Here’s my third post in a row on Israel-Palestine, and there may be another to come. I don’t intend to narrow the focus of the blog to one area, however important; but bear with me a little as I comment on the hypocrisy (briefly – several volumes could be filled on the subject) of Western responses to recent events.
Following the killing of 130 Palestinians in a week, more than half of them non-combatants, a Palestinian has shot dead eight young Israelis in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in West Jerusalem, the part of the city which was occupied in 1948. Not only has most of the Western media given this attack more coverage than the deaths of the 130 Gazans (there are many days on which the death toll in Gaza reaches seven or eight and the Western media doesn’t even notice), it has also described the attack as an ‘escalation.’ I won’t discuss whether or not the attack was justified or wise, but I will say that it was an entirely predictable and understandable response to the suffering of Gaza, and that to call it an ‘escalation’ – when the occupying Zionist army perpetrates such crimes against the occupied on an average day – is simply grotesque.
The yeshiva was founded in 1924 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the founders of religious Zionism. Traditional Orthodox Jews understood the term ‘religious Zionism’ to be an oxymoron; they believed that the ‘return’ to Israel would be effected when the Messiah arrived, that in any case ‘Israel’ signified a spiritual condition and not an armed state, and that until the coming of the Messiah Jews were commanded to live peacefully among the nations, to oppress no-one. The principled religious Jews of Neturei Karta, sadly reviled by Zionists, still hold to this position. You can see them on demonstrations for Palestine, hatted and ringletted, holding signs which say “Zionism is a Blasphemy against Judaism” and “Demolish the State of Israel.”
European Fascism destroyed the majority voice of traditional religious Jews and made the minority blood-and-soil movement of Zionism mainstream. People like Rabbi Kook were able to twist Judaism into a call for racial supremacy and the violent settlement of all of ‘Eretz Israel.’ Biblical texts referring to ancient tribal warfare were understood as literal contemporary commands. For example, Numbers 33:50-55: “When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan;/Then shall ye drive out all the inhabitants of the land…/And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land.” This is the ideology that drives the ugliest of armed West Bank settlers.
It is easy to see analogies with the worst forms of Islamism, which insist on literal approaches to sacred texts, which justify hatred of other religious communities by decontextualised readings of ancient battles, which have transformed Islam under the force of trauma and disconcertingly rapid social change from a spiritual and mystical tradition to a political programme obsessed with state power. But I digress. My point here is that while the British media refer to Mercaz Harav as a ‘seminary’, and the Americans call it a ‘school’, the term ‘militant madrasa’ would be as appropriate. The problem with this description is that when, for example, General Musharraf bombs a ‘militant madrasa’ in the Pakistani Tribal Areas, this is offered as a sign of his responsibility, political backbone and moral courage.
It is interesting too to notice the media’s ready use of the word ‘massacre’ to describe the attack on the militant colonist madrasa. Contrast this and the Jenin refugee camp, where a minimum of 52 Palestinians were killed in April 2002. A minimum of 22 were unarmed. We must assume that the rest were fighting back with small arms against the US-armed IDF to defend their homes and families. After blasting residential areas with heavy artillery, Israeli forces bulldozed houses which in many cases still had people inside, leading to claims that tens more corspes were buried for ever under the rubble. A disabled man was buried alive before his neighbours could help him out of his house. The Palestinians immediately referred to what had happened as a massacre, but the term was fiercely contested by Israel and its many supporters in the Western media – to the extent that many considered the word ‘massacre’ as applied to Jenin to be ‘anti-semitism’ or ‘blood libel.’
According to this logic, ‘massacre’ is what the Arabs, or the Muslims, or the brown-skinned, or the poor, do. Not ‘us’. When ‘they’ kill people, it’s called terrorism. When ‘we’ kill people, it’s necessary, unintentional, and legitimate, all at once.
People who don’t benefit from the power structure are never going to accept the definition of terrorism written by powerful states, that it is the political violence perpetrated by non-state actors. They are never going to agree that their oppressor’s monopoly of violence is morally correct. A better definition of terrorism is ‘violence aimed at terrorising civilians for political purposes’, in which case the US and Israeli armies do it better than anyone else. They blow up civilian targets, including buses and other civilian vehicles, and mosques and markets and private homes. They use missiles, tank shells, warplanes, cluster bombs, white phosphorus and depleted uranium. Despite their propaganda, they do it all quite deliberately. Of course they do: modern war involves murdering and terrorising civilians, full stop. You can’t destroy an economy and a nation’s political viability, or bend a population to your will, without murdering civilians. It’s immoral and unIslamic, but it’s modern war.
Calling your opponent a terrorist is, firstly, an attempt to make him submit to your violence and, secondly, a psychological attempt to deny your own criminality and barbarism.
Meanwhile, members of the ‘international community’ line up to dribble their bit into the spitoon. Brown and Milliband (who has family in Israel – I don’t think that should disqualify him from a position in the British government, but I’m sure a Briton with family in a refugee camp in South Lebanon or Gaza would be effectively disqualified) describe the militant madrasa attack as an “arrow at the heart of the peace process.” And what peace process do they mean? The one which takes as its definition of normality and calm the forty-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? The one which doesn’t mention the occupied Golan Heights? The one which has presided over years of continued land confiscation and slow ethnic cleansing? The one to which the war criminal Zionist Tony Blair has been appointed ‘special envoy’? The one in which the democratically-elected representatives of the Palestinians must not be negotiated with but imprisoned or beseiged? The one which was alive and kicking while Israel was murdering the poor and malnourished of Gaza? That one?
In reality, of course, there is no peace process.
And in Lebanon, because all of this has a wider dimension: on Thursday three Israeli planes flew over the south. On Friday two IAF planes flew over Beirut. Had Iran or Syria flown over Israel, we would be deep into regional war, with the American warships presently menacing the Lebanese coast supporting Israel’s glorious self-defence against Islamist terror.
Everyone should read this: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804
It is now mainstream news that the so-called Hamas 'coup' that took control of Gaza was in fact a pre-emptive strike against a US-Dahlan planned coup against the democratically-elected Palestinian government.
More on the fascist nature of Mercaz Harav here: http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2249&Itemid=404