(I'll be talking about Palestine at the Taking Soundings meeting, Room H302, Leeds Metropolitan University Civic Quarter. Wednesday January 21st, 6 - 8 pm. Please come.)
The numbers of the dead don’t mean much any more. It was round about the five hundred mark when I realised the impact of death on my mind was lightening. There are pictures on the internet – burning half bodies, a head and torso screaming, corpses spilt in a marketplace like unruly apples, all the tens and tens of babies and children turned to outraged dust – but how many pictures can you keep in your heart? How much anguish can you feel? Enough anguish to mourn 500 human beings? And of what quality can your anguish be? Can it be as intense as the anguish a bystander to the murder would feel? As intense as that of a friend of a victim, or of a father? What about the fathers who have seen all their children burn?
I remember the days when I was outraged if ten were killed in one go. Ah, happy days! Ten in one go would be good. But of course, this is what the enemy wants: the enemy wants us to value Arab life as little as it does. It wants us to stay in our numbness, to descend deeper in. It wants us to forget.
I use the word 'enemy' consciously. I don’t mean the Jews, or even Israeli Jews per se, but Zionism, and therefore Zionists and their collaborators from all ethnic groups. Large scale Zionist massacres have occurred every few years since the initial ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, and Zionism has not been held culpable. Two and a half years ago Zionism murdered 1100 Lebanese, the great majority of them civilians, and Zionism was not held culpable. 763 have been murdered so far in starving Gaza, and thousands maimed, out of a population of one and a half million. Again, the great majority are civilians, and again, Zionism is not held culpable. In one incident, Zionist forces ordered a hundred men, women and children of the as-Samouni clan into a house, which they then shelled, killing 30. Israel has bombed Gaza’s university, ambulances, an ‘American-style private school’, residential tower blocks, mosques, students and shoppers in the streets, and schoolchildren on their way home. The murdered ‘Hamas forces’ include hundreds of ordinary policemen.
The first reason for all this is tactical. “For us being cautious means being aggressive,” an Israeli officer told Ha’aretz. “It will take many years in order to restore this area to what it was before. When we suspect that a Palestinian fighter is hiding in a house, we shoot it with a missile and then with two tank shells, and then a bulldozer hits the wall. It causes damage but it prevents loss of life among soldiers.”
This tactic is acceptable to the West so long as it’s not thought about, because this is the way the West habitually deals with non-Western races. It’s what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan; it’s what happened in the traditional colonial period. But it mustn’t be thought about, especially not these days when people like to imagine they’ve internalised the concept of human equality, because to think about it is to realise that it’s the same thing as ‘terrorism’ – murdering as many civilians as you like if you might hit one enemy operative – and that the only difference between this terror and the terror of the non-state actors is a difference of scale. Western terror, Israeli terror, is much much worse.
The second reason for such massacres is strategic. The Zionist bombing is often random and sometimes specifically targets places of civilian refuge, in order to show the people that they have nowhere to hide and to persuade them to turn against the resistance. Although Zionist terror has only ever solidified anti-Zionist resistance, the strategy follows an old pattern, from Lebanon and Palestine. Yitzhak Rabin ordered his soldiers to suppress the non-violent protests of the First Intifada by holding Palestinian youths down and breaking their limbs with rocks. (Rabin is the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize). In the Second Intifada, a high proportion of the unarmed civilians murdered by Israel were shot in the head or upper body. These include boys playing football and women sweeping their balconies. Extreme violence against civilians in order to influence political reality is a textbook definition of terrorism, so the Western and client Arab media has to keep blatant Israeli statements of this policy – such as Vilnai’s call for “a Holocaust” on Gaza or an IDF chief’s 2006 declaration that his aim was to take Lebanon back to the stone age – as quiet as possible. But the terror policy is obvious if you care to look.
Two days ago Zionism bombed one of the three UN schools it’s hit, and murdered 46 civilians who were sheltering there. Zionist propaganda is repeated in the Western media: Israel believed a Hamas gunman fired from the school gates. Even if the presence of a gunman could justify such slaughter, all the civilian witnesses say Israel's story is a lie. The UN says it is “99.9% certain” that no gunmen were present in the building, that it had informed Israel of the school’s co-ordinates and that displaced civilians were sheltering there, and that it wants an international investigation. But Zionism will not be held culpable. This was a war crime which made a day of bad news for the Zionist media to manage. And nothing else; as there was nothing else after the massacres at Qana in Lebanon, where civilians sheltering in a UN building were slaughtered in 1996, and again in 2006. As there is never anything else for the Palestinian people – the victims of seven decades of ethnic cleansing, occupation, apartheid and butchery. The Arab client regimes, the US, Europe, and their media, are complicit in this ongoing crime.
There is no peace process. There never was. When politicians repeat ‘peace process’ they repeat the incantation of a dream. They are bad illusionists. Yitzhak Shamir announced when he went to Madrid that he’d initiate a ‘process’ to last decades while the colonisation of Palestine continued. The Oslo process was one of cantonisation and pacification, not peace. Land confiscation and settlement expansion didn’t stop for one day. When Arafat was hurried against his will to Camp David (though Arafat was culpable of stupidity and greed for accepting such a ‘process’ in the first place), he was offered a cantonised sub-sovereign state on less than the 22% of Palestine stolen in 1967, with no solution for the refugees or for the ancient Canaanite-Arab city of Jerusalem. Israel would control water, borders and security, and it wouldn’t recognise responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of 1948. In return, Arafat had to declare the conflict resolved for eternity. In the West the Israeli narrative, as usual, has become an orthodoxy: that Arafat turned down a great offer. That the Palestinians ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’. O yes, the cleansing of an ancient people from their land throws up witty, polished phrases.
Another polished phrase is ‘moderate Arab state’. There are no ‘moderate Arab states’, not unless dictatorship and gangsterism are 'moderate'. Not unless banning Bibles and public floggings and the mass arrests of political opposition and the routine anal rape of detained young men are 'moderate'. It is time to speak plainly. Iran is in many respects a tyranny, but it’s far more democratic than any of the ‘moderate’ Arab states. Syria is a Christian as well as Muslim country, a secular and socially liberal state, but it isn’t considered ‘moderate’ in the way that Saudi Arabia, the home of al-Qa’ida, is. What ‘moderate Arab state’ in fact means is ‘client Arab state’ – a state whose regime obeys America and Israel in return for guns and money.
All the Arab states, ‘moderate’ and otherwise, have repeatedly offered a full peace with Israel in return for a full withdrawal from the lands captured in 67 and a vague ‘solution’ to the refugee issue. Israel has repeatedly ignored them. Hamas has said it will accept a settlement on the 67 border if the Palestinian people accept it. Hamas observed a ceasefire with Israel, and Israel violated it by murder and siege.
Israel is not interested in peace. Even these Amos Ozes and David Grossmans who are trotted out to repeat Zionist propaganda in a more humane tone are not interested in peace.
What, then, can be done? To start with, we can see and speak clearly. We can hold Israel, state and society, culpable. We can stop pretending that peace is on the cards. We can stop the charade of ‘recognising’ the apartheid state’s ‘legitimacy’ or ‘right to exist’. The Zionist state has no more ‘right to exist’ than the apartheid state in South Africa had.
Zionism is based on the premise that one people is worth more than another people, in currency of lives and comfort and imagination. Zionism says that one people’s dream justifies and even necessitates the destruction of another, inferior, people. Zionism is indeed, as the old UN General Assembly resolution had it, racism. Zionism itself is the enemy. The great post-Zionist Israeli Ilan Pappe writes: “We have to try and explain not only to the world, but also to the Israelis themselves, that Zionism is an ideology that endorses ethnic cleansing, occupation and now massive massacres. What is needed now is not just a condemnation of the present massacre but also delegitimization of the ideology that produced that policy and justifies it morally and politically. Let us hope that significant voices in the world will tell the Jewish state that this ideology and the overall conduct of the state are intolerable and unacceptable, and as long as they persist, Israel will be boycotted and subject to sanctions.”
Novelist and critic John Berger’s statement:
“We are now spectators of the latest - and perhaps penultimate - chapter of the 60 year old conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. About the complexities of this tragic conflict billions of words have been pronounced, defending one side or the other.
Today, in face of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the essential calculation, which was always covertly there, behind this conflict, has been blatantly revealed. The death of one Israeli victim justifies the killing of a hundred Palestinians. One Israeli life is worth a hundred Palestinian lives.
This is what the Israeli State and the world media more or less - with marginal questioning - mindlessly repeat. And this claim, which has accompanied and justified the longest Occupation of foreign territories in 20th C. European history, is viscerally racist. That the Jewish people should accept this, that the world should concur, that the Palestinians should submit to it - is one of history’s ironic jokes. There’s no laughter anywhere. We can, however, refute it, more and more vocally.
Let’s do so.”
27 December 2008