In response to the current brutal assault on Gaza by Israel a well-known long distance service provider has sponsored a petition for their customers to sign urging a cease fire. On the face of it, this seems like a noble endeavor. The company in question caters to the progressive community and donates a portion of its fees to a wide array of progressive organizations. One could take issue with the fact that this company aligns itself with a notorious international banking cartel to provide credit card services to its customers. But what is interesting to note is how the language in the email which introduces the petition, whether intentionally or not, promotes the usual pro-Zionist narrative about the situation.
First there is the all too familiar contention that “the political and historical conflict causing this violence is centuries old and far too complicated to address….” We are supposed to believe that the situation is so complex the average person can’t be bothered to try and understand it. So the only reasonable thing to do is to accept the sound bite version offered to us by the media. This is usually some form of pro-Zionist rhetoric centered around an Israeli perspective.
In reality, the conflict causing this violence is not centuries old. Nor is it too complex to address. Prior to 1900, Jews and Palestinians lived together in Palestine for generations without the extreme levels of hatred and violence which now exist. With the advent of Zionism, the political movement to establish a Jewish state in all of historic Palestine, tensions began to escalate. The leaders of the Zionist movement sought to control more and more of what they considered to be land promised to them by God. In 1947-48, the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland by Zionist militias and the creation of the Jewish state of Israel began the conflict in earnest.
Since then, Israel’s continued seizure of Palestinian land through the establishment of illegal settlements in the West Bank has accelerated the aggression. In addition, Israel has refused to abide by UN resolution 194 which guarantees Palestinians the right of return to or compensation for lands taken from them during the war in 1947-48. As a result of that war and the 1967 war Israel expanded well beyond the borders allotted to it by the original partition of Palestine and has been in violation of the Geneva Conventions as well as the terms of the original United Nations partition plan since its inception.
Though rarely if ever spoken about in any media source, the real reason for the conflict in Palestine is not Jews or Palestinians, it is the Zionist colonization of Palestine. Zionism, a virulent form of ethnic nationalism, fosters a culture of exclusivity and entitlement within Israeli society. Jews are “The Chosen People” living in “The Promised Land.” These inherently racist attitudes create an atmosphere which legitimizes collective punishment and human rights abuses against Palestinians simply because they are not Jews. Jewish lives are valued more than Palestinian lives. This attitude was epitomized by the statement of extreme right wing Israeli Rabbi, Eliyah, in April of 2008. “The life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.”
The stated goal of Zionism has always been and continues to be the expulsion of the Palestinians and the colonization of all of Palestine, not just the area which currently is Israel. This is a fact, not idle supposition. In his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe, an Israeli Jewish historian, gives a well-documented account of the brutally orchestrated removal of Palestinians from their lands and the systematic plan for the ongoing colonization of Palestine. Pappe uses Israel’s own archives to support these facts. For those pro-Zionists who consider Pappe to be too much of a “self-hating Jew,” a term often used to slander any Jewish scholar who attempts to expose the dark underbelly of the Zionist movement, they can read essentially the same history in Benny Morris’s writings. Morris is a fervent Zionist historian who has fully acknowledged the facts of Zionist history. But he sums up his findings by saying, in effect, the ethnic cleansing was a necessary evil and his only regret is that Israel did not complete the job back in 1948.
The second and more subtle misconception reinforced by the promoters of the petition calling for a ceasefire in Gaza is contained in the statement, “All sides of the conflict will continue to act as they have in the past if they believe the world will stand by and allow them to do so.” Indeed, the world has stood by for the last 60 years and allowed Israel to aggressively colonize Palestinian lands in violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. But the implication of the statement is that somehow the Palestinian people need the approval of the international community to engage in resistance to Israel’s illegal actions. This is like suggesting that if a family were to move into your home and occupy your living room, you would need to ask permission to take any action against them.
The Zionist narrative attempts to portray Israel as a victim of unprovoked Palestinian violence. But Palestinian resistance to the colonization of their land is recognized as a right under international law. The widely accepted and vociferous contention that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is a bizarre transposition of the rule of law. It is like saying the family that occupied your home has a right to defend itself from your actions to remove them. Israel does not have any right under international law to “defend” its ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation of Palestine. The attack on Gaza, and indeed, any Israeli action taken against Palestinian resistance, whether that resistance be violent or nonviolent, is not an act of self defense. It is an act of aggression against a legitimate resistance movement. Israel is not defending itself, it is defending its illegal colonization of Palestinian lands.
From a purely moral perspective, it is absurd to suggest that the monstrous assault being unleashed against the captive and defenseless people of Gaza by the world’s fourth largest military is in any way justified by the firing of crude homemade rockets into Israel. There are 1.5 million people in Gaza. They have no army, no navy, no air force. More than two thirds of the population is comprised of women and children. After having the nerve to conduct democratic elections in January, 2006, the Palestinians have had their elected officials imprisoned and assassinated. Their government has been removed in an administrative coup and replaced by the quisling Fatah party in the West Bank. When Hamas resisted this coup and reclaimed control of the government they were freely and fairly elected to lead, it was Hamas who was considered the aggressor, not those who removed them from power in the first place. Again, the rule of law was transposed and used to justify the demonization of Hamas.
To make matters worse, in an attempt to coerce the Palestinians in Gaza to abandon their legitimately elected representatives, Israel, with the help of the international community, has kept Gaza under siege for most of the last three years. Gazans have been denied many of the basic necessities of life, including such things as paper and pencils, school books and even sanitary napkins. Israel recently added shoes and clothing to the list of forbidden imports. They claim Hamas might use them to make military uniforms. This, despite the fact that Israel often justifies its killing of civilians in Gaza by asserting that the Hamas militia can’t be distinguished from civilians because, yes, you guessed it, they don’t wear military uniforms.
The main power plant in Gaza has also been bombed, severely limiting the amount of electricity available. This electricity is necessary for water and sewage treatment along with the more obvious aspects of normal daily life. Fuel supplies have been restricted. Importation of cement has been curtailed preventing necessary repairs to civilian infrastructure. The Israeli Air Force has used F-16 Fighter Jets, supplied by the U.S., to make frequent low level super sonic flights over Gaza creating massive sonic booms which, according to the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, “are having serious effects on children in Gaza, including anxiety, panic, fear, poor concentration and low academic success.” The sonic events are also suspected of inducing miscarriages in Palestinian women.
These are just a few examples of the war of collective punishment and terror being waged against the civilian population in Gaza. These tactics have increased in intensity over the last three years, culminating these last six weeks in the nearly complete denial of food, medicine, electricity and fuel to the million and a half people living in Gaza. So why would Hamas be engaging in resistance to Israel, anyway? One can only imagine.
This back story to the devastation in Gaza is completely ignored by our corporate media and by most so-called progressive media. It’s as if history began just a few months ago. Out of the blue, those crazy terrorists started firing rockets into Israel for no reason at all. How dare they? And this assumption goes largely unchallenged. There is much angst and hand wringing in the so-called alternative media about how disproportionate Israel’s response has been. Outrage is expressed at the suffering of the Palestinian people. But there is little discussion of the fact that Palestinian militants actually have a reason to be firing rockets at Israel.
Over the last 60 years, there has never been a sincere effort on the part of Israel to avert conflict with the Palestinians. On the contrary, conflict has been continuously inflamed in order to facilitate and legitimize the colonization of Palestine. Regardless of the repeated empty rhetoric on the part of Israel about wanting a partner in peace, since 1967, when the illegal settlement campaign was begun, there has not been a single Israeli administration which has not expanded the settlements in the West Bank. This is in direct violation of the Geneva conventions, not to mention the many so-called agreements Israel has entered into over the years promising to halt the expansion of settlements.
Simply put, Israel is colonizing Palestine. Its Zionist founders always intended to achieve this end, and the current regime has no intention of sidelining that plan. Any other claim made by the government of Israel is pure guile. And this deception has been perpetrated with funding and encouragement from successive United States administrations since 1947. Indeed, none of Israel’s current illegal aggression would be taking place without the approval of the United States along with the massive amounts of military aid we provide. This is the history of the current conflict which we are not allowed to hear. Not because it is too complicated for us to understand, but because it is too offensive to the sensibilities of those who blindly support Israel.
As the horrors unfold in Gaza, how should we respond? Other than giving direct physical and emotional support to the people in Gaza by donating money to relief organizations and speaking out against the war crimes being committed there, not much can be done in the short term to rectify the situation. We know from attempts to derail the war in Iraq that no matter how many voices are raised in protest, the international stage is set and the usual actors will play out this disaster as they see fit regardless of our efforts to stop them.
And what about over the long term? The situation is dire. Our public discourse is a cornucopia of lies, obfuscation and denial. Facts are considered irrelevant. Reality is turned upside down and language has become meaningless. Imperial and colonial violence is defined as righteous self defense. Resistance to that violence is defined as terrorism. The United States and Israel, two of the world’s most celebrated so-called democracies, are in reality rogue militarized nations engaging in collective punishment, torture, wars of aggression and criminal foreign policies which flagrantly disregard even the most basic concepts of fairness and human decency.
The so-called Left in the United States decries each successive atrocity either committed or supported by our government. Israel assaults Gaza using our money and weapons, so we sign petitions calling for an end to the violence. We engage in a flurry of political activism every four years and vote in sham elections which only legitimize the actions of the ruling elite. What we should do instead is boycott these fraudulent elections and engage in direct action in order to facilitate a popular uprising against the existing structure of our government. We need a nonviolent social revolution to create a new political paradigm. Under the current system, the perpetuation of empire is institutionally preordained. We are permitted to reshuffle the cards and deal a new hand now and then, but always from the same stacked deck.
The situation in Palestine, along with many of the violent conflicts in the world, is nothing more than a symptom of the disease that is U.S. Empire. Gaza is just one more bloody scene in an ongoing imperial nightmare of death and destruction. If we want to stop the senseless killing taking place in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and so many the other places, we must stand up and say no. Not just to the acts themselves, but to the fetid imperialist juggernaut which exports and cultivates them. Until we disrupt this cycle of corporate power mongering and violent militarism by refusing to participate in it, we have only ourselves to blame for the deaths of the innocent men, women and children who are the targets of our bombs. The blood is on your hands and mine. We are all war criminals now.