The lessons of Gaza
The bombing raids have stopped, the only gunfire that has lit up the night sky in Gaza is the celebratory firings by Palestinians celebrating what is being seen as a victory for the Palestinian cause as a ceasefire with Israel is finally announced. After nearly 50 days of slaughter and war, as Israel bombed and partially invaded the besieged Strip, killing over 3,000 people, most of them civilians including over 400 children, a ceasefire has been reached which will ease the blockade and open Gaza's crossings into Egypt and Israel. One major advancement is that aid and building supplies, as well as reconstruction funds, will now enter Gaza with better fluidity.
Many lives were lost or shattered, thousands lost their homes, sons and daughters, yet the mightiest army in the Middle East was not able to destroy or completely smash a 10,000-strong guerrilla force. Israel has essentially repeated its failure from the July 2006 war it waged in Lebanon against the Hezbollah party/guerrilla movement. It sought to subdue an indigenous, armed movement through sheer, overpowering destruction and instead found itself facing a disciplined, determined foe.
The first lesson of Gaza should be clear: Israel needs to seriously begin to end the siege of Gaza and the occupation/colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. Hysterical nationalists and pro-Israel propagandists have been trying to spin the Summer 2014 war as a conflict in league with frightening developments in Iraq involving the rise of the ultra-fundamentalist Islamic State. Anyone who takes some time to read about the region will recognize how laughable the comparison is. Hamas is not ISIS, it has not even imposed Sharia law in Gaza. While some of us may not agree with its political outlook or ideology, they are a legal, elected party that represents the Palestinians in Gaza, they happen to be armed but that is a natural development when it comes to a stateless population seeking self-determination. In this sense, Palestine is no different than Algeria during the French occupation, or indeed Lebanon where the Hezbollah was formed following the 1982 Israeli invasion and occupation of the South. Ironically, Israel has killed more journalists in Gaza through its bombing campaign than Hamas ever has, and when has Hamas ever released a gruesome video like the recent ISIS execution of American journalist James Foley?
Ironically, ISIS never even issued a statement in support of Gaza during the entire war, this is most certainly because ISIS's radical, Sunni ideology sees Hamas as heretical due to its structure and links to Shia movements like Hezbollah and Shia states like the Islamic Republic of Iran (the Shia-Sunni divide in the Middle East can best be compared to the 15th century wars between Protestants and Catholics).
The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu would like to brainwash the Israeli population and U.S. supporters with scare tactics designed to paint the conflict with the Palestinians as part of the broader "war against radical Islam." But it's a sham, Netanyahu simply wants to avoid seriously negotiating a real peace settlement because his party, the Likud, doesn't even believe there should be a Palestinian state according to its charter. Their agenda is to expand the Israeli state, annex the West Bank and ghettoize Gaza until the population dies off or leaves. Netanyahu is driven by the nationalist vision of an ethnically strong "Jewish state" that will remain the dominant power in the Middle East. But as long as Israel is ruled by such men, there will be many more wars like this summer's Gaza conflict for years to come.
The other major lesson of the summer Gaza war is that we are not as civilized in the West as we would like to think. Even as Israel leveled entire neighborhoods, apartment complexes, mosques, schools, hospitals and even bombed children on the beach, our "liberal" president Obama backed the carnage all the way as well as upcoming presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Only England and Spain were somewhat more critical, and the sanest voices came from Latin America where several countries recalled their ambassadors to Israel in protest.
Politics is a shallow, cold game and it should surprise no one that Obama most likely approved of the war during its most ferocious moments because Israel remains our key, strategic ally in the region. It's like a little Prussia or Sparta we have on our side against the restless, Arab world, especially now as revolutions and civil wars tear the region apart. But where there is little excuse is in the reactions to the war from the general citizenry. While polls showed that most young Americans, especially those who identify as Democrat, opposed the war, "liberal" public figures such as Bill Maher cheerfully supported it, expressing a bigoted, anti-Muslim bias. Over 200 Hollywood stars, including intellectual luminaries like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a letter openly supporting the slaughter (in darkly comic fashion the letter was released a scant two days before the ceasefire was announced, they took their time to look like fools).
More frightening for this writer were the reactions here in Santa Monica and in private, social networking. Several friends on Facebook even deleted me from their lists due to my opinions on the conflict.
The Corsair covered several of the pro-Gaza and pro-Israel protests which took place on a weekly basis on Wilshire blvd. in front of the Federal Building. It must be said that while both sides featured radicals, nothing compared to the racism, vile generalizations and fascist discourse on the Israeli side. Our team was even nearly assaulted because our camera man, a Navy veteran, wore an Arab-style scarf. Comments ranged from "they're a dirty, poor people, they hate us because they are jealous" to "fuck them and their children." One particularly bold guy held a sign warning girls to not die virgins lest they be deflowered by ravenous, Islamic terrorists. A curious fellow who always wore command-style fatigues and videotaped the protests insisted on asking me if I was a "plant," if I worked for the CIA or if I was a "socialist" (oh the ironies of history considering Israel was actually founded by socialists with a socialist-tinged, albeit ethnically exclusive, vision).
If we are to avoid more Gazas, then a fresh, internationalist mindset needs to be considered. At the protests there were also many Jews supporting the Palestinians. They did not like Hamas, but they did not support what they viewed as a colonial, racist war. One inspiring figure who I will always remember was Ernest Rosenthal, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who was there to protest the war and compared the bombing of Gaza to the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Such voices are voices of sanity, because they are civilized, they do not take sides immediately based on ethnic, nationalist loyalty or fairy tales, they choose their stances based on clear, human conditions and denounce injustice wherever it manifests itself. These are the heirs of great Jewish thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg, Hannah Arendt and Noam Chomsky.
The lessons of Gaza are many: An indigenous population will not yield even at the cost of blood and fire, inhumanity is as infectious today as ever, especially in the halls of power, but the great lesson for us, the people, is that we must move beyond nationalist marching and reach across the invisible borders we put in front of ourselves. Wouldn't we want outsiders to sympathize with our plight if we were besieged and bombed by a greater force? Did the French not lend a hand to the American Revolution? We must step into the shoes of another, whether it be in analyzing global events, or even in our personal lives, because when we don't care we leave others to stand alone, and we condemn ourselves to a blinding, deafening darkness.