- The latest war against Gaza is a continuation of Israel’s 75-year-old attrition against Palestinians which involves direct, structural and cultural violence.
Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war in Palestine, 2023. We watch the carnage, furious and furiouser. Hadn’t it been said after the Holocaust, ‘never again?’ When will this blood-letting end?
Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, said that “never in the history of humanity has violence been initiated by the oppressed.” So what happened on October 7th, 2023? Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, chosen to lead Gaza in 2005 (and bolstered by the Israeli government), initiated violence and hence, Israelis must be the oppressed.
The Jews, from their ‘situatedness’, from their interpretive lens, have always considered themselves as the oppressed and the persecuted. They, the ‘chosen people’ were exiled from their original homeland, and this is their primary angst. Secondly, they are consummate in their business affairs and in places like the Third Reich they were often resented. Literature has often been unkind to them with archetypical Jewish villains — Shakespeare’s Shylock and Dickens’ Fagin. The Holocaust bred in succeeding generations an inalienable feeling of being ‘targeted people.’ They were the victims of anti-Semitism, and they carried this into the DNA of being Jewish. However, not all Jewish people are Zionists.
Zionists support the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine based on the assertion that those lands represent the ancient homeland of the Jews. They rely on the Hebrew Bible to justify their claims to the land and anything that falls short represents age old oppression. The Balfour declaration in 1917 promised them a ‘Jewish national home’ with a caveat that the 90 percent majority of ‘others’ who lived in the area would have their civil and religious liberties intact. This was not so much a religious issue though respective religions, Judaism and Islam, were embedded in both cultures. The Jewish were suspicious of this ‘other’ in their midst. Edward Said, a Palestinian-American academic, wrote that the Balfour document was “made by a European power … about a non-European territory … in a flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority resident in that territory.” And the Zionists were not appeased either. The question here that remains is why were they trying so hard to appease the Zionists? Hold on to this thought for we will come to this in our world of today.
Am Yisrael Chai (the people of Israel live) was the refrain throughout the years since 1945. The experience of the Holocaust embedded the fear of the ‘other’ in the Jewish psyche and they wanted to be safe within protectionist walls. So the UN partition plan in 1947 to divide the area into three parts, one for Israel, one for Palestine and a special international regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem did nothing to make Israel feel safe. They retained all of the land allotted to them, and took 60 percent of the land allotted to the Palestinians. 700,000 of the Palestinians fell into a catastrophe, ‘Nakba,’ and either left or were forcibly displaced from their homes. Zionist militia committed hundreds of atrocities during the Nakba, including massacres, looting, kidnappings, abductions, and the destruction of property and entire villages. The ‘settler colonialists’ needed the Arab cleansing to feel safe. So, who were the oppressed during this land grab?
Occupation and Intifada
The Jews already had an army that was formed out of the armed paramilitary groups trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II. They were quite prepared to deal with the Intifadas, the two Palestinian uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza strip, aimed at ending Israel’s occupation of those territories and creating an independent Palestinian state. In the second Intifada, 5,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis died (a 1:3 ratio). The Israeli army launched Operation Defensive Shield to erase these people who insisted on the dignity of difference. They started building a separation barrier in the West Bank to match a barrier erected in Gaza. 200 state directed assassinations of Palestinian military operatives and political leaders were also needed to make them absolutely safe.
An ‘Intifada’, an Arabic word is not an anti-Semitic word calling for the erasure of Israel; it is an uprising against oppression or a resistance movement. This would seem to indicate that the Palestinians were being oppressed and the Israelis were the oppressors. And, the violence in question was not simply the one with missiles, bombs and whistles but everyday structural violence. In systematic ways, the Palestinians were hindered from equal access to opportunities, goods, and services that enable the fulfillment of basic human needs.
In this context, one has to think about Johan Galtung, Norwegian theorist, who is often called the Father of Peace studies. He developed a three pronged typology of violence that represents how a confluence of malleable factors merge in historical moments to shape the conditions for the promotion of violence (and by inference of peace) to function as the norm — direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence. All three have been engaged in this conflict by Israel.
Hamas has fought several wars with ‘the Zionist entity’ as they call Israel, since it took power, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and carrying out other deadly attacks. Questionable and dark methods to achieve political self-determination (would Gandhi’s non-violence have worked?). In response, Israel attacked Hamas several times with air strikes and ground troops (Direct violence). Israel controls the air space over Gaza and its shoreline, and strictly limits the movement of people and goods (Structural violence). Palestinians considered this collective punishment because not all Palestinians belonged to the extremist group, Hamas.
This year has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has over 4,500 Palestinians including women and children in their prisons. Many are being held without any charges filed again them. To the Zionists in Israel and in the diaspora, there are certain prevailing social norms that exist that make direct and structural violence seem “natural” or “right” or at least acceptable. To throw Palestinians in prison without justification is defensible. (Cultural violence).
On October 7, 2023, Hamas retaliated with “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and fired over 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel within a span of 20 minutes. 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken as hostages. The Israeli right wing government bayed ‘sweet revenge’ killing to date over 17,000 people including civilians. It is hard to call them the oppressed anymore (despite their interpretive lens) when they have killed over 6,000 children intending to wipe out the next generation of Palestinians (only to have perhaps created Hamas 2.0).
This brings us to Zionist-in-Chief, Benjamin Netanyahu, fondly known as Bibi, who embraced President Biden in a bear hug when POTUS landed in Israel after the October 7 attack. Netanyahu says he wishes to obliterate Hamas (he himself strengthened Hamas to keep the Palestine problem at bay) and wishes to show no temperance as expected from a ‘civilized’ leader. Netanyahu’s position in Israel was crumbling and he joined the right and ultra-right parties to cling to power. He has been extremely unpopular in Israel for introducing new laws to clip the power of the Supreme Court. Until the Hamas attack, there have been 100,000 protesters on the streets every Saturday night for the past 6 months against this new law. He needed to find an external enemy like Hamas and engineer a conflict in order to unify the country against the common enemy.
It is inconceivable that Mossad, one of the best intelligence services in the world did not know of the impending attack. The New York Times has just published an article claiming that the blueprints of the attack were given to Netanyahu but the Israelis chose to ignore the warning. Moreover, there is the issue of an Israeli Apace helicopter that opened fire on the people attending the music festival and over 400 people (of the 1,200 ascribed to Hamas) are said to have been killed in friendly fire. The location of the music festival was changed at the last minute close to the border and this raises the question, why? Is it possible that Netanyahu sacrificed his own to start the war with Gaza? This maybe a convoluted conspiracy theory but it has to be reckoned with. Was he trying to seem like the oppressed so that he could become the oppressor with the world’s blessings?
Israel has killed civilians en masse with its stated purpose of destroying Hamas. Their bombs have ravaged Gaza and they have cut off food, water and electricity to the war torn area. It is not really a war where two entities are participating. Only one entity is raining bombs on the ‘other,’ a hapless, racially different and powerless population. The point to note is that there are valuable resources in Gaza: natural gas, oil, and control of trade routes on the eastern Mediterranean. Geologists and resources economists have confirmed that the occupied Palestinian territory lies above sizable reservoirs of oil and natural gas in Area C of the West Bank and the Mediterranean coast off the Gaza Strip. Safety for Zionists have to include financial safety as well.
Follow the Money
Will they stop? When will this end? Netanyahu has declared that there will be no end in sight. Bibi has the support of politicians in America. Now we go back to that question of why are these folks so interested in appeasing the Zionists? Follow the money! The Zionists are an extremely powerful group in America. Look at the ownership of big business. Their footprints are everywhere –in government, media, Wall Street, Hollywood and sports. Campaign funding comes from Zionist groups. (Follow MSNBC’s Ali Velshi to know more about AIPAC).
President Biden watches the same news that we do but he is unwilling to call for a ceasefire for many reasons – his campaign funding comes from organizations like AIPAC, his friendship with Bibi, and his cabinet that will not let him take a forceful step vis a vis Israel. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil told Moises Naim, a brilliant thinker, incidentally Jewish, that the power of a president is really very limited in a democracy. “There is a gap between our real power and what people expect from us,” and “this is the source of the most difficult pressure a head of state has to manage.” (People who are angry with Biden only need to remember that Trump is not a better option – Miriam Adelson, one of Trump’s top financial backers, said that the Hebrew Bible should have a book of Trump for his good work for Israel).
It is important that we recognize our ‘situatedness’, see our interpretive lens, and realize the importance of interpretation, coupled with the recognition of the truth of diverse normative claims. From the Israeli point of view, they are the oppressed but from the example they have set in the last two months, we have to consider otherwise. There are no objective truths (except when you leave 45 babies in incubators without power) but one needs empathy to understand how one can hold an opinion so different from one’s own. The cultivation of this empathy makes our human agency flip the coin from violence to peace. The cultivation of this empathy prevents one side from stripping the other side of their clothes and lining them up as if they were in Nazi Germany.
Galtung would say that there is nothing inevitable about either violence or peace; both are manifest in three intersecting formulations: direct, structural, and cultural and all are shaped by conscious and unconscious human agency. The younger generation of Israelis might be more amenable to live beyond fears of anti-Semitism and can find safety in cooperation. One hopes that they will subscribe to the Jewish principle of “Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world.For Israel to be safe, Palestine has to be safe. So there. If not, we might see Marx’s ‘withering away of the state,’ as real democracy steps in – after all, the world cannot accept this carnage and needs an end in sight. And, “never again” does anyone want to witness what we have been witnessing over the last 2 months, “never again” for anyone.
Piyali Ganguly is the CEO of Pia Ka Ghar, a California company. The mission of PKG is to make someone’s next day a little bit better, be it dogs or people anywhere in the world. Piyali is a History Major from Presidency College, Calcutta and University of California at Irvine. Currently, she studies Religious Literacy at a Harvard University program. She’s an avid reader and writes poetry.