should he not grant the same right to his brother and sister who feels lost in lands that tolerated or that actively carried out genocide? DO BORDERS STILL HAVE THAT ABSOLUTE VALIDITY THAT THEY JUSTIFY KEEPING PEOPLE “OUT OF OUR LAND”?

On the other hand, it is now the Israelis who have taken possession of lands that they claim as their mythical “promised heritage.” As understandable and likable as such myth is, as long as you are DISPERSED IN THE WIDE WORLD, it ceases to be a humane and likable attitude if it makes you an egotist who pushes “the Others” out of HIS heritage, his home, his native land.

I know that in the 1930s, in Cairo, there were those who looked toward Hitler Germany as possible liberators from British colonial rule.

I am saddened when I think of the Nasserists in the 1950s, so-called socialists who did not regret a bit that Jewish-Egyptian founders of the Egyptian communist party were hanged, as untrustworthy potential members of Israels's Fifth Column.

I know there exists idealism, there exists realism, in people.

So-called realism can make us myopic, if not truly blind.

So-called idealism, if it is merely human kindness, can grasp realities much better at times.

Yes, I know that the refugees arriving from Europe were not welcome in Palestine, with few exceptions, during the bitter period of 1933 - 1949.

I know that Jewish-Israeli determination to create a Jewish rather than “multicultural” (I refuse to say multi-ethnic) state was not the only reason of the war that broke out.

Arab Palestinians were just as stubborn in their refusal to live together with the “Others.”

Two cultures, two eras almost, collided. But the civilization shock, if that is what it was, that arriving European Jews and native Arab Palestinans mutually produced in the “Other”  CAN DWINDLE AND FADE AWAY. Both socio-cultures are cultures of the 21st century, by now. And we must learn to respect difference and enjoy cultural exchange and live together.

Today, there is no longer the genuine, widespread wish to “throw Israelis into the sea” – there is a longing, in Palestinians, for a normal, peaceful life, in dignity and without fear. I think, basically, Jewish and Arab Israelis desire it, too. Learn, sisters – learn, brothers, to live together in peace. And discard the borders, the wall, the checkpoints. Meet, shake hands, get to know each other as human beings with similar needs, with beautiful hopes.

Wounds, traumas, can install fear, and lead to pessimistic, so-called realist world views. It was true of Jews in Europe, and increasingly becomes true of bombed people in Gaza.

The experience of suffering injustice can lead to resentment. It was true of Palestinians forced to leave their homes and their land.

With every death that one inflicts on the other (and both sides have done it, though not in comparable quantity), thirst for revenge and hatred can be awakened.

Fear, overly pessimist views, resentment, thirst for revenge, hate are negative feelings. THEY WOUND THOSE WHO HARBOR THEM. And both fear and hate can lead them on a road of violence.

I know that there is also a geo-political frame of reference. And that economic interests play a role. This matters for the powerful, those who hold political office, those who run corporations and own stocks.

For the common people, these things are of the sort which they can overcome because they have, after all, no genuine, humane stake in them.

It is the wounds, the negative feelings that possess them.

There exists no “natural law” which determines that we cannot overcome such negativity, that we cannot overcome what separates us from “the Other” – who is, after all, not so very much different from us.

That she or he is a little different, is something we should love and respect, discovering its beauty.  

                                         July 5, 2014

– Alicia Zukofsky 

* Source: Editorial staff, “Dia mais sangrento da ofensiva israelense deixa 119 mortos e 500 feridos em Gaza” [The Bloodiest Day of the Israeli Offensive Causes 119 Deaths and 500 Wounded in Gaza], in: Brasil de fato, July 31, 2014

Go back to Art in Society # 14, Contents.


From:  ZCommunications ( 
Sent:   Sunday, August 03, 2014 2:01:26 AM

by Noam Chomsky


[...] The Israeli attack on Gaza in July did [...] elicit outrage in Washington. President Obama “reiterated his `strong condemnation’ of rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel by the militant group Hamas,” The Hill reported. He “also expressed ‘growing concern’ about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza,” but without condemnation. The Senate filled that gap, voting unanimously to support Israeli actions in Gaza while condemning “the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel” by Hamas and calling on “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.”
As for Congress, perhaps it’s enough to join the 80% of the public who disapprove of their performance, though the word “disapprove” is rather too mild in this case. But in Obama’s defense, it may be that he has no idea what Israel is doing in Gaza with the weapons that he is kind enough to supply to them. After all, he relies on US intelligence, which may be too busy collecting phone calls and email messages of citizens to pay much attention to such marginalia. It may be useful, then, to review what we all should know.
Israel’s goal had long been a simple one: quiet-for-quiet, a return to the norm (though now it may demand even more). What then is the norm?
For the West Bank, the norm has been that Israel carries forward its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value to it, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to intense repression and violence.
For the past 14 years, the norm has been that Israel kills more than two Palestinian children a week. The latest Israeli rampage was set of by the brutal murder of three Israeli boys from a settler community in the occupied West Bank. A month before, two Palestinian boys were shot dead in the West Bank city of Ramallah. That elicited no attention, which is understandable, since it is routine. “The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence,” the respected Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani reports, “but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.”
Quiet-for-quiet has also enabled Israel to carry forward its program of separating Gaza from the West Bank. That program has been pursued vigorously, always with US support, ever since the US and Israel accepted the Oslo accords, which declare the two regions to be an inseparable territorial unity. A look at the map explains the rationale. Gaza provides Palestine’s only access to the outside world, so once the two are separated, any autonomy that Israel might grant to Palestinians in the West Bank would leave them effectively imprisoned between hostile states, Israel and Jordan.  The imprisonment will become even more severe as Israel continues its systematic program of expelling Palestinians from the Jordan Valley and constructing Israeli settlements there, enjoying quiet-for-quiet.
The norm in Gaza was described in detail by the heroic Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert, who has worked in Gaza’s main hospital through Israel’s most grotesque crimes and returned again for the current onslaught. In June 2014, immediately before the latest Israeli onslaught, he submitted a report on the Gaza health sector to UNRWA, the UN Agency that tries desperately, on a shoestring, to care for refugees.
“At least 57 % of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 % are now aid recipients,” Gilbert reports. “Food insecurity and rising poverty also mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 % of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” a situation that is becoming even worse as Israel again attacks water and sewage systems, leaving over a million people with even more severe disruption of the barest necessity of life.
Gilbert reports that “Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering immensely. A large proportion are affected by the man-made malnourishment regime caused by the Israeli imposed blockage. Prevalence of anaemia in children <2yrs in Gaza is at 72.8%, while prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight have been documented at 34.3%, 31.4%, 31.45% respectively.” And it gets worse as the report proceeds.
The distinguished human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, who has remained in Gaza through years of Israeli brutality and terror, reports that “The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about ceasefire: everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better to just die. I am talking about intellectuals, academics, ordinary people: everybody is saying that.”
Similar sentiments have been widely voiced: it is better to die with dignity than to be slowly strangled by the torturer.
For Gaza, the plans for the norm were explained forthrightly by Dov Weissglass, a confidant of Ariel Sharon, the person who negotiated the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hailed as a grand gesture in Israel and among acolytes and the deluded elsewhere, the withdrawal was in reality a carefully staged “national trauma,” properly ridiculed by informed Israeli commentators, among them Israel’s leading sociologist, the late Baruch Kimmerling.
What actually happened is that Israeli hawks, led by Sharon, realized that it made good sense to transfer the illegal settlers from their subsidized communities in devastated Gaza, where they were sustained at exorbitant cost, to subsidized settlements in the other occupied territories, which Israel intends to keep. But instead of simply transferring them, as would have been simple enough, it was clearly more useful to present the world with images of little children pleading with soldiers not to destroy their homes, amidst cries of “Never Again,” with the implication obvious. What made the farce even more transparent was that it was a replica of the staged trauma when Israel had to evacuate the Egyptian Sinai in 1982. But it played very well for the intended audience at home and abroad.
Weissglass provided his own description of the transfer of settlers from Gaza to other occupied territories: “What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that [the major settlement blocs in the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns” – but a special kind of Finns, who would quietly accept rule by a foreign power. “The significance is the freezing of the political process,” Weissglass continued. “And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush's] authority and permission and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
Weisglass explained further that Gazans would remain “on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger” – which would not help Israel’s fading reputation. With their vaunted technical efficiency, Israeli experts determined precisely how many calories a day Gazans needed for bare survival, while also depriving them of medicines and other means of decent life. Israeli military forces confined them by land, sea and air to what British Prime Minister David Cameron accurately described as a prison camp. The Israeli withdrawal left Israel in total control of Gaza, hence the occupying power under international law. And to close the prison walls even more tightly, Israel excluded Palestinians from a large region along the border, including a third or more of Gaza’s scarce arable land. The justification is security for Israelis, which could be just as well achieved by establishing the security zone on the Israeli side of the border, or more fully, by ending the savage siege and other punishments.
The official story is that after Israel graciously handed Gaza over to the Palestinians, in the hope that they would construct a flourishing state, they revealed their true nature by subjecting Israel to unremitting rocket attack and forcing the captive population to become martyrs too, so that Israel would be pictured in a bad light. Reality is rather different.
A few weeks after Israeli troops withdrew, leaving the occupation intact, Palestinians committed a major crime. In January 2006, they voted the wrong way in a carefully monitored free election, handing control of the Parliament to Hamas. The media constantly intone that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. In reality, its leaders have repeatedly made it clear and explicit that Hamas would accept a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that has been blocked by the US and Israel for 40 years. In contrast, Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Palestine, apart from some occasional meaningless words, and is implementing that commitment.
True, Israel accepted the Road Map for reaching a two-state settlement initiated by President Bush and adopted by the Quartet that is to supervise it: the US, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. But as he accepted the Road Map, Prime Minister Sharon at once added fourteen reservations that effectively nullify it. The facts were known to activists, but revealed to the general public for the first time in Jimmy Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.” They remain under wraps in media reporting and commentary.
The (unrevised) 1999 platform of Israel’s governing party, Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud, “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.” And for those who like to obsess about meaningless charters, the core component of Likud, Menahem Begin’s Herut, has yet to abandon its founding doctrine that the territory on both sides of the Jordan is part of the Land of Israel.
The crime of the Palestinians in January 2006 was punished at once. The US and Israel, with Europe shamefully trailing behind, imposed harsh sanctions on the errant population and Israel stepped up its violence. By June, when the attacks sharply escalated, Israel had already fired more than 7700 [155 mm] shells at northern Gaza.
The US and Israel quickly initiated plans for a military coup to overthrow the elected government. When Hamas had the effrontery to foil the plans, the Israeli assaults and the siege became far more severe, justified by the claim that Hamas had taken over the Gaza Strip by force – which is not entirely false, though something rather crucial is omitted.
There should be no need to review again the horrendous record since. The relentless siege and savage attacks are punctuated by episodes of “mowing the lawn,” to borrow Israel’s cheery expression for its periodic exercises of shooting fish in a pond in what it calls a “war of defense.” Once the lawn is mowed and the desperate population seeks to reconstruct somehow from the devastation and the murders, there is a cease-fire agreement. These have been regularly observed by Hamas, as Israel concedes, until Israel violates them with renewed violence.
The most recent cease-fire was established after Israel’s October 2012 assault. Though Israel maintained its devastating siege, Hamas observed the cease-fire, as Israeli officials concede. Matters changed in June, when Fatah and Hamas forged a unity agreement, which established a new government of technocrats that had no Hamas participation and accepted all of the demands of the Quartet. Israel was naturally furious, even more so when even the US joined in signaling approval. The unity agreement not only undercuts Israel’s claim that it cannot negotiate with a divided Palestine, but also threatens the long term goal of dividing Gaza from the West Bank and pursuing its destructive policies in both of the regions.
Something had to be done, and an occasion arose shortly after, when the three Israeli boys were murdered in the West Bank. The Netanyahu government knew at once that they were dead, but pretended otherwise, which provided the opportunity to launch a rampage in the West Bank, targeting Hamas. Netanhayu claimed to have certain knowledge that Hamas was responsible. That too was a lie, as recognized early on. There has been no pretense of presenting evidence. One of Israel’s leading authorities on Hamas, Shlomi Eldar, reported almost at once that the killers very likely came from a dissident clan in Hebron that has long been a thorn in the side of Hamas. Eldar added that “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.” The Israeli police have since been searching for two members of the clan, still claiming, without evidence, that they are “Hamas terrorists.”
The 18-day rampage however did succeed in undermining the feared unity government, and sharply increasing Israeli repression. According to Israeli military sources, Israeli soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six Palestinians, also searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000. Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing 5 Hamas members on July 7.
Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 19 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext for Operation Protective Edge on July 8.
There has been ample reporting of the exploits of the self-declared Most Moral Army in the World, which should receive the Nobel Peace Prize according to Israel’s Ambassador to the US. By the end of July, some 1500 Palestinians had been killed, exceeding the toll of the Cast Lead crimes of 2008-9, 70% of them civilians including hundreds of women and children. And 3 civilians in Israel. Large areas of Gaza had been turned into rubble. During brief bombing pauses, relatives desperately seek shattered bodies or household items in the ruins of homes. The main power plant was attacked – not for the first time; this is an Israeli specialty — sharply curtailing the already very limited electricity and worse yet, reducing still further the minimal availability of fresh water. Another war crime. Meanwhile rescue teams and ambulances are repeatedly attacked. As atrocities mount throughout Gaza, Israel claims that its goal is to destroy tunnels at the border.
Four hospitals had been attacked, each yet another war crime. The first was the Al-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza City, attacked on the day the ground forces invaded the prison. A few lines in the New York Times, within a story about the ground invasion, reported that “most but not all of the 17 patients and 25 doctors and nurses were evacuated before the electricity was cut and heavy bombardments nearly destroyed the building, doctors said. `We evacuated them under fire,’ said Dr. Ali Abu Ryala, a hospital spokesman. `Nurses and doctors had to carry the patients on their backs, some of them falling off the stairway. There is an unprecedented state of panic in the hospital’.”
Three working hospitals were then attacked, patients and staff left to their own devices to survive. One Israeli crime did receive wide condemnation: the attack on a UN school that was harboring 3300 terrified refugees who had fled the ruins of their neighborhoods on the orders of the Israeli army. The outraged UNWRA Commission-General Pierre Kraehenbuehl said “I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces…. Today the world stands disgraced.” There were at least three Israeli strikes at the refugee shelter, a site well known to the Israeli army. “The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection,” Kraehenbuehl said, “the last being at ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.”
The attack was also condemned “in the strongest possible terms” by the normally reticent Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon. “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” he said. There is no record that the US Ambassador to the UN “choked up as she spoke of infants who perished” in the Israeli strike – or in the attack on Gaza altogether.
But White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan did respond. She said that “We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza. We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” she added, omitting to mention that these facilities were empty and that the weapons were found by UNRWA, who had condemned those who hid them.
Later, the administration joined in stronger condemnations of this particular crime – while at the same time releasing more weapons to Israel. In doing so, however, Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren told reporters. “And it’s become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life” – the high standards it has been exhibiting for many years while using US arms, and again today.
Attacks on UN compounds sheltering refugees is another Israeli specialty. One famous incident is the Israeli bombardment of the clearly identified UN refugee shelter in Qana during Shimon Peres’s murderous Grapes of Wrath campaign, killing 106 Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge there, including 52 children. To be sure, Israel is not alone in this practice. Twenty years earlier, its South African ally had launched an airborne strike deep into Angola against Cassinga, a refugee camp run by the Namibian resistance SWAPO.
Israeli officials laud the humanity of the army, which even goes so far as to inform residents that their homes will be bombed. The practice is “sadism, sanctimoniously disguising itself as mercy,” in the words of Israeli journalist Amira Hass: “A recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away.” In fact, no place in the prison is safe from Israeli sadism.
Some find it difficult to profit from Israel’s solicitude. An appeal to the world by the Gaza Catholic Church quotes a priest who explains the plight of residents of the House of Christ, a care home dedicated to looking after disabled children. They were removed to the Holy Family Church because Israel was targeting the area, but now, he writes, “The church of Gaza has received an order to evacuate. They will bomb the Zeitun area and the people are already fleeing. The problem is that the priest Fr George and the three nuns of Mother Teresa have 29 handicapped children and nine old ladies who can’t move. How will they manage to leave? If anyone can intercede with someone in power, and pray, please do it.”
Actually, it shouldn’t be difficult. Israel already provided the instructions at the Wafa Rehabilitation hospital. And fortunately, at least some states are interceding, as best they can. Five Latin American states — Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru – withdrew their ambassadors from Israel, following the course of Bolivia and Venezuela, which had broken relations in reaction to earlier Israeli crimes. These principled acts are another sign of the remarkable change in world relations as much of Latin America begins to free itself from western domination, sometimes providing a model of civilized behavior to those who controlled it for 500 years.
The hideous revelations elicited a different reaction from the Most Moral President in the World, the usual one: great sympathy for Israelis, bitter condemnation of Hamas, and calls for moderation by both sides. In his August 1 press conference, he did express concern for Palestinians “caught in the crossfire” (where?) while again vigorously supporting the right of Israel to defend itself, like everyone. Not quite everyone. Not of course Palestinians. They have no right to defend themselves, surely not when Israel is on good behavior, keeping to the norm of quiet-for-quiet: stealing their land, driving them out of their homes, subjecting them to a savage siege, and regularly attacking them with weapons provided by their protector.
Palestinians are like black Africans, the Namibian refugees in the Cassinga camp for example, all terrorists for whom the right of defense does not exist.
A 72-hour humanitarian truce was supposed to go into effect at 8am on August 1. It broke down almost at once. As I write, a few hours later, there are conflicting accounts and a good deal remains unclear. According to a press release of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, which has a solid reputation for reliability, one of its field workers in Rafah, at the Egyptian border in the south, heard Israeli artillery firing at about 8:05am. By about 9:30am, after reports that an Israeli soldier had been captured, intensive air and artillery bombing of Rafah was underway, killing probably dozens of people and injuring hundreds who had returned to their homes after the ceasefire entered into effect, though numbers could not yet be verified.
The day before, on July 31, the Coastal Water Utility, the sole provider of water in the Gaza Strip, announced that it could no longer provide water or sanitation services because of lack of fuel and frequent attacks on personnel. Al Mezan reports that by then, “almost all primary health services have stopped in the Gaza Strip due to the lack of water, garbage collection and environment health services. UNRWA had also warned about the risk of imminent spreading of disease owing to the halt of water and sanitation services.” Meanwhile, on the eve of the cease-fire, Israeli missiles fired from aircraft continued to kill and wound victims throughout the region.
When the current episode of sadism is finally called off, whenever that will be, Israel hopes to be free to pursue its criminal policies in the occupied territories without interference, and with the US support it has enjoyed in the past: military, economic, and diplomatic; and also ideological, by framing the issues in conformity to Israeli doctrines. Gazans will be free to return to the norm in their Israeli-run prison, while in the West Bank they can watch in peace as Israel dismantles what remains of their possessions.
That is the likely outcome if the US maintains its decisive and virtually unilateral support for Israeli crimes and its rejection of the longstanding international consensus on diplomatic settlement. But the future will be quite different if the US withdraws that support. In that case it would be possible to move towards the “enduring solution” in Gaza that Secretary of State Kerry called for, eliciting hysterical condemnation in Israel because the phrase could be interpreted as calling for an end to Israel’s siege and regular attacks. And – horror of horrors – the phrase might even be interpreted as calling for implementation of international law in the rest of the occupied territories.
It is not that Israel’s security would be threatened by adherence to international law; it would very likely be enhanced. But as explained 40 years ago by Israeli general Ezer Weizman, later president, Israel could then not “exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”