The Language Of Death
World Can’t Wait helped produce a town meeting last night, sponsored by Revolution Books in New York City.
Chris Hedges gave the main address.
The incursion and bombardment of Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase in the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. The assault on Gaza is about creating, squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos in the West Bank and Gaza where life for Palestinians will be barely sustainable. It is about building a series of ringed Palestinian enclaves where the Israeli military will have the ability to instantly shut off movement, food, medicine and goods to perpetuate the misery.
Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.
Images of dead Palestinian children, lined up as if asleep on the floor of the main hospital in Gaza, are a metaphor for the future. Israel will, from now on, speak to the Palestinians in the language of death.
Those who orchestrate such sieges do not grasp the terrible rage born of long humiliation, indiscriminate violence and abuse. A father or a mother whose child dies because of a lack of vaccines or proper medical care does not forget. A boy whose ill grandmother dies while detained at an Israel checkpoint does not forget. Families who carry the broken bodies of their children to hospitals do not forget. All who endure humiliation, abuse and the murder of those they love do not forget. This rage becomes a virus within those who, eventually, stumble out into the daylight. Is it any wonder that 71 percent of children interviewed at a school in Gaza recently said they wanted to be a “martyr”?
The refusal by our political leaders, from Barack Obama to all but five members of Congress, to the major media to speak out in defense of the rule of law and fundamental human rights exposes our cowardice and our hypocrisy.
The public debate about the Gaza attack engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, whose security and dignity is being threatened. This blind defense of Israeli brutality towards the Palestinians is a betrayal of the memory of those killed in other genocides from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia.
The lesson of the Holocaust is not that Jews are special. It is not that Jews are unique. It is not that Jews are eternal victims. The lesson of the Holocaust is that when you have the capacity to halt genocide, and you do not — no matter who carries out that genocide or who it is directed against — you are culpable. And we are very culpable.
The F-16 jet fighters, the Apache attack helicopters, the 250-pound “smart” GBU-39 bombs are all part of the annual $2.4 billion in military aid we give to Israel. Palestinians are being slaughtered with American-made weapons. They are being slaughtered by an Israeli military we lavishly bankroll. But perhaps our callousness indifference to human suffering is to be expected. We, after all, kill women and children on an even vaster scale in Iraq and Afghanistan.
[End of Speech]
The bloody hands of Israel mirror our own.
“It seems,” wrote the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe recently, “that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as desperate events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system… Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology – in its most consensual and simplistic variety – has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide].”
Israel operates under the illusion that it can crush Hamas and install a quisling Palestinian government in Gaza and the West Bank. This puppet government will be led, Israel believes, by the discredited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abass, now cowering in the West Bank after being driven out of Gaza. Abbas, like most of the corrupt Fatah leadership, is a detested figure. He is dismissed as the Marshall Pétain of the Palestinian people, or perhaps the Hamid Karzai or the Nouri al-Maliki. He is as loathed as he is powerless.
Israel’s destruction of Hamas and reoccupation of Gaza will not bring peace or security to Israel. It will merely obliterate the only internal organization with enough stature and authority in Gaza, an organization elected to power in free and fair elections, to maintain order. The Israeli attack empowers the Islamic movements across the regime who one day may well ring Israel like a vice. It reduces all communication to the language of force. The violence unleashed on Palestinian children will be the violence unleashed on Israeli children. This is the tragedy of Gaza. This is the tragedy of Israel.
Forty plus years after W.H. Auden described the dumb ogre loose in the streets of Prague, he lopes, still dumb, again through the alleyways of Gaza City:
The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach:
The Ogre cannot master speech.
About a subjugated plain,
Among it’s desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
While drivel gushes from his lips.