Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The public debate about the Gaza attack engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, whose security and dignity are being threatened. This blind defense of Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians betrays the memory of those killed in other genocides, from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia. The lesson of the Holocaust is not that Jews are special. It is not that Jews are unique. It is not that Jews are eternal victims. The lesson of the Holocaust is that when you have the capacity to halt genocide, and you do not—no matter who carries out that genocide or who it is directed against—you are culpable. And we are very culpable. The F-16 jet fighters, the Apache attack helicopters, the 250-pound “smart” GBU-39 bombs are all part of the annual $2.4 billion in military aid the U.S. gives to Israel. Palestinians are being slaughtered with American-made weapons. They are being slaughtered by an Israeli military we lavishly bankroll. But perhaps our callous indifference to human suffering is to be expected. We, after all, kill women and children on an even vaster scale in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bloody hands of Israel mirror our own.

There will be more dead Palestinian children. There will be more cases like that of the U.N. school, used as a sanctuary by terrified families, that was blown to bits by Israeli shells, with more than 40 killed, half of them women and children. There will be more emaciated, orphaned children. There will be more screaming or comatose wounded in the corridors of Gaza’s glutted hospital corridors. And there will be more absurd news reports, like the one on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, titled “A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery.” In this story, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials gave us a spin on the war worthy of the White House fabrications made on the eve of the Iraq war. We learned about the perfidious and dirty tactics of Hamas fighters. Foreign journalists, barred from Gaza and unable to check the veracity of the Israeli version of the war, have abandoned their trade as reporters to become stenographers. The cynicism of conveying propaganda as truth, as long as it is well sourced, is the poison of American journalism. If this is all journalism has become, if moral outrage, the courage to defy the powerful, the commitment to tell the truth and to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice, no longer matters, our journalism schools should focus exclusively on shorthand. It seems to be the skill most ardently coveted by most senior editors and news producers.

There have always been powerful Israeli leaders, since the inception of the state in 1948, who have called for the total physical removal of the Palestinians. The ethnic cleansing of some 800,000 Palestinians by Jewish militias in 1948 was, for them, only the start. But there were also a few Israeli leaders, including the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who argued that Israel could not pick itself up and move to another geographical spot on the globe. Israel, Rabin believed, would have to make peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors to survive. Rabin’s vision of two states, however, appears to have died with him. The embrace of wholesale ethnic cleansing by the Israeli leadership and military now appears to be unquestioned.

“It seems,” the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe wrote recently, “that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system. ... Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology—in its most consensual and simplistic variety—has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide]. …”

Gaza has descended into chaos. Hamas, which despite Israeli propaganda has never mustered the sustained resistance Hezbollah carried out during the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon, will be ruled in the future by antagonistic bands of warlords, clans and mafias. Gaza will resemble Somalia. And out of that power vacuum will rise a new generation of angry jihadists, many of whom may spurn Hamas for more radical organizations. Al-Qaida, which has been working to gain a foothold in Gaza, may now have found its opening.

“Hamas will win the war, no matter what happens,” Avnery said. “They will be considered by hundreds of millions of Arabs heroes who have recovered the dignity and pride of Arab nations. If at the end of the war they are still standing in Gaza this will be a huge victory for them, to hold out against this huge Israeli army and firepower will be an incredible achievement. They will gain even more than Hezbollah did during the last war.”

Israel operates under the illusion that it can crush Hamas and install a quisling Palestinian government in Gaza and the West Bank. This puppet government will be led, Israel believes, by the discredited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, now cowering in the West Bank after being driven out of Gaza. Abbas, like most of the corrupt Fatah leadership, is a detested figure. He is dismissed as the Marshal P├ętain of the Palestinian people, or perhaps the Hamid Karzai or the Nouri al-Maliki. He is as loathed as he is powerless.

Israel’s destruction of Hamas and reoccupation of Gaza will not bring peace or security to Israel. It will merely obliterate the only internal organization with enough stature and authority in Gaza to maintain order. The Israeli assault, by destroying Hamas as a governing force, has opened a Pandora’s box of ills. Life will become a nightmare for most Palestinians and, in the years ahead, for most Israelis.

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