Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Israel, Palestine - the tragedy unfolds

A few days ago, I cut and pasted a long email from Starhawk. I said then that any comment would be superfluous and I am not really deviating from that statement. I would urge any who have not read it to do so now.

For a while now, my attention has been focussed on developments in my private life. I may comment on these later but they are outside the scope of this post. I have, however, been aware of developments in the larger world. And one of these is the tragedy of Gaza. Milton wrote in "Samson Agonistes" of being "Eyeless in Gaza" and this seems to be still the case. There is a wilful blindness here.

Starhawk wrote this:

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this. Or rather, I do get it. I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel. The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis. But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story. There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out. It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story."

Herein lies the problem. And it goes back millennia. It goes back to the pernicious nonsense of the "chosen people" and their "promised land". Because the land that the Israelites coveted was not uninhabited. It was already the home of a highly sophisticated civilisation when the wanderers from the desert overran it with, according to the bible, genocidal efficiency and attempted to assert their own, sterile, religion upon it. The same divine sanction is still claimed by those who defend the State of Israel. It goes something like this:
"We are the chosen people and thus every one of us worth infinitely more than those who are not so chosen. We are not, therefore, subject to the rules that apply to the rest of humanity". I would refer any curious reader to the bible for compelling -and nauseating - evidence of this.

This, lest I be accused of anti-semitism, is not a feature of Judaism alone. On the contrary, it has infected all those civilisations of "the book" which are in dominance today. Could the state of Israel have existed without the guilt of those who had ignored the plight of European Jews in the 30s? Somehow, I think not.

There is absolutely no doubt about the horrors attendant on European anti-semitism. However, since 1948 this problem has been displaced to the peoples of the Middle East who had played absolutely no part in the horrors of the Tsarist pogroms or the Nazi holocaust. And. lest it be forgot, these were not committed by Moslems but by nominal Christian nations. Who then, confronted in 1945 with the full horror of the logical extension of their own belief systems, decided to create the state of Israel. It was not as if this was inevitable. Along the line, other territories had been considered, including Madagascar.

What these territories had in common was that they were the "property" of European powers. Israel was, and is a
still, a European imperial project, It is not without significance thar Israel has long been a contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest. It is deeply and tragically ironic that Israel has inherited the manifest destiny ideology of those powers that for so so long persecuted Jews. The very "non-person" attitudes of 20th century racist ideology are all too obvious in the justifications that apologists give for the latest killings in Gaza.

My point is that the only way forward is to accept that people have the right to enjoy and gain full benefit from the place in which they were born and in which they subsequently raise their families, colour of skin or putative divine promises notwithstanding. If a Jewish farmer wishes to till her or his land and bring forth crops, I can see no reason to restrict her or his rights to do so. If however, the exercise of this right infringes the rights of others then I would hope for an impartial adjudication.

This, however, is not the case. I fear that the blood guilt of the European Powers, justified as it undoubtedly is by history, has now been transferred to the Palestinians. This has resulted in belief that an Israeli life is intrinsically more valuable than the life of a Palestinian. Thus it is now the Palestinians who are bearing the costs of pain and trauma that centuries of European anti-semitism have perpetrated, But they have brown skins and are therefore, according to the racist ideology that is still highly prevalent, less worthy of respect and consideration.

The Palestinians are not, by any stretch of the imagination, responsible for the situation today. That is the result of a combination of euro-=American guilt and the legacy of Empire. Except to the most warped, Auschwitz had revealed the true horror of the rampant anti-semitism that underpinned so much European thought. Where better to displace this anti-semitism than onto the brown-skinned Arabs? Thus, the ruling classes of "the West" can now sit and pontificate on the shortcomings of those people who were displaced in order to make the victims of horror and atrocity feel safe. For one thing, it enabled those who had funded the death camps to feel safe and free from investigation.

And in the end who lost as a result of this collective euro-american guilt? Well, certainly not the principals because they still make profits. And those very profits prove, according to the prevailing economic theories, that whatever caused that profit is in and of itself virtuous. Thus, if the latest incursion into Gaza results in profits to the shareholders then it is economically justifiable. Death, in these circumstances,is just one small part of the equation.

The state of Israel exists and its citizens have the right to life and liberty. They have the right to bear children and earn a living. Those facts are undeniable. But so do the Palestinians. They are equally human. This fact seems to get lost somewhere in the rhetoric. Starhawk makes a telling point when she writes:
Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they? They don’t exist.” We hear, “There is no partner for peace,” “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void. I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact. But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they? They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either

This kind of disregard for others is truly horrifying.

No comments: