|This is one world, after all
Recently, Javier Bardem, who signed a manifesto, together with a number of other artists, against what was called the genocide in Gaza, and thus against the attacks that caused and continue to cause so many wounded and dead in that area, stated that he “cannot understand this barbarism, even more brutal and incomprehensible considering all of the horrible things the Jewish people have gone through in the past."
Is it really impossible to understand the relation between the horrors of the past and the brutality of the present, the Nazi genocide and what many call disproportionate violence inflicted on Gaza's population? Perhaps it's for precisely that reason – the horrors Jewish people have gone through, which six millions did not survive – why so many of the subsequent generations feel, think and perhaps say, “never again will we be passive victims...”
Many, if not most of them know, in terms of stories told by the older generation, about this genocide. If the old ones are too traumatised and too obviously unable to talk about it, or if parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles haven't survived, those who belong to the next generation and then again, the next one, know from history books and by way of what the media say, about the past. And then, at least those living In Israel know something else: they know about the difficulties encountered by those who fled Europe. They know how the generation that arrived since the thirties of the last century, and even the one that arrived before that decade, experienced the animosity expressed by Palestinians – a very real animosity encountered by newly arriving “settlers” throughout the 1930s and '40s.
The older generation heard the statements
of people like the mufti in Jerusalem; they experienced the war in 1948
as life-threatening; they heard that “we will throw you into the [Mediterranean]
Sea.” And they experienced more wars. Always, they saw themselves
as attacked, and as simply courageously defending themselves.
And this is the history – not just the official history but, more importantly, the family history – that most of those who form the present generations of Jewish Israelis grew up with. It conditions their perception. They see even children throwing stones at their young soldiers as symbolic of their rejection, and as a threat. And they have nightmares when they think there might be a suicide bomber next morning, on the bus which they will use to go to work. Everything is a reality for them that makes the threat real and continuous. They live in this world where they feel that threat. And they tell themselves, as the preceding generation told itself, “We must be strong and vigilant. And we shall hit back hard.”
And therefore – with the exception of a few intellectuals who manage to escape this vision thanks to their ability to reflect on history in a more evenhanded way, and with the exception of children, mothers, and old men who have spontaneously befriended Arabs, and who crave peace – the majority of this group, which sees itself as a beleaguered group of people, does not see the suffering of the other side. Or if they see it, they feel that the Others have only themselves to blame.
Perhaps settlers in the American West felt like that, and saw “Indians” (that is to say, Native Americans) like that – dangerous, not ready to welcome them, murderous, uncivilized and barbaric. And rightly persecuted and killed for good reason wherever and whenever it was “necessary.” And this in the name of some “manifest destiny” – a belief system, ideology, or concept that meant for “Anglos” that they were chosen to inhabit the land between the two oceans that God had given them. Just like those who fled Nazi rule before 1938, or who survived the genocide, and then fled to Palestina, were filled by the “God-given promise” that “their land would be returned to them.”
There is another parallel: Many early arrivals in North America – people from England, the Netherlands, Bohemia, and so on – were persecuted dissidents in Europe – persecuted, usually, for “religious” (so-called) reasons. That is to say, due to stereotypes formulated and images formed about them by intolerant, often murderous Others.
It is something of this sort – irrational images of the Other, persecution that often was deadly – which made the group that defined itself and that was defined as “Jews” a group of often persecuted strangers in Europe. For centuries, this group – seemingly rootless, because driven out of many a country or forced to flee the violence of lynch mobs – was restricted to ghettos: sites that were places to retreat to, after wandering around in the countrysides as hawkers, and sites where an identity could be preserved. But the ghettos were also identifiable targets – of animosity, of ridicule, of contempt. And again and again, the target of those who would vent anger and hate, in violent fashion. The ghetto was a town within the town, a microcosm – and if it was not an entire neighborhood, a town quarter, it was “the Jews' Lane.”
Prejudice, for centuries, singled out “Jews” as different, as strangers, regardless of how long they made their home in Europe. In this, their fate or rather, history, resembled that of the “gypsies” or Rom. We know how much the image of the Jew was formed by Catholic and Lutheran anti-judaism: beliefs that projected everything negative onto the imagined “Jew” and everything positive onto the real Jewish prophet these “Christians” took for a founder of their religion, and a “son of God.”
The real people who knew they were Jews because the Others saw them as Jews, but who also knew they were Jews because of their customs and their religion, and because of the stories told about those before them, generations that reached back to mythical Abraham, did feel at home in the places they inhabited. The house, the tree, the garden. The smell of the flowers. The voices of people they knew. And yet they didn't, for they never knew how long they could stay – whether it was Sevilla or Lviv or Warsaw, or Vienna or Berlin. Or a small town, a village somewhere in Europe.
But who can feel at home anywhere? – in an unjust world, haunted by massive stupidity of those who are kept stupid, again and again, by the powers that be, the powerful who can order their subjects to kill, to slay you or burn you at the stake or throw your dead body into the cremating ovens of Auschwitz. Whether they are defining themselves as “religious” or “secular,” it is the powerful who decide so often who must die.
Today, no, since the late 1940s, for the first time since about two thousand years, there are also people who say they are Jews, who belong among the powerful. As heads of state in a State. The Jewish State, they say.
And people being what people are,
some say, the powerful give commands and the subjects, the citizens, do
what they are told. Most of them. Not all.
I have wondered whether Javier Bardem, whose concern I do not want to belittle, is right when he, like his co-signatories of the manifesto, thinks that a genocide happens these days in Gaza.
Is he referring to these weeks of bloody war, and to its effects?
Or to a broader, more long-term
Words like genocide and terror, or terrorism, have become politicized words, politicized concepts – and it has made them vague, imprecise, suggestive, and useful if one wants to stir up emotions.
Of course, both words, in their historical contexts, have fairly precise meanings. And this regardless of political attempts, including UN attempts, to redefine them and codify the new definitions as part of international law.
Genocide is the wholesale killing of a socio-cultural, linguistic and thus, so-called “ethnic” group, a group conventionally called “a people” or “a nation.” In the Western Hemisphere, “many” people or “nations” were so thoroughly decimated by arriving Europeans that they vanished, or well-nigh vanished. In some cases, remaining groups of such nations have grown again in numbers more recently – but the fact that genocide was committed, remains.
The Herrero nation in what now is Namibia was exposed to genocidal encirclement in a mountainous area devoid of sources of water, in the context of the suppression of their revolt by the German colonial army.
The Turkish army committed genocide against the Armenian population when that population tried to emancipate itself from Turkish rule in the aftermath of WWI.
Nazi Germany committed genocide, murdering the vast majority of European Jews – almost all those they could arrest, in the areas under their barbaric control. They also committed genocide by killing a large number of Rom. In occupied areas of the Soviet Union, their murderous policies verged on genocide when targeting Slavs.
By comparison, the attacks that cause so many civilian victims in Gaza (in what has been called use of disproportionate force relied on by the Israeli army in their attempt to vanquish the military arm of Hamas and to capture or kill Hamas leaders) do hardly constitute genocide, as such.
Barbaric as war is, and inhuman as killing is, it does not constitute genocide to kill 1,000 or 1,800 or even two or three thousand or 20,000 out of a population, in Gaza, of about 1.8 million people.
It does, however, violate international law to shoot at UN property in Gaza. And I would say, it constitutes a war crime to knowingly shell three UN schools that were known to harbor adults and children made homeless by attacks on other parts of Gaza. It constitutes a war crime if an army knowingly “knocks out” infrastructure essential for survival – power plants, water treatment plants, hospitals, and so on. The immediate and long terms effects on public health and chances of survival will be considerable. The destruction of a large part (some say, almost one half) of the housing stock in Gaza has made half a million people homeless in the course of this war. This, too, like the apparently purposeful targeting of civilians, amounts to a war crime.
What the war on Gaza is producing, is in many parts of the Gaza strip a wasteland. Troops of the Union relied on something of that sort – “scorched earth tactics” – in the American civil war when General Sherman's troops pushed through Georgia and South Carolina towards the Atlantic, and then further North.
Hitler-Germany's troops did that in the Soviet Union when they retreated, relying on “scorched earth tactics.”
UN forces, commanded by a US general, and mainly consisting of US and South Korean units, did that in Korea during the Korean war when they were forced to retreat from the Yalu to the 38th parallel. They may have done so already when they crossed that parallel, heading North to the Yalu River.
NATO planes did just that, too (though on a smaller scale, I was told) during the war on Yugoslavia.
The U.S. did it when they invaded Iraq to topple the government of a dictator they had previously befriended, Saddam Hussein.
And now, very clearly, the Israeli Defense Force has relied on that method in their most recent war on Gaza.
Regardless of the many precedents, it constitutes a war crime. Like Mr. Milosevic, the political leadership in Israel and the military leaders in charge should be required to face charges in the International Court in the Hague. Of course, we all know that it is extremely unlikely that this will happen. George W. Bush, and those in his cabinet responsible for the illegal war on Iraq will not face charges, either. Mr. Obama will not face charges, because of extrajudicial killings. The moral condemnation they all deserve will however be inescapable, at least in the long run.
The fact that even before this war rockets were fired, for reasons which the mainstream press prefers to remain quiet about, at areas in Southern Israel, is however a fact we must not ignore.
I have read articles by authors who tell me that Palestinians are making use of their right of legitimate defense, and that their struggle against an illegal occupation of their lands is legitimate.
The same justification – legitimate defense, in this case, against rockets fired by Hamas or Islamic Jihad or other groups – and assertion of Israel's right to have save, defensible borders, is put forward by the Israeli government and, on the whole, by mainstream media in Israel and the so-called West, with regard to armed conflicts like the present one, and with regard to the occupation.
A sober outsider will of course note that a few rockets fired now and then, even though they – sometimes at least – kill or wound an Israeli civilian, will not enable Hamas or the PLO or any group, or the Palestinian people, to change the present situation in their favor.
Neither will it be possible to change the balance of forces by terrorism, or by plain murder. In other words, by exploding a bomb in a coffee house, on a bus, at a bus stop, or wherever it may be, or by murdering a settler, a family of settlers, or three teen-age boys, nothing else is achieved than a hardening of the already hard prevalent sentiments current among Jewish Israelis (and their Western supporters).
On the other hand, Israel's government might order the Israeli army, navy and air force to carry out still more attacks on Gaza, under the pretext or for the real reason of “dealing with [largely ineffective, yet psychologically disturbing] rocket attacks.” Hypothetically assuming that each time such an attack occurs, a number of civilians comparable to the number of victims of the present war on Gaza is killed, a sober observer must point out that it will not change the situation in Israel's favor.
The civilians in Gaza, where the number of killed women, men, and children currently approaches 1,900, are dying for nothing. 65 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have also died for nothing.
If the problems that separate the two sides are unacceptable for both, apparently, another way of dealing with them has to be found.
While I say this, I feel also I must come back to Javier Bardem's charge of genocide committed it Gaza. Yes, apart from physical genocide there exists also something called cultural genocide. And this indicates that there exist actually broader definitions that need not be polemical and propagandistic. I have already asked what the process unleashed by Israel's government with respect to Palestinians implies, if we do not take a short-term view and concentrate merely on these weeks of bloody fighting.
What I recognize is this:
This policy of strangulation is the same policy that has been pursued by the U.S. and many other countries vis-à-vis North Korea and Cuba and to some extent, and with less success, Iran. It can result in famine, and it can have near-genocidal consequences. This is an objective fact, underpinned by UN statistics concerning, for instance, the extent of malnutrition and starvation among Gazan children. Whether we confirm this fact or not, should not be tied to the question of evaluating and thus, of defending or denouncing the affected governments. Populations are affected by embargoes – human beings. Exposed to a food embargo, or unable to pay for food imports, the population of Great Britain would starve, and a large number of them would probably die of starvation or related factors.
In the West Bank, life for the local Palestinian population is also made almost unbearable. There exist a number of reports that present detailed descriptions of the present situation in this occupied territory.
The safety concerns of most Israeli citizens and of their government are not to be taken lightly. But how can safety exist for one side, in the conflict, if this side insists on making life unsafe and utterly unbearable for the other side? Of course, many Israelis might say, “They are making life unsafe and unbearable for us.” This may describe a psychological reality. In material terms, this is of course simply an exaggeration. The unsafe condition of Israelis in Israel is to the unsafe conditions of Palestinians in the entire area as the number of Israeli casualties in the present war is to the number of Palestinian casualties. In Israel, we note an occasional, very rare onslaught; in the West Bank, death is very present. In Israel, there is a semblance of normal life; in the West Bank and Gaza there is the permanent impossibility to lead a normal life. It is made impossible by the presence of Israelis “security forces” and militant settlers who make life very insecure for the local population.
Under these conditions, an observer who strives to be fair and impartial, will have to ask the question: What is the reason behind the strategy which Israeli governments – consciously or not – have pursued and continue to pursue regarding the population in the factually occupied territory (the West Bank) and the factually externally controlled territory (Gaza)? Is it the goal to make life so miserable and so difficult for Palestinians that they will (a) cease to grow demographically, and (b) opt in favor of emigration (to the West and to other countries in the region)? Is the undeclared yet pursued goal to recoup “all of the land of Israel” – that is to say all of Palestine – in the name of security, and in the name of the old myth that the land was “promised to us by the God of Abraham”?
If so, more suffering and more war and following each war, more desperation among Palestinians, and more insecurity (also for Israel?) can be expected.
A humane vision would be different.
Both social-cultural and linguistic groups – the Hebrew and/or Jiddish speaking Jewish citizens of Israel and the Palestinians, who speak their version of Arabic (another Semitic language) are capable of such humanity. The question is whether they will be able to open their eyes and whether they will discover each other as human beings who are neighbors and who could well become good neighbors. In Tel Aviv /Haifa as much as in Ramallah. I can see no reason why Orthodox Jews should not rent houses fairly in Ramallah, and why a few hundred thousand Palestinians should not seek jobs and make a home in Tel Aviv. This is one world, and we are one tribe, after all.
– Nora Lang
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