Israel is at it again. It has been bombing Gaza and its inhabitants mercilessly, even indiscriminately. Some say disproportionately though that judgment is predicated on accepting that there is some self-defending legitimacy to killing almost at random women, children and men, even the unborn, simply to be rid of them in the name of “hunting out the terrorists.” This, surely, is a deeply questionable rationalization at best.
To date upwards of 150 Gazans have been killed, while rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israel have killed one. Disproportion plays no part in the Israeli calculus, and to think, part of the logic at work is to take Israel at its disingenuous word. What is really at work is Israel’s intermittent undertaking, bid up each time, to purge Palestine of a good deal of its people, to put them on notice that leaving would be better than living in Palestine, that for Palestinians, Palestine is a pipe dream evaporating in the pall of smoke rising above Gaza.
Three Israeli teenagers were murdered in the West Bank. Israeli militants retaliated by burning alive a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. The Israeli armed forces responded first by rounding up large numbers of Palestinian activists and then by reacting to Hamas rockets by obliterating swathes of northern Gaza. It doesn’t matter that those apparently responsible for the teenage deaths were not Hamas members, even though Hamas seemed to approve of the disappearance. That one could ask what three teenage Israeli boys were doing hitchhiking in the West Bank speaks to the disproportionate sense of entitlement of Israelis to Palestinian turf; after all, three Palestinian teenage boys hitchhiking in Israel would quickly be picked up by the Israeli police. The boys should not have lost their lives for doing so; to say this is at once to acknowledge that Palestinian youth have lost theirs in much larger numbers at the hands of the Israeli state and population. This seems a moral consideration long lost on the Israeli government and increasingly on its citizens.
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What seems new about the current bombardment of Gaza by Israel is not the extent of it, not the expanding number of deaths, alas, not the trapped experience of living in the Gaza concentration camp with no relief, no way out, no future but that dictated by Israel. All this has been standard state practice, increasingly if in fits and starts, at least since 1967 and especially since 2000. What is new is not so much the fact but the disturbing extent and depth, the openness and vehemence with which Israel’s everyman and woman, its ordinary teenage boys and girls, are expressly supporting the extermination of Gazans, and of Palestinians more generally: Gaza should be the Arab graveyard, bombing women and children in Gaza is orgasmic, death to all Arabs, kill all Arabs so there will not be another generation, hating Arabs isn’t racism, it’s a commandment from God. These are accurate paraphrases of the very terms circulating on social media today.
The extraordinary ordinariness of these tweets by teenage girls figured alongside bikini’d photographs of themselves is reinforced by their parental celebration, eating popcorn and cheering the bombs dropping on Gaza from the safety of their Israeli suburban lawns. For disturbing our peace, for so much as undoing our absolute sense of self-righteous security, for reminding us of our history, for holding in question our right to be here, we will kill you, obliterate you, call for your extermination. And ejaculate at the thought of it. Obscenity doesn’t begin to characterize the moral degradation at work.
What this points to is a sense that Israel-Palestine, alone together, as two states separate and apart, has no conceivable future, if it ever did. The settler state will not be satisfied until the settlers have completely cleansed the land of its long memories and the people who remind them of its long past. It will rewrite the historical record to purge it of any reference to a pre-existing condition. In purging people and fashioning make-believe history it seeks at once to foreclose the possibility of another way forward, one that – difficult as it is – imagines a future of living together.
Israel’s trajectory is to realize a mindless vision, a thoughtless one, to use Hannah Arendt’s memorable characterization of Eichmann, a vision that bespeaks the madness of megalomania rather than one of living in peace. For the future of a state predicated on extermination of those it takes not to belong, to purify its ground by obliteration, to sanctify its stateliness by extinction is bound to be haunted by the nightmare of its own making. That it fails to see this can only mean it has completely lost the lesson of the Holocaust haunting its own being.
This no doubt will be dismissed by apologists for Israel – pretty much as any criticism of Israel, large or small, is brushed aside. Today this dismissed criticism cannot escape attributing madness also to Israel’s population and its supporters more broadly. Yes, a state and its people have a right to self-defense, but a defense destined inevitably to heighten the conflict, to fan the raging flames of resentment and retribution, is not one that can be credited with rationality.
These are no longer matters that concern only Israel and its citizens. They are matters concerning all Jews everywhere. Many of us across the world have close relatives in Israel, who have served in the army; our mothers and fathers may be buried there, our siblings contributing to Israeli society. We may have visited, repeatedly, filled with family argument after argument about possibility and impossibility, longing and belonging, blindness and responsibility. We are told we each have a “right to return” to a “homeland” not all of us know, invested with pregnant and often imaginary meaning, one that for millennia has been inhabited and sometimes co-inhabited by those increasingly now displaced from their own and to which they have a rightful claim.
So Israel’s killing fields have been carried out in the name of all Jews, not only in the voice of those Israeli teenage girls and boys who understand not at all of which they tweet. There is no excuse for them, less for their parents. A “right to return” to a state that so cavalierly kills – one family of 17 was “inadvertently” completely wiped out as Israel sought to assassinate the Gaza police chief visiting an aunt in a neighboring home – amounts to a license to kill in one’s name.
In seeking to end rockets being fired from Gaza deeper and deeper into Israel, the Israelis are admitting implicitly that the day will come when their technological superiority will no longer offset the capacity of at least some Palestinians angered and resentful from decades of degradation and death at the hands of their oppressors to cause extensive destruction within Israel. Hatred and the call for extermination on one side bids up and expands already existing calls in reverse on the other. Technological superiority inevitably gives way across the long stretch of history. The current hell-bent drive to delimit Hamasian capacity will more than likely hasten that day. Israel’s manic death-drive is as bankrupt on instrumental as it is on moral grounds. It is far past the time for all of us to face up to the fact that the moral dilemmas strangling Jewish life today, tearing us apart, are the price to be paid for the indiscriminate, spiraling and altogether unnecessary killings being executed in our collective name.