Tag Archives: Gaza

De-humanisation

Ugh. I just unwhittingly clicked on a YouTube video showing the immediate aftermath of the assasination of Ahmed Al-Jabari in Gaza. A passer-by drags out dead body from the car… and half of it is missing. It is sickening and certainly Not Safe For Work or children. I wonder how long it will remain live on YouTube before the company removes it for being too graphic.

The video is a huge contrast to the clinical black and white footage distributed by the Israeli Defence Force. Ever since Operation Desert Storm there has been discussion of the way in which TV pictures frame our view of war, sanitising the horror. In recent years there has also been much analysis of the ‘gamification’ of war, as soldiers brough-up on video games join the army and begin shooting real people. The two contrasting images of the same incident speak to that dehumanising tendency.

The gruesome, visceral aftermath also provides some understanding of the hatred towards Israel that steams out of Palestine. In the background of the video you can see children observing the scene. I am glad that I never saw such sights in my childhood. Is it any surprise that those who experience such visual traumas grow up to hate those responsible? Time and again, I find my thoughts returning to this 2005 essay by Laurie King on the symbolism of the body in war, occupation and resistance:

These violations [at Sabra and Shatila] of individual bodies were not haphazard or random acts carried out in the heat of murderous rage, but rather, part of a grammar of political exclusivity, a systemic and coherent — though certainly deranged — message that an entire group could be violated, perhaps even eradicated, with impunity. The message of that massacre endures and echoes a quarter of a century later. Its scars are social, physical, and symbolic, and are felt far beyond the scene of the crime.

So what we have here are different methods of dehumanisation. The fact that these people we fight against are our fellow humans is forgotten in the melee and the maelstrom. Some comments psoted below the video of the half-body:

Lol, not much of him left, and nice slug trail to boot (link)

I wish wars still involved swordmanship and valor but now we got this lame no effort shit. Oh well. (link)

Where’s the rest of him? Ah well…One less scum bag polluting the world (link)

These are not the comments of those who see the other side as human.

See also: Twitter and the anti-Playstation effect on war coverage.

gaza_smoke

The Gaza Merry-Go-Round

I looked back through the archives of this blog, to see what I wrote about the previous military interventions in Gaza.  The comments I offered then seem to work pretty well for the current crisis too.  From 2006:

These events are a tragedy in the strict sense of the word, where the traits of the main characters make certain events inevitable. Sure, Israel didn’t start it. Watch any one of the countless Greek Tragedies that will plague this year’s Edinburgh Festival, and you will see that it is never the protagonist’s fault. Hercules didn’t start it. Electra didn’t start it. Clytemnestra didn’t start it. But at the end of the play, when everyone’s dead, one still thinks “if only you had been different.” Nasrallah is the malevolent deity, nowhere to be found yet omnipresent at the same time. He laughs at how easy it is to provoke this tragedy.

I also wrote:

Another blood feud is created, ready to be concluded in some Tel Aviv pizza parlour in 2012.

That turned out to be right.  In 2009 I wrote about how the asymetric warfare practiced by Hamas and Hezbollah can outmanoever Israel:

If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvered, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity.

All this seems right for 2012, too.

This statement from President Peres seems to fall precisely into the tragic, circular logic discussed above:

This is ridiculous for two reasons.  First, collective punishment of the Gazans is not the only possible course of action.  This fascinating but depressing article in the New York Times by Gershon Baskin, and Israeli negotiator who helped secure the release of Giliad Shalit, outlines just one alternative course of action that was open to Israel – negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.  According to Baskin, Ahmed Al-Jabari (the Hamas leader assasinated by Israel last week) was the man best placed to deliver a cease-fire, a project in which he was actively engaged at the time of his death.

Peres’ comment is absurd for a more practical reason – Israel’s “eye-for-an-eye” style retalitory policy has not made its citizen’s safer.  Just the opposite, in fact: the military intervention has actually caused an increase in rocket attacks.  The first Israeli citizens to die from rocket attacks this year were killed last Thursday, after the Government began bombarding Gaza.  So the current military action fails on its own terms.

Outmanoeuverings

I’ve been silent on the Gaza issue.  Not because I haven’t been following developments, but because I do not have anything new or interesting to say.  I’ve just re-read my take on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, and my view on the current catastrophe is very similar – the military response lacks imagination.  If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvered, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity.  Those who persecute these strikes simply lack an understanding of the mess they’re in.  Either that, or they are waging war for cynical, electoral reasons.

Watching the UN impotently go through their motions, its clear that the tired, tried and tested route through these kinds of crises are futile.  Anything from ‘outside the box’ would be welcome at this juncture.  It is the unexpected gestures that regain the initiative, and provide a solution, a new momentum.

This suggestion from Jeffrey Goldberg caught my eye:

Why not erect a massive tent hospital in Sderot, staff it with Israeli army doctors, and treat the Palestinian wounded there?

A PR stunt, to be sure, but at least its humane.

Facetious Gaza Post

Gaza Wall
In reporting the recent Gaza border break the BBC reffered to the security “wall”. Now, call me pedantic, but that looks more like a big fence to me, just like the other “security fence” currently under construction around the West Bank.

Oh, but wait! The fence in the West Bank is actually a wall. Now I’m confused. Why can’t we get nomenclature correct on this one?

That’s the problem with dehumanising people these days, you just run into a wall of political correctness. Or is that a fence?

What sort of peace?

Palestine by Joe Sacco

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been re-reading the fantastic Palestine by the graphic artist Joe Sacco. It chronicles his travels through Israel and the Occupied Territories in 1991 and 1992, during the first intifada. Towards the end of the book, he reports an interesting conversation with two young Israeli girls in Tel Aviv:

We just want to live our lives, okay? We have our lives! We have jobs and families and we go out and live just like you do… We don’t think about this stuff all the time, and we get a bit tired hearing about it!

This reminded me of a conversation I had last year, with some young Israelis (a couple of whom were on leave from National Service) in the gents toilets at 3am in a Haifa nightclub.

“We just want peace!”

Yesterday, Israelis reacted to the Hamas parliamentary election victory in a similar manner. As the celebrations and recriminations surrounding the result continue, we hear many such exortations from all sides, and variations thereon. “We just want peace” or “They don’t want peace” or “they must prove they want peace” etcetera. The problem with all these statements is not that they are utopian or simplistic as such, but simply that they are incomplete.

“We just want peace!” Yes, but what kind of peace? The wish is meaningless, unless it is qualified. A ‘peace’ that leaves Israeli soldiers free to harass citizens of people who are apparently part of a different country? A ‘peace’ that allows institutional discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel? A ‘peace’ that allows thousands of people to live in walled enclaves, without freedom of movement? It cannot mean preservation of the status quo, surely.

The flipside is also true. A ‘peace’ that leaves Jerusalem as a tranquil, Islamic holy city might be the vision for some, but it is likely to leave others quite disturbed. This is because ‘peace’ does not simply mean the cessation of violence, but peace of mind too. People need to feel safe, and Israeli ‘strong-men’ like Sharon or Netanyahu are perceived to deliver this safety… by going on the offence. So it is with Hamas: a strong and organised group who stand up to the injustices visited daily upon a subjugated people. A vote for Hamas is a vote for a momentary peace of mind, a protest vote not only against the corruption of Fatah, but against the occupation itself.

“So they voted in a bunch of terrorists” is a kindergarten response to the result. This is the democratic action of an electorate who wish to reassert their humanity. By this act, the Palestinians say: “I am here, and I still resist!” This is essentially a positive sentiment, even if the current outlet is a militant organisation, capable of atrocious acts. It is now up to everyone to channel this sentiment into something practical. If not, the vote will have been a pointless excercise, and the peace of mind it brings will be a transient thing, lasting only as long as it takes another gun to fire or a bomb to explode.


I’ve just found a great blog, Raising Yousuf by a journalist living in Gaza. I’m pleased to see she also speaks of people wishing to throw off shackles of oppression: ‘For 6 months, [the man] has been chasing the PA for some medical compensation, and hasn’t received a penny “while those nobody’s travel around in their BMWs. ” “Is that fair? tell me?” Why did Hamas win? Remember, said the man: “The feeling of oppression is a very powerful factor.” ‘

Israeli Spring Clean

On the surface, the political overhaul in Israel looks like a positive development for the Palestinians. The split between Sharon and his Likud over his ordering a withdrawl from Gaza, means the creation of a new centrist party. Coupled with an emboldened Labour Party under its new leader Amir Peretz, perhaps the snap elections will yield a better political climate for the Palestinians.

But in the West Bank, the new developments are hardly a cause for celebration. A contact in Ramallah says I am being naive: “Sharon’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians is that of unilateralism. By its very nature, this approach cannot work for conflict resolution.”

He is in two minds about the effectiveness of Peretz too, and its difficult to predict whether he will be a friend or foe of the Palestinians. Although Peretz has said that the occupation is a moral and economic burden for Israel, and wants to resume negotiations with the PLO, he said recently he supports a ‘united’ Jerusalem, meaning he would maintain the occupation of East Jerusalem. Nor does the new Labour leader support the refugees right of return, to their homes in Israel.

“At this point, the situation is so stark, that Palestinians get excited by any Israeli politician announcing publicly that he is even willing to talk to us,” says my friend, cynically. A new government may bring a freshness to the Knesset, but it seems less likely that spring elections will clean up the mess of Israeli-Palestinian relations.