It Was Self-Defense
You never want to, you just have to.
In 1984, Thought Policeman Netanyahu says:
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever…the face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again."
The world Orwell imagined, in which our reality would be the product of a state/economic/media Ghidorah of absolute dominance is here. In Orwell’s future, or our past and present, fear, and destruction of the enemy are the main motivators for society. But the most powerful instigators are our fixations, and how we allow them to define ourselves.
We all have fetishes. We think of them as fuel and engine in one: why and how we live our lives. A fetish is just inspiration for life. For most they manifest in banalities such as love, or career. In others, the fetish is pursuit through fruitless quests for abstractions of happiness, meaning, or purpose. But:
"The individual is only a cell…and the weariness of the cell is the vigor of the organism.”
As the world teems, and we desperately scramble to see its every minute detail recorded and refracted, each individual life and death becomes that much less significant. Unless it’s purposed by something larger, or captures us collectively, does it matter? If a forest isn’t under surveillance, does…it’s the fear that drives terrorists and reality show contestants alike, it’s what makes us fixate: we must be distinct from the organism.
What else is there? Significance is elusive, and it’s achieved through effort, drive and repetition. We are patterned, mannered animals, and our desires manifest in the impossible and intangible. Whatever our goals, we place emphasis in results over process: an endless loop of I-will-do-this-so-I-can-get-this that we call life. It’s what we know, it’s what we’re comfortable with, and it’s how we perceive reality. Too many never learn that seeking a result in and of itself doesn’t offer satisfaction. When you achieve it, either you move onto the next, or, habitually, you look to repeat. As in, I’ve become the best sculptor I can be; now let me try painting. Or, now that I’ve won the championship, let me win some more. The result in itself doesn’t bring satisfaction. Life is not a means to an end. Life is the means.
For too many Israelis, especially those in power, this fixation paradox manifests itself in the systematic oppression and murder of Palestinians. The fantasized results of this genocidal lust: to keep the Jews alive and well in their nation. Israel is necessary because it allows an endangered species an opportunity to live free of persecution in a world that seeks to destroy it. In order to survive, Jews must marry Jews, live among Jews, or else the world will finally get its way, and Judaism, as culture, concept and people will be eliminated. Assumed is that Jewish purity is an intrinsically important goal (prevention of miscegenation always is, right?), and that Zionism is the means to deliver it.
What makes a Jew? Is it the absence of other people, or if they must be present, their dehumanization? Is it the color of their skin? Ethiopian Jews don’t fare much better than Palestinians in Israel. These thoughts are too painful. It’s far easier to think of it this way: non-Jews are a threat to Jews. The closer the threat, the more brutally it must be dealt with. The supportive and the indifferent Israelis have empowered leaders who just want to be left alone and continue to mate in their exclusionary state. After all the centuries of persecution and wanton murder of Jews, is that so much to ask? Aren’t people allowed to protect themselves?
Protection and defense are oldspeak for violence. Bullies need to justify their aggressive behavior, or detach from it in order to stay functional. True introspection about the consequences of their actions could impede even the least empathic aggressors. Instead, the shunting of responsibility onto the victim is required in order to maintain positions of power, and the status quo for all. The initiators, and likely victors of any conflict are aware of the potential public relations maelstrom that their actions cause, or else they wouldn’t bother excusing them. Even the most ruthless nations make a concerted effort to portray their actions in this light of defense.
After a fight on the schoolyard as a child, or in adulthood when you’re pressed over your actions, it’s a natural reflex to shunt bad behavior onto the provocations of another. That childish reflex, to divert responsibility for what you know on some level is your own personal, abhorrent behavior, lives in all of us. But when it’s exercised at the highest levels of government and military power, it’s devastating. F-16’s don’t kill people, a lack of self-awareness does.
In the case of the IDF and Israeli government, too much of their utility relies on their ability to keep people “safe” from an evil, subhuman species that wishes to see them driven into the sea. From the smallest children to the oldest ladies, it doesn’t matter, Arabs aren’t people, they’re just cellular threats to Jews that are part of a larger, threatening organism. If there weren’t some sort of consensus about this order of things, how long would they be allowed to hold power?
So it’s no surprise that Israel’s last two defensive jaunts into Gaza before “Operation Protective Edge” were called “Returning Echo” and “Pillar of Defense.” This language is extremely informative of both what the Israelis hope to convey, and how they actually feel. It’s not enough to fool yourself into believing your violence is defensive. You have to worship it, and practice it fanatically. There will be no moral culpability from Israeli leaders, because they’re simply doing what they must to defend their people and land. This they know and hold deep in their hearts. It brings tears to their eyes, just thinking about the bravery and moral sacrifices they’ve shouldered in pursuit of protecting their hunted, hated children.
As opposed to the excuses of the individual, the Israeli government has plunged into the deadly romanticism in which all actions are excusable in the name of defense. Try to imagine it:
When you start crying over the danger your people are under, and you sniffle and wipe that tear away and set yourself to undertake the gritty, ruthless, yet oh so necessary work that sophisticated air and sea strikes on a choked minority populace entails, you feel justice coarse through your veins, and that feels good. You’re doing the most important work imaginable: saving your people from terrorism. Things could be different, but that’s out of their control. Talk to Hamas, they set this system up.
Two summers ago, I went to Israel, for my “Birthright” trip. It’s a shameful, archaic title for a free trip to a country that deems over 20% of the population unfit for the birthright of regular running water. I realized this looking out into the West Bank from Jerusalem. Someone asked why all the Palestinian houses had homemade water towers on their roofs, to which our guide confidently replied, “Because they don’t receive daily running water.” He explained that Palestinians don’t pay taxes, so the Israeli government doesn’t supply them with daily running water. The water issue is extremely complex, but what’s clear is this: Israel unequally dispenses water to the Palestinians, including water and water derived from infrastructure that exists on Palestinian land.
Following the 1967 war, Israel took control of water resources and rights from the Palestinians, including the water in the Jordan River. Imagine being caught between Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel, then having your home destroyed in the aftermath, as punishment by the victorious Israelis. Then, if you managed to survive and stay in your country (despite intense pressure from Israel to flee to Jordan, Egypt, or among other Arabs, where you belong), you find that the conquerors have settled on your land in the thousands, and now control your access to the most indispensable life source. Eventually they decide you should be caged, and your movements should be restricted by military checkpoints, regardless of who you are, based solely on race. Would you want to fight against that? Would you have any other option?
According to the World Bank (known for its humanitarian assessments) in 2009, Israeli settlers who are rapidly and illegally expanding into occupied Palestinian lands use 4.5 times the water that their Palestinian neighbors do. Israel’s oldest newspaper, Haaretz, estimated earlier this year that Israelis, including those in the settlements in Palestinian territories, use three times as much water a day in their households as the Palestinians in the West Bank do. Palestinian access to water has declined over the past decade, as a direct result of Israeli policies to limit their access and destroy vital water infrastructure, including the homemade water towers, often as target practice.
A couple days after the initial dismissal of the water inequality, the anti-Palestinian propaganda made a second appearance, from a hill overlooking Gaza. It had been a somber day. We’d been introduced to the IDF soldiers who would be accompanying us for the rest of the trip. In a small town not far from Sderot, we were shown the danger Israelis must contend with daily. The playgrounds featured giant, metal worms in which Israeli toddlers knew to hide when they hear rocket sirens. Our soldiers told us stories of their elderly grandparents being forced to run to bomb shelters throughout their lives, even injuring themselves in the process. And what of the emotional toll of living in such fear?
I asked the group if they could comprehend violence in the face of occupation and the denial of daily running water. People looked at me as if I was crazy, and we moved on. Two women on the trip came over to me and told me they appreciated me saying that, but overall, our group seemed determined to embrace the official Israeli position on the conflict, and had no use for opposing views.
This somber presentation of Israeli suffering was a preview of our trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in the center of the country. It’s an emotional trip, or rather, its every intention is to provoke a certain emotion: sympathy for Jews and explanation for all that has, and will be done to protect them.
Methodically, visitors are taken through primary sources of Holocaust survivors, Nazi propaganda, concentration camp techniques and conditions, and on and on. It’s an exhausting, pointedly repetitive architectural monument of indoctrination. At the end of the tour, you’re shown a gargantuan, hollow sphere that contains all the names of those who died in the Holocaust, or at least those names that are known. Then, you’re taken to a room that looks out across the vast dessert of Israel, and told that anything and everything must be done to make sure what you’ve seen never happens to the population you’re looking out on.
The irony should have choked us, but it didn’t. Jews from the tri-state cried their eyes out, and shared their stories of family members who escaped the Holocaust. As we looked out onto a country that was treating some of its people in the same ways we’d just seen Jews endure, the irony was lost on them. When it was my turn to speak, I said:
"We are not special. We haven’t suffered more than anyone else, and the same things you’re crying about in here are being done out there by Jews," and pointed out the window.
Once again, it was largely ignored by the group, who felt comfort languishing in Jewish suffering, but could care less about Palestinians. It was strange to me, because I couldn’t understand what connected them to the Israelis over Palestinians.
If they’d spent their time in Gaza, they likely would have felt differently. They would have identified with Palestinians as human beings facing daily, insurmountable terror. Instead, they were told on hills, playgrounds and museums: these Jews are you, and they always have been. If we don’t protect ourselves, we’ll all be dead. They believed it. It was easy to swallow; it suited them, and made them feel important. After all their people had been through, and survived, here they stood, and it was all because brave Jews and Israelis had defended their right to exist.
Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff for the IDF, elucidates the dominant Israeli position on responsibility for the current conflict:
"We remember there are citizens there. Hamas has turned them into hostages."
"They made this mistake…now they will discover that it is a big mistake."
He may as well say, “oh well, they did this to themselves. We have no culpability in the matter, they force us to kill children, and now they’ll regret it.” This resigned, almost shrugged explanation shows the ease of dehumanization for powerful Israelis, which ripples throughout their society.
In their minds, they’ve taken on a great weight: killing people (although are Palestinians really people?) they know to be innocent, and assume whatever limited moral weight this brings (truly, Hamas has killed those children by living near them), because they are strong enough to defend their people from crude rocket aggression with a sophisticated Air Force bombing campaign, and the potential of a ground invasion that would exponentially raise casualties on both sides.
You don’t murder children that are close to your enemies, and if you do you’ve forfeited any claims of suffering, as well as your humanity. You can’t excuse the murder of children by saying terrorists live among them, and use them as human shields. Israel drops the bombs. Israel targets civilian cafes, homes, even cars on the street that are next to children. This is the result:
That’s Abdallah Abu Ghazal, a Palestinian child murdered inside of his home when an Israeli airstrike hit a nearby farm.
It’s not so much that the indifferent will ignore pictures like this, more that they’ll excuse it simply: “everyone over there is crazy.” There’s no arguing with apathy or entropy, just like there’s no excuse for bombing children. There was no need to defend Israel against Abdallah, who is one of over 1,500 Palestinian children who have been murdered by the IDF since 2000. That’s one child every three days.
"We had the moral right vis-á-vis our people to annihilate this people which wanted to annihilate us…On the whole we can say that we have fulfilled this heavy task with love for our people, and we have not been damaged in the innermost of our being, our soul, our character."
Himmler said that, but it feels like something the IDF Twitter account will soon discharge from its heart in ferocious, loving spasms.
Violence, on the basis of where people were born, or who their parents were, is always repugnant. But if you can’t see the difference between an occupied people, denied water, denied freedom of movement in their country, trapped in a cage, throwing rocks at tanks or launching crude missiles at a military equipped with state-of-the-art American technology, including a real life Star Wars program funded and created with the support of American politicians and tax dollars, you’ve lost the plot.
The onus for solving these endless hostilities is on the side with greater power and resources.
What can Israel do if it actually wants to take steps towards not only ending this current engagement, but the larger struggle with Palestinians? Signs of faith like increasing Palestinian water supply, the release of those rounded up and imprisoned without charge in the aftermath of the kidnapping/murders of Israeli and Palestinian teens, and early steps towards dismantling the apartheid walls that separate people on the basis of bigotry.
Then, Israeli leaders can negotiate with their Palestinian counter-parts having shown a tangible change in policy and action. If Hamas refuses to negotiate, or still fires rockets at Israel indiscriminately in the face of real change, their support will be drastically impacted.
Killing civilians, killing children and the elderly, simply because they live in the same cage as a minority willing to confront Israel’s violence with makeshift rockets will not solve this problem. This is not self-defense.
Stand with humans over Jews.