Berkeley, Ca. (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – During the last decade, Israel had come close to achieving what for many of its citizens had been a longstanding aspiration: the ability to forget the Palestinians. Thus, during the massive protests of recent months against the juridical reforms proposed by the Netanyahu administration, and against the general right-ward turn of the country and its dominant institutions, protesters rarely mentioned the plight of their Palestinian neighbors as a concern. Nor in recent Israeli elections has the Palestinian question and its future resolution been a central point of political contention and debate dividing the Israeli electorate. Once an inescapable fact of Israeli political life, the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank had largely become people one could forget, with Israelis finally able to get along with their normal lives.
How had this condition of normalcy and forgetting been achieved? In Gaza, it had been achieved through a blockade that kept the entrapped Palestinians in a permanent state of poverty, unemployment, hunger, and dependency, an architecture of enforced scarcity and suffering meant to crush the spirit and will of those seeking to resist the relentless bulldozer of Israeli expansion into Palestinian lands.
In the West Bank, a similar though somewhat more porous blockade, combined with intense restrictions on movement and daily harassment and violence at the hands of Israeli military personnel and settlers, has aimed to achieve comparable results. Normalcy for the people of Israel, in other words, had been achieved through policies and practices meant to decimate the material infrastructures of will, hope, resistance, and agency among the more than five million Palestinians.
This policy, pursued by the Israeli government with extensive material and diplomatic support from the US and the EU, had for a while been extraordinarily successful, allowing Israelis to not only enjoy the fruits of their impressive, technology-driven, economic growth, but also make great strides toward normalizing their relations with neighboring Arab countries. Israel, it seemed to many observers, was looking more and more like what it had long claimed to be—a normal, prosperous, democratic country.
On October 7, the bubble of immunity, built by Israel in order to silence and forget the Palestinians living under the crushing fist of its occupation, burst, and with it, the image of Israel as a normal country.
There are two ways, as I see it, to interpret and respond to the horrific attack by Hamas’s military on Israel, its murder of civilians, hostage-taking and commission of war crimes. The first, is to say that the people who committed such wanton acts of bloodshed are evil (“human animals,” as Israel’s defense minister, Yoan Gallant, called them) and their acts must be met by a campaign aimed at nothing less than their total destruction. If the success of this campaign requires that all of Gaza be crushed into a pile of debris, with thousands of ordinary Palestinian men, women, and children slaughtered in the process, this is simply the price that must be paid when confronting evil.
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People gather by the wrapped bodies of victims, in front of the morgue of the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Balah in the central Gaza Strip, following an Israeli strike on October 22, 2023 . . . (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images).
Once Hamas is defeated, moreover, what will stop another political formation from rising up to replace it, if not the reduction of its entire population to human rubble, to bits and pieces of human life incapable of any action beyond despair? Only then, this argument goes, can Palestinians be once again forgotten, and Israel turn back to its career as a normal country.
Another lesson that might be learned from the attack on Israel is that however brutal, dehumanizing be the cage in which you imprison your neighbor, in the end it will not hold. In the soil of human misery that you have spread over the land, a will to live will eventually take root, one from which you will never be safe. In this light, the current Israeli military campaign, one aimed at crushing the life out of the people of Gaza, is bound, in the long run, to backfire. Instead of promising the people of Israel the normal lives they seek, such a campaign can only further endanger them and intensify their insecurity.
The truth of this latter lesson is simple and clear, and accords with our deepest moral commitments about justice and human rights. Why then, we must ask as Americans, does our government continue to support, year after year, Israel’s relentless assault on the caged people of Palestine? What is the desired future that this support is meant to achieve? None that I can imagine or wish for.