Creating people's geographies
As previously noted, Israel has often be described as the “Prussia of the Middle East”, a military attached to a state rather than a state that has a military. (The phrase was coined by Count de Mirabeau, one of the instigators of the French Revolution, writing in an essay that “war is the national industry of Prussia”.) Israel’s doomed iron-fist (and Iron-Wall) colonial policy translates into perpetual war, it could compellingly be argued, as the national motor and internal logic that drives the hafrada regime, perhaps moreso than any other state, including the permanent war economy that is the United States.
Featured here are a selected few excerpts from a number of current pieces that highlight this theme of a martial state and its attendant military mass socialisation within the Israeli populace. The source appears at the foot of the excerpt if you would like to read the article in full.
… We have simply come to terms with the fact that the next round of warfare, and the one following it, are only a question of time. And not only because of the enemy, but because of the Olmert in every one of us: If the next war is successful – we’ll feel like having another one; if it fails – we’ll want another one that will make amends for it and “learn its lessons,” and so on until the end of days.
We simply have no other vision. And this acceptance of our fate as a martial-state is also evident in the conduct of the present campaign: instead of causing the collapse of the government of Hamas leaders using cunning and creativity, we deliberately embarked on a destructive all-out attack involving a huge cost in civilian lives and causing perhaps irreversible damage to Israel’s image among the nations. That is the modus operandi of a country that has not only despaired already of the chance of reconciliation with the neighbors alongside whom it has lived for generations, but that no longer cares about how it looks from the outside, and about the way in which it is getting world Jewry into trouble along with it.
— From ‘More of a neighborhood than a country’ By Doron Rosenblum (Ha’aretz, 16 Jan 2009)
Ron Ben-Yishai, the veteran war correspondent whose revulsion over Sabra and Shatila was featured in “Waltz With Bashir,” now supports keeping up “the pressure.” One young soldier, interviewed this week on the radio, spoke with obvious sadness and compunction—but also with grim determination—about blowing up houses on the edge of Gaza city. He said, haltingly, that he feels he has had to harden his heart: “If it is their house or my house, I suppose I have to destroy their house,” he said.
HOW COULD THE vast majority of Israelis feel it morally defensible to take actions bound to result in the deaths of so many kids; how for the sake of gains everybody assumes will be, in the grand scheme of things, tactical and temporary?
There is a big clue in that soldier’s apocalyptic language. Israelis speak about this operation entirely in terms of Hamas’ capabilities. Israelis are asking: Do you not see that any pain they have the capability to inflict on us they will inflict, sooner or later, so we have to go after those capabilities, if not once and for all, then now, while we can? Have you not looked at their covenant? Can you not see how their Iranian patron is arming them?
[…] It is their house or our house. Think about this. Occupation, preventive detentions, 300,000 settlers, the annexation and walling off of East Jerusalem, checkpoints, house demolitions, economic collapse, Gaza becoming Somalia—all the things that all Palestinians care about all the time, all the things that people abroad cannot get out of their minds—all irrelevant. Forget for a moment what Hamas is. The point is, for most Israelis nothing Hamas says—i.e., lift the siege, negotiate a “hundred year cease-fire,” subject any deal to a referendum—can be responded to by diplomatic or other means. Their sad choice, most Israelis think, is to attack Hamas, even at the expense of mauling Gaza’s citizens. Their vague goal—as Tom Friedman surmises, a little too much like King David counting up enemy foreskins—is that although the attack will redouble hatred for Israel, it will significantly raise levels of resentment for Hamas. Hell, hatred for Israel is absolute anyway. WHY APOCALYPSE, of all times, now, when Israel’s military power seems so incomparable? Why extend the vendetta culture in which Hamas thrives? What needs to be understood—and Israelis themselves don’t see this easily—is that Hamas’ professed commitment to Israel’s destruction torments a kind of collective unconscious. Any Palestinian threat seems an “existential” one.
I am not referring here to some “holocaust complex” outsiders like to go on about (though, God knows, filtered memories of the European genocide are in the emotional background). Nor do Israelis fear that they could never make restitution to Palestinians for dispossession, for the Naqba, though this fear brings us closer to the truth. I am referring to something more actual, a kind of projection from everyday knowledge of Israel’s political and legal structure, which Israelis feel protective (if not vaguely guilty) about—a structure they rightly suppose no self-respecting Palestinian could ever accept. Israelis, you see, ask another question, which is not at all about Gaza: How can we have a Jewish state if this cannot really accommodate non-Jewish citizens? Is it not obvious that, in the end of ends, they just don’t want us here?
[…] Sadly, you see, Israelis see their Jewish state as a bone in the throat of Palestinians, not just historically, but still. They feel themselves, increasingly, in a desperate “existential” fight where no holds are barred now, because no holds will be barred later. Show weakness about what is yours, and you are a baby-step away from Bosnia. Which is, of course, what Serbians thought, and how “Bosnia” began.
In “La Chute”, Albert Camus argues that many crimes are committed because the criminal can’t stand to be in the wrong. He tells of a man who cheated on his wife, a perfect woman in every respect, until one day he had enough of his own wrongdoing. So he killed her.
… when it comes to refugees and settlements, we don’t have the courage to tell the truth to ourselves, nor are we ready to talk to ourselves about the part of the responsibility we bear for the refugee problem, its marginalization, political exploitation and the fact it remains unsolved to this day.
Nor are we ready to talk about the evacuation of settlers out of fear of the domestic price entailed in pulling out the agents of the occupation. We are incapable of acknowledging the fact that we have become a state of the settlers and that the Israel Defense Forces is the settler defense forces. Because of all these factors we are not talking to any Palestinian about anything of substance.
— From ‘The champions of missed opportunities’ By Avraham Burg (Ha’aretz)
… Between 1967 and 2005, Gaza’s land and water were plundered by Jewish settlers in Gush Katif at the expense of the local population. The price of peace and security for the Palestinians there was to give themselves up to imprisonment and colonisation. Since 2000, Gazans have chosen instead to resist in greater numbers and with greater force. It was not the kind of resistance the West approves of: it was Islamic and military. Its hallmark was the use of primitive Qassam rockets, which at first were fired mainly at the settlers in Katif. The presence of the settlers, however, made it hard for the Israeli army to retaliate with the brutality it uses against purely Palestinian targets. So the settlers were removed, not as part of a unilateral peace process as many argued at the time (to the point of suggesting that Ariel Sharon be awarded the Nobel peace prize), but rather to facilitate any subsequent military action against the Gaza Strip and to consolidate control of the West Bank.
— Israel’s message By Ilan Pappe (LRB, 14 Jan)
[… ] In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill “them” disproportionately, killing a thousand of “them” for ten of “ours”, will they understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us. It will be “seared into their consciousness” (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.
It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.
… The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons. And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of our army to pulverize everything standing in its way and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not only the fighters on the other side, but every human being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving lives. To destroy every building from which our troops could conceivably be shot at – even a school full of refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.
The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on the forty women and children killed in a UN school, from which “we were shot at” – an assertion that was quickly exposed as a blatant lie.
The firepower was also used to sow terror – shelling everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot, from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard pretext: “we were shot at from there”.
This would have been impossible, had not the whole country been infected with blunted sensitivities. People are no longer shocked by the sight of a mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the corpse of their mother, because the army did not let them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots, not the media people, not the politicians, not the generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.
— Uri Avnery, The Boss Has Gone Mad (Gush-Shalom, 17 Jan 2009)
[…] The actual purpose is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them.
The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future. This strategy, which was first articulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s and has heavily influenced Israeli policy since 1948, is commonly referred to as the “Iron Wall.”
[…] Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal “places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be.”
— John Mearsheimer, Another War, Another Defeat (American Conservative, Jan 26)
Why is there such an animus in Jews against the Palestinians? Why are the checkpoint soldiers so cruel? Why does Israel stoop to committing every single war crime imaginable? Why do a few mostly harmless rockets produce such unimaginable rage? It isn’t fear. It is the fact that the continued existence of the Palestinians, their failure to capitulate, is an insult to the Master Race, a failure to acknowledge the superiority of the Jews.
The Weiss schtick is that Zionism was a defensive intellectual framework, formerly necessary, but no longer so due to the power of Jews in American society. But Zionism was never really defensive, and has always been in essence offensive, creating a base for the Master Race. The Master Race wasn’t threatened by Gentiles, it was offended to have to live amongst such inferiors, and particularly insulted to have to live under the rule of inferiors. The failure of the Zionists – lite or hard core – to really understand the nature of Zionism is built right into the nature of supremacism. It is why Jews won’t solve this problem.
— Xymphora, Unsafe or just supremacist?
Three factors are strategic liabilities for Israel in the technical military-intelligence sense: 1) Israeli terrorist soldiers fight with the awareness of the military superiority of Israel, unlike previous generation of Israeli terrorist soldiers who thought that Arab armies were a match and thus fought as if the life of the lousy entity depended on it; 2) there is no more Arab Jewish immigrants in Israel whose knowledge of Arabic (or Persian) can be utilized by Israeli terrorist military and intelligence (this is a point made by Amer, in fact; 3) the ideological zeal which can be an asset in battle is less of a factor. I mean, do you think that Russian or Ethiopian immigrants give a shit about the fate of the Zionist project?
— Angry Arab, Three Factors
It’s very frustrating to see Israeli society recruited so calmly and easily to war. Hardly anyone has dared to mention the connection between the decision to go to war and the fact that we are only a few weeks away from an election. … I am terribly sad about all this, and frustrated. On the first day of the operation I wrote an article for the Walla News website and within four hours I had received 1600 comments, most calling for my deportation (at best) or immediate execution (at worst). It showed me again how sensitive Israeli society is to any opposition to war. It is shocking how easily this society unites behind yet another military solution, after it has failed so many times. Hizbullah was created in response to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Hamas was created in 1987 in response to two decades of military occupation. What do we think we’ll achieve this time?
The state called up more than 10,000 reservists, and even people who had not been called also travelled to military bases and asked to be sent to Gaza. This shows once again how efficient the Israeli propaganda and justification machine is, and how naturally people here believe in myths that have been disproved again and again. If people were saying, ‘We killed 1000 people, but the army is not perfect, and this is war,’ I would say it was a stupid statement. But Israelis are saying: ‘We killed 1000 people, and our army is the most moral army in the world.’
— Yonatan Mendel, LRB
The bully beats up his neighbours because his parents were murdered by their neighbours in another city. He isn’t surprised to see how hated he is. He says to himself: my family has always been hated and will always be hated by all neighbours. I only defend myself against possible new murder attacks against me’, he argues.
As soon as he would realise that his neighbours are like him, people that want to be treated with justice and respect, his problems would be resolved. But he doesn`t want to know this, because knowing this would completely change his world view and his daily life, and the thought of that scares him even more.
Changing ones habits is very difficult, especially for a traumatised person. Only a person that has the complete trust of the traumatised can help him. In this case, the uncle from the US would be the best help for the patient, through the difficult period of self-analysis and self-healing.
The dim voice of his conscience (Hass, Levi) is not enough.
Ernst, Amsterdam, commenter on Amira Hass’s Can you really not see? (2006)