It’s fear of another Holocaust that has driven Israel to bomb the crap out of the Palestinians in Gaza — at least, that’s if you believe what you read on the New York Times op ed page. (Never a good idea, of course, because as I’ve previously noted, when it comes to Israel and related fear-mongering, there simply is no hysteria deemed unworthy of the Times op ed page.)
Morris, a manic fellow at the best of times prone to intellectual mood swings — having laid bare the ethnic cleansing that created modern Israel, Morris then didn’t as much recant as complain that the problem was that Ben Gurion hadn’t finished the job. And since the 2000 debacle at Camp David, of course, he’s been a de facto editorial writer for Ehud Barak, the failed former Prime Minister nicknamed “Mr. Zig-Zag” while in office because of his inconsistency — and who, of course, is the author of the current operation in Gaza.
Barak, never shy about spewing utter rubbish when his audience is American and prone to be taken in by demagoguery, last weekend offered the priceless suggestion to Fox News that “expecting Israel to have a cease-fire with Hamas is like expecting you to have a cease-fire with al-Qaeda.” Presumably it would not occur to Fox’s anchors to ask why, then, had Barak maintained just such a cease-fire for the past six months? And why had he been seeking its renewal?
But when it comes to demagoguery, this crowd knows no shame. Here is Morris explaining what he wants us to believe is the current Israeli mindset:
“Many Israelis feel that the walls — and history — are closing in on their 60-year-old state, much as they felt in early June 1967, just before Israel launched the Six-Day War … the Egyptians had driven a United Nations peacekeeping force from the Sinai-Israel border, had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and air traffic and had deployed the equivalent of seven armored and infantry divisions on Israel’s doorstep… Arab radio stations blared messages about the coming destruction of Israel.
“Israelis, or rather, Israeli Jews, are beginning to feel much the way their parents did in those apocalyptic days. Israel is a much more powerful and prosperous state today. In 1967 there were only some 2 million Jews in the country — today there are about 5.5 million — and the military did not have nuclear weapons. But the bulk of the population looks to the future with deep foreboding.”
This “foreboding” says Morris is based on the fact that the Arab world has never truly accepted the legitimacy of Israel’s creation (well, duh! Israel’s creation for Arabs is inextricably linked to the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees from its territory; a process well documented by Morris himself) and continue to oppose its existence. (The fact that the Arab world has offered a comprehensive recognition and normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for it retreating to its 1967 borders seems to have passed the historian Morris by.)
Then, he says , there’s the fact that “public opinion in the West (and in democracies, governments can’t be far behind) is gradually reducing its support for Israel as the West looks askance at the Jewish state’s treatment of its Palestinian neighbors and wards. The Holocaust is increasingly becoming a faint and ineffectual memory and the Arab states are increasingly powerful and assertive.”
Well, actually, as Avrum Burg has said so eloquently in his new book The Holocaust is Over, We Must Rise from its Ashes, it is precisely because of the Holocaust experience and the universal message of “Never Again” that the West today is engaged with human rights abuses everywhere, no matter who the victim and perpetrator — even when the perpetrators are Jewish. Again, though, the idea that Israel is being isolated in the West would seem preposterous to any objective observer; and the idea that the Holocaust is being forgotten even more so. (Clearly, historian Morris pays no attention to the Academy Awards.) This sort of silliness makes you onder if anyone actually edits the NYT’s op ed page. How can any editor even vaguely grounded in reality allow a sentence to pass that says “the Arab states are increasingly powerful and assertive.” Any examples you can provide to back this outlandish claim, Benny? Would the op ed page editors even think to ask? Benny Morris may be like your hysterical uncle making up his own facts to support unsustainable arguments, but he’s hardly the first to have done so on the NYT op ed page in the past year alone.
A little reality isn’t going to slow down Morris’ train of hysteria — Iran’s nuclear program and Ahmadinejad’s bluster about Israel disappearing “has Israel’s political and military leaders on tenterhooks,” he proclaims. Oh yeah? How come whenever they’re behind closed doors and not talking to gullible Americans, they let on that they know that even a nuclear-armed Iran represents no “existential threat” to Israel? If Israelis are on tenterhooks, it’s not the political and military leadership who understand the realities; it’s the public that has listened to its political leaders spin up an endless torrent of baseless hysteria about Iran under the absurd rubric of “1938 all over again”.
Morris’s menaces extend to Hizballah in the north with its rockets — which only seem to be fired on Israel when Lebanon is under attack by the Israelis — and then there is Hamas, armed to the teeth with rockets and ready to fight until every inch of Palestine “is under Islamic rule and law.” (Actually, Hamas has not even imposed Shariah law in that tiny patch of Palestine — Gaza — that it currently controls, so it seems to be making a poor start.)
You’d think that the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli casualties of the first four days of the Gaza offensive would give the lie to the idea that Israel is threatened with annihilation by Hamas and its rockets.
And then there’s the “internal” menace, Israel’s Arab population, which identifies more with the Palestinians, which they essentially are, than with the Jewish population of a state that offers them a second-class citizenship. (Go figure, eh?) Morris concludes by warning that Israel is feeling closed in by these intolerable menaces, and that the Gaza bloodbath won’t be the last time it lashes out. Sounds ominously like a threat of new ethnic cleansing, actually. (Actually, the “internal” menace that Morris doesn’t mention is the fact that growing numbers of young Israelis don’t live in Morris’s echo chamber of existential threats everywhere they look; they’re evading military service in record numbers and are, increasingly, moving abroad, having seen through the fiction that the whole world is a cesspool of virulent antisemitism.)
Essentially, Morris would have us excuse the bloodbath in Gaza in light of the specter of a new Holocaust. That’s a little deranged, actually. Cynically wielding the Holocaust as a cudgel to intimidate critics into silence, as Burg points out in his book, is a well established trope of Israeli p.r. But when a vast military machine is being unleashed on a captive population under siege, whose most militant members are lightly armed and try to make up in suicidal courage for what they lack in materiel, the image most likely to spring to mind is that of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Robert Fisk, in his own analysis, does something rarely found in the columns of U.S. news outlets: He reminds us who the Gazans are:
How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don’t come from Gaza.
But watching the news shows, you’d think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.
Now, when it comes to understanding and responding to the crisis, we have the comments made by President-elect Barack Obama last July in Sderot, which were widely quote in response to the weekend’s strikes:
“If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
I suppose the question I’d like to ask Obama, in the very Jewish tradition of asking how I would experience that which I was about to do to another, is what he would do if someone had moved his grandparents out of their home and forced them into a refugee camp, where he and his daughters lived, caged in, and were now being slowly choked of any meaningful livelihood, denied access to medicines, elecricity, even basic foodstuffs sometimes. What, I wonder would he do then? (He needs to have a meaningful answer to that question if he’s to be anything other than an obstacle to progress in the Middle East, like Bush has been. He may want to take a lesson from “Mr. Zig-Zag” here: On the election campaign trail in 1999, Ehud Barak was asked what he’d have done if he’d been born Palestinian, and answered without hesitation, “Joined a fighting organization.” A moment of rare honesty, that.)
It will be up to Obama, more than any other world leader, to change the morbid dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians — because it is a U.S.-authored conceptual approach that undergirds the current travesty in Gaza. I wrote in the National last weekend, Israel’s attack on Gaza was closely paralleled with the murder in Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold:
It’s not that Israel wanted to attack Gaza; it would have us believe it had no choice.
Like the Vicario brothers in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterful novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold – who believed they were honour-bound to kill Santiago Nasar for sleeping with their sister, and told anyone who would listen of their intention in the unspoken hope that someone would stop them – Israel, too, had been yelling from the rooftops its intention to strike Gaza.
…Just as in the Marquez novel, what propelled the Gaza tragedy forward to its bloody conclusion was that neither the Israelis nor anyone they told of their plan were willing to confront the absurdity of the ‘rules’ that made them believe they were obliged to spill blood. Israel claimed that it had no choice but to launch a military campaign that has begun with air strikes but will probably escalate to some form of ground invasion.
The context of the renewed rocket launching, of course, was the breakdown of the ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas in June, which expired last week. Israel set off the latest upsurge in rocket attacks by launching raids on Nov 5 which it said were necessary to stop Palestinians tunnelling under the boundary fence. But the ceasefire has not really worked for Hamas, because it had expected that in exchange for holding its fire, not only would Israel reciprocate but it would also begin to ease the crippling economic siege, the objective of which was the overthrow of the Hamas government. Israel insists that wasn’t what it agreed, saying it had offered only “calm for calm” – and that the same offer was still on the table.
But why would Hamas settle for a cease-fire that removed the threat of Israeli bombs, but did nothing to relax Israel’s chokehold on its economy?
…Israel has painted itself into a strategic corner – with the enthusiastic support of the Bush administration – by continuing its quest to reverse the choice of the Palestinian electorate in 2006. Even some in the Israeli security establishment recognise that the fundamental flaw in Israel’s policy over Gaza is its refusal to recognise political reality. “The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm,” Shmuel Zakai, former chief of the Israeli military’s Gaza division, told Israel Army Radio last week. Israel’s error, he said, was in failing to improve the economic situation in Gaza once the truce took hold, and instead maintaining a chokehold that worsened the situation.
…The US-Israeli strategy on Hamas in Gaza has been a spectacular failure because it is fatally flawed (by its inability to relinquish the goal of reversing the results of the 2006 Palestinian election by anti-democratic means). So when, in the coming days, you hear Israeli leaders claiming they “had no choice” but to go to war in Gaza, remember the Vicario brothers of Gabriel Garcia’s novel, who also believed they had no choice. And also remember that Marquez, in his book, blamed the whole town and its anachronistic codes for failing to stop a tragedy that unfolded in slow motion and in plain sight.
Israel is striking at the Palestinians to “teach them a lesson.” That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.
The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to “liquidate the Hamas regime,” in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a “moderate” leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.
As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.
All of Israel’s wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. “Half a million Israelis are under fire,” screamed the banner headline of Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth – just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation’s chances of living lives worth living.
It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.
Indeed, soon enough, this bloody mess will end in another cease-fire, having hardly changed the political equation in Gaza at all — much to the chagrin of the Bush Administration, the Israeli government and the regimes in Cairo and Ramallah who are quietly cheering Israel’s assault in the hope that it fatally weakens Hamas. That cease-fire will end rocket fire on Israel, but will also likely require the opening of the border crossings into Gaza. If so, that’s an outcome that could have been achieved without the killing of close to 400 people. And my money says that this cynical show of force by Barak and Tzipi Livni won’t even stop Bibi Netanyahu from winning Israel’s February election. The killing in Gaza, in other words, even by the most cynical measure, has been utterly senseless.