Friday, January 16, 2009

Behind the Assault on Gaza: Views from the Israeli Left



The Occupied and the Occupier

Analysis of the ongoing Israeli military assault on Gaza from two Israeli journalists, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, who have been consistent in reporting the reality of the 40-year Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

The Time of the Righteous

By Gideon Levy Ha'aretz [Israel; 9 January 2009]
This war, perhaps more than its predecessors, is exposing the true deep veins of Israeli society. Racism and hatred are rearing their heads, as is the impulse for revenge and the thirst for blood. The "inclination of the commander" in the Israel Defense Forces is now "to kill as many as possible," as the military correspondents on television describe it. And even if the reference is to Hamas fighters, this inclination is still chilling.

The unbridled aggression and brutality are justified as "exercising caution": the frightening balance of blood - about 100 Palestinian dead for every Israeli killed, isn't raising any questions, as if we've decided that their blood is worth one hundred times less than ours, in acknowledgement of our inherent racism.

Rightists, nationalists, chauvinists and militarists are the only legitimate bon ton in town. Don't bother us about humaneness and compassion. Only at the edges of the camp can a voice of protest be heard - illegitimate, ostracized and ignored by media coverage - from a small but brave group of Jews and Arabs.

Alongside all this, rings another voice, perhaps the worst of all. This is the voice of the righteous and the hypocritical. My colleague, Ari Shavit, seems to be their eloquent spokesman. This week, Shavit wrote here ("Israel must double, triple, quadruple its medical aid to Gaza," Haaretz, January 7): "The Israeli offensive in Gaza is justified ... Only an immediate and generous humanitarian initiative will prove that even during the brutal warfare that has been forced on us, we remember that there are human beings on the other side."

To Shavit, who defended the justness of this war and insisted that it mustn't be lost, the price is immaterial, as is the fact that there are no victories in such unjust wars. And he dares, in the same breath, to preach "humaneness."

Does Shavit wish for us to kill and kill, and afterward to set up field hospitals and send medicine to care for the wounded? He knows that a war against a helpless population, perhaps the most helpless one in the world, that has nowhere to escape to, can only be cruel and despicable. But these people always want to come out of it looking good. We'll drop bombs on residential buildings, and then we'll treat the wounded at Ichilov; we'll shell meager places of refuge in United Nations schools, and then we'll rehabilitate the disabled at Beit Lewinstein. We'll shoot and then we'll cry, we'll kill and then we'll lament, we'll cut down women and children like automatic killing machines, and we'll also preserve our dignity.

The problem is - it just doesn't work that way. This is outrageous hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Those who make inflammatory calls for more and more violence without regard for the consequences are at least being more honest about it.

You can't have it both ways. The only "purity" in this war is the "purification from terrorists," which really means the sowing of horrendous tragedies. What's happening in Gaza is not a natural disaster, an earthquake or flood, for which it would be our duty and right to extend a helping hand to those affected, to send rescue squads, as we so love to do. Of all the rotten luck, all the disasters now occurring in Gaza are manmade - by us. Aid cannot be offered with bloodstained hands. Compassion cannot sprout from brutality.

Yet there are some who still want it both ways. To kill and destroy indiscriminately and also to come out looking good, with a clean conscience. To go ahead with war crimes without any sense of the heavy guilt that should accompany them. It takes some nerve. Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who preaches for this war and believes in the justness of the mass killing it is inflicting has no right whatsoever to speak about morality and humaneness. There is no such thing as simultaneously killing and nurturing. This attitude is a faithful representation of the basic, twofold Israeli sentiment that has been with us forever: To commit any wrong, but to feel pure in our own eyes. To kill, demolish, starve, imprison and humiliate - and be right, not to mention righteous. The righteous warmongers will not be able to allow themselves these luxuries.

Anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes. Anyone who sees it as a defensive war must bear the moral responsibility for its consequences. Anyone who now encourages the politicians and the army to continue will also have to bear the mark of Cain that will be branded on his forehead after the war. All those who support the war also support the horror.
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History did not Begin with the Qassams

By Amira Hass Ha'aretz [Israel; 14 January 2009]

History did not begin with the Qassam rockets. But for us, the Israelis, history always begins when the Palestinians hurt us, and then the pain is completely decontextualized. We think that if we cause the Palestinians much greater pain, they will finally learn their lesson. Some term this "achievement."

Nevertheless, the "lesson" remains abstract for most Israelis. The Israeli media prescribes a strict low-information, low-truth diet for its consumers, one rich in generals and their ilk. It is modest, and does not boast of our achievements: the slain children and the bodies rotting under the ruins, the wounded who bleed to death because our soldiers shoot at the ambulance crews, the little girls whose legs were amputated due to horrible wounds caused by various types of weaponry, the devastated fathers shedding bitter tears, the residential neighborhoods that have been obliterated, the terrible burns caused by white phosphorus, and the mini-transfer - the tens of thousands of people who have been expelled from their homes, and are still being expelled at this very minute, ordered to cram into a built-up area that is constantly growing smaller and is also under sentence of incessant bombing and shelling.

Ever since the Palestinian Authority was established, the Israeli public relations machinery has exaggerated the danger of the military threat that the Palestinians pose to us. When they moved from stones to rifles and from Molotov cocktails to suicide bombings, from roadside bombs to Qassams and from Qassams to Grads, and from the PLO to Hamas, we said with a whoop of victory, "We told you. They're anti-Semites." And therefore, we have the right to go on a rampage.

What enabled Israel's military rampage - the proper words to describe it cannot be found in my dictionary - was the step-by-step isolation of the Gaza Strip. The isolation turned Gaza's residents into abstract objects, with no names and addresses, except the addresses of the armed men, and no history, aside from the dates determined by the Shin Bet security service.

The siege of Gaza did not begin when Hamas seized control of the Strip's security organs, or when Gilad Shalit was taken captive, or when Hamas was elected in democratic elections. The siege began in 1991 - before the suicide bombings. And since then, it has only become more sophisticated, reaching its peak in 2005.

The Israeli public relations machinery happily presented the disengagement as the end of the occupation, in brazen disregard of the facts. The isolation and closure were presented as military necessities. But we are big boys and girls, and we know that "military necessities" and consistent lies serve state goals. Israel's goal was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world had expected to materialize once the Cold War ended in 1990. This was not a perfect solution, but the Palestinians were ready for it then.

Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.

In 1993, Israel had a one-time golden opportunity to prove to the world that what people say about us is untrue - that it is not by nature a colonialist state. That the expulsion of a nation from its land, the expulsion of people from their houses and the robbery of Palestinian land for the sake of settling Jews are not the basis and essence of its existence.

In the 1990s, Israel had a chance to prove that 1948 is not its paradigm. But it missed this opportunity. Instead, it merely perfected its techniques for robbing land and expelling people from their houses, and forced the Palestinians into isolated enclaves. And now, during these dark days, Israel is proving that 1948 never ended.

Read Amira Hass' excellent books, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land . The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she has lived and reported from the Palestinian cities of Gaza City and Ramallah.
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CHECK OUT THIS INTERACTIVE MAP OF THE ISRAELI
MILITARY ASSAULT ON GAZA.

(Thanks, Marc.)

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