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The cacophany of justification and condemnation triggered by the Hamas attacks and Israel’s reaction has drowned out, at times, more authoritative voices than mine. Still, I think some things need saying or, if already said, bear repeating, such as:
- Indiscriminate slaughter is not a viable path to lasting peace.
- Any claim that Hamas had an iota of justice on its side because of Palestinian oppression only creates a rationale for more of the same. Any claim that Israel has the right to level Gaza to “finally destroy Hamas” is an excuse for unlimited revenge.
- The atrocities a people has experienced throughout history are not a license to inflict similar atrocities upon others.
- Whatever is happening between Israel and Hamas is shaped by other players elsewhere: bankers, currency dealers, arms dealers, intel agencies, oil cartels, military planners, high tech providers of the infrastructure of modern warfare, and heads of state. We’re all watching the play; backstage, the producers are busy figuring out how to manipulate the actors for their own profit. Meanwhile, the whole theater is in danger of blowing up.
Here in the United States, notions many of us once took for granted are dissolving in acidic acrimony. So here’s a few more attempts at cutting through some of the more offensive rhetoric.
- Condemning the savagery of Israel’s invasion of Gaza and Hamas’s savagery is both reasonable and morally consistent.
- Condemning Israel’s invasion is not anti-Semitic. One can condemn Israel’s actions as a violation of basic human values and values intrinsic to modern Judaism.
- Calling Israel an apartheid state is a call for reform, not extinction.
- Intifada means Palestinian rebellion against living under Israeli occupation. However one views intifada or the callow demonstrators calling for intifada from their college quads, it is not a call for genocide against the Jews.
- Israel is not a fascist state. However, like the United States under the GOP’s assault, it is not far-fetched that it can become one.
- Anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. have been increasing since Trump’s 2016 election. They are a very real threat to the safety of American Jews and the tattered fabric of our society. We have to be able to condemn Israeli policy and anti-Semitism without being accused of favoring one or the other.
- Israel has a right to exist. Every nation-state in the world, with a few island exceptions was forged by conquest, massacre, and displacement, and finalized by men in suits pencilling in borders on ever-changing maps. Israel’s nationhood was accepted by the United Nations in 1947 with the Soviet Union (artificial nation alert!) casting the deciding vote. It is as much a nation as the U.S., China, or any Islamic state. Severely criticizing Israeli policies is not equivalent to wishing for Israel’s extinction.
- Palestinians have the right to live free of confinement, imprisonment, and intentional deprivation by the Israeli government. They should not be subject to casual murders, destruction and seizure of homes and land, or the countless indignities that make survival so difficult.
Mutual blame, self-justification, and revenge can go on forever. We no longer see ourselves as blade-bearing villagers sneaking through the woods to attack the awful people next door. Yet we keep repeating the pattern using missiles, automatic rifles, ultrasonic bombers, and home-made explosives. Nuclear weapons remain the Godzilla in the room. Our “civilization” has bought into an accelerating cycle of slaughter, each new atrocity piling up fuel for the next conflagration.
Vengeance does offer a primal, orgasmic rush but the come-down drags us far lower than the highest high. America found that out after 9/11 was followed by 20 years of war fought in the name of justice and national security. In truth, it was waged for fossil fuels, revenge, paranoia, military spending, and power for its own sake. As American leadership did with 9/11’s dead, Netanyahu dishonors the dead of October 7th by using them as an excuse for his cynical ploy to retain power and fulfill his own warped vision of holy war. To regain the Prime Ministership he sold out Israel to the same religious lunacy we have in the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, et al. Israelis, supported by many sectors of the military, vigorously protested Netanyahu’s regime, a movement suspended in the wake of October 7th. One wonders if Israel’s lack of preparedness for Hamas’s attack ago was due to Netanyahu attending more to his crowd control concerns than Israeli security.
In 2018, Netanyahu began bribing Hamas, thinking he could block a two-state solution by luring Hamas away from working with Palestinians living in the West Bank. That same year, Israeli intelligence found documents that named the companies feeding hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas to expand its operations. The intel agencies turned the information over to the U.S. and top Israeli officials. With company names in hand, shutting off the flow of money should have been relatively easy. But neither the U.S. nor Israel ever took action. More recently, over a year ago Israel learned Hamas was planning such an attack but disdained to take it seriously, just as the United States dismissed the warnings of several of our allies’ intelligence agencies that the 9/11 attacks were brewing.
So of course the Palestinians must pay the price for these lapses. Never mind that Hamas will probably not be displaced, leaving it more entrenched than ever. If Israel does destroy Hamas, the next wave of terrorists will be as committed and violent as Hamas, with that much more hatred for Israel and motivation for revenge. Hezbollah, also backed by Iran and far more powerful than Hamas, looms over Israel in the north. If Hamas has proven this tenacious, what is Israel’s plan for Hezbollah? Israel has no rational endgame here. Eventual failure is certain.
But has Israel’s retaliation actually become genocidal?
Genocide is an attempt to destroy a population—defined by religion, nationality, “race”, politics, sexual preference, disability, geography—accused of blocking another group’s political or religious objectives. Genocide’s victims are the sacrifice aimed at masking the failures of those perpetrating the genocide. It always starts with a propaganda campaign aimed at driving the dominant population into a killing frenzy. The intended victims are progressively depicted as depraved sub-humans, beasts, vermin, and ultimately germs, pestilence and infestation. They thus must be expunged to purify the nation and usher in a glorious golden age. It never ends well for either side. Then it builds: a speech here, a beating or killing there, a few new restrictive laws everywhere. Gradually violent loathing becomes an axiom of state policy of organized assault on the rights of the targeted. Finally, it erupts into a full-scale campaign of death. The Holocaust was an extreme version of genocide, the goal being absolute obliteration of the Jewish people along with other groups—Romani, “disabled”, gays, leftists, Russians. But genocide can also refer to the effort to permanently shatter a population’s traditions and identity without necessarily wiping it out to the last man, woman, and child. Splitting hairs over whether this or that program of sustained destruction “qualifies” as genocide is a barren, distasteful enterprise lacking any moral dignity.
Nor does genocide require death camps. Massacres and exposing populations to unsurvivable living conditions are more common. Here is a sampling among countless examples: the Nanjing massacre by the Japanese; Turkey’s forced winter march of Armenians and Assyrians (accompanied by frequent massacres); the massacres of Jews and Slavs by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, which preceded and overlapped the use of death camps; European executions of hundreds of thousands of women—often property owners or community leaders—for “witchcraft”; the German confinement of Russian POWs in conditions meant to induce gradual mass death; Stalin’s starvation of Ukraine; Britain’s little-known two mass starvation campaigns in India (1870s and World War II); and the white man’s continual campaign against Native Americans. The African slave trade. The Balkans. Indonesia 1965. Indonesia in East Timor. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Pol Pot in Cambodia. England in Ireland. Pakistan in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Rwanda and Burundi. China in Tibet. Tamburlaine massacring 17,000,000 Arabs. Belgian King Leopold II’s 10 million dead in Congo.
The Genocide Club, despite being the world’s most dishonorable, never lacks for new members. Netanyahu and his supporters have joined it.
The majority of Israel’s citizens oppose the Gaza invasion. Yet Netanyahu’s government drives on, apparently viewing displacement of Palestinians as the primary goal. Displacement will result in more deaths through disease, hunger, and continued violence than the state-sanctioned military killings. Israel bombing the “safe zones” to which they urged fleeing Palestinians to take refuge reeks of genocidal intent. The recent slaughter in hospitals is sheer murder, accompanied by the idiotic excuse that “Hamas was using the facility” and “weapons were found”. This is an exact echo of claims the US used in Vietnam when we justified napalming and leveling villages by claiming a few Viet Cong slept there the night before and a cache of rifles was found under a hut. The ground beneath Gaza is laced with tunnels. There’s hardly a structure that cannot be accused of “sheltering Hamas” or “hiding weapons”. Those phrases serve as Israel’s glib excuse to obliterate everything in its path.
And yet, with a US election coming up that threatens to gut the Constitution, President Biden has incomprehensibly supported Israel’s invasion with extra billions in military aid so Israel can “continue to wage this war.” He refuses to urge a cease-fire. With only the feeblest of modulations, he has basically followed Netanyahu’s line. Biden is losing support among key constituencies by refusing to actively and publicly demand a ceasefire. Why defend a morally depraved policy that also shoots oneself in the electoral foot? It risks Donald Trump once again becoming president, a shabby, infantile, self-absorbed horseman of the apocalypse riding a painted pony on a carousel that goes round and round and round in his brain.
The repercussions of this war, as with Russia’s genocidal campaign in Ukraine, will be world-changing. Powerful realignments of wealth and power were already underway. Economic, ecological, and military volatility are at a high boil and public discourse is a mish-mash of sound bites, sectarian hatred, and paranoid fantasy. We cannot survive in this atmosphere. Hell, we can barely survive in our actual atmosphere! No nation—Israel, Russia, the U.S., China, Britain, France, the other 200—can long endure this downward spiral unless we work together to reverse course. However impossible such a reversal seems, especially in the Middle East, we have to try.
I would love to see the President of the United States come forward and present an overarching call to cease and desist hostilities, with a clear vision of why it is critical to do so along with a forceful invitation to leaders and everyday people to reverse our present course. Time is running out but as long as there’s a voice, there is also an imperative to use it. I hope someone, perhaps even the President, will use that voice.