“He who lives on depriving others of light drowns in the darkness of his own shadow.”
– Mahmoud Darwish
As readers are surely aware, Israel has initiated a major military assault on Gaza, the greatest escalation of violence since 2008-09’s Operation Cast Lead, in which some 1,400 Palestinians were killed (among them over 300 children, and the majority civilians), 3,500 homes destroyed, and around 20,000 Palestinians made homeless, to name just a few of the human costs which accumulated over the course of those few weeks. As if to illustrate the reality of uneven power and disproportionate violence, 13 Israelis lost their lives over the same period. Many are referring to the operation which is currently underway, “Operation Pillar of Cloud” (a biblical reference to a divine cloud which lent protection to Jews), as a second Cast Lead. Israel has been firing on Gaza with aircraft, tanks, and naval gunboats, with ground forces apparently on standby. Figures are changing faster than I can keep up with them, but it seems that at least 10 Palestinians have been killed (including two children), and at least 100 injured. Lest readers forget (or for those unaware), Israel is bombarding a captive population – Gazans have nowhere to run to. Meanwhile, the Obama administration – in keeping with the US policy of providing overwhelming diplomatic, economic, and military support to Israel, from which neither Democratic nor Republican administrations depart – has publicly announced its support for Israel’s “right to self-defense.”
In the US (and much of the rest of the world), the immorality of Israel’s current assault will be obfuscated with references to Hamas, rockets, Israel’s right to self-defense, anti-Semitism, and so forth (I write this, incidentally, as a Jewish-American who thoroughly condemns racism in any form, anti-Jewish racism included). But these tropes are merely smokescreens. Aside from the fact that Israel initiated the current phase of military conflict after a two-week de-escalation (resulting in the death of a 12 year old Palestinian boy who was playing soccer outside his home), the present operation needs to be situated in its broader historical and geographical context if it is to be interpreted in any meaningful way. Palestinians have suffered under the imposition of a racist settler-colonial regime for a century now, with ethnic cleansing beginning in force six decades ago. 800,000 Palestinians were dispossessed during the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), or what Israel refers to as its war of independence. Another 300,000 were dispossessed in 1967 with Israel’s expansion into what are now referred to as the occupied territories. In between these periods, and since, Israel has taken every opportunity to drive Palestinians from their homes and lands, in an effort to acquire as much territory with as few Palestinians as possible. Palestinians living in Israel proper are relegated to the status of third class citizens (below Mizrahi Jews), while those living in the occupied territories are subject to constant overt violence and surveillance (many other Palestinians are simply left to live in exile).
In Gaza, Israel has imposed a military siege and naval blockade since 2006 when Hamas was elected. Not only has this stranglehold prevented the free movement of people, it has decimated the Gazan economy. 80% of Gaza’s factories have closed, and estimates of the unemployment rate range from 30% to 50%. The problem of the quantity and quality of water is becoming increasingly acute, and at least 60% of households are “food insecure.” Nothing illustrates the cynicism of the siege more than the now famous comment made by Dov Weisglass, advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shortly after the siege was imposed: “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” To this end, in a manner reminiscent of Nazi or British colonial regimes, Israeli health officials actually formulated calculations regarding the minimum calories required to prevent the mass of Palestinians from slipping into starvation, and then used these calculations to determine how many truckloads of food would be allowed into Gaza every day.
So, yes, in this context, rockets are sometimes fired into Israel by a small minority of Gaza’s population. We can judge these actions as unethical or unstrategic, but the idea that they excuse the present assault is preposterous. One would be hard pressed to find a single historical example of an indigenous population subjected to the indignities and violence of colonialism which did not include some violent forms of resistance. Even in India, which the West loves to uphold as the epitome of “good” anti-colonialism, the resistance to the British included an armed force of some 40,000 in the form of the Indian National Army. A peaceful resolution to the current wave of violence will not come from the cessation of rocketfire from militants in Gaza, but rather through building mass movements for, and in solidarity with, Palestinian liberation through decolonization and the dismantling of the relations of domination, exclusion, and exploitation which currently prevail in Israel/Palestine.
A large demonstration is gathering outside, so I must leave this here. More later.
[update: pictures from the demonstration referred to above are posted below]