More and more, comment on Israel’s savage attack on the people of Gaza seems superfluous. The facts - even the modicum of facts that can be gleaned through the deadly wall of Israeli censorship and the perverse and sinister distortions of the American media - speak loudly, with horrifying clarity, for themselves. We are witnessing monstrous crimes, committed with cold deliberation: a bloodthirsty spectacle of unbridled terrorism, openly celebrated by the political and media elites of Israel and America.
This is, of course, the same kind of moral insanity that has raged around the American terrorist attack on Iraq for many years. It is the same moral insanity that guides the actions of power in many lands, in increasingly brazen and unapologetic ways, with less and less of the shamefaced furtiveness that once surrounded such abominations as military aggression, torture, “ethnic cleansing” and other crimes of power down through the centuries. This furtiveness was hypocrisy, of course - but in hypocrisy there remains some vestige of the morality it falsely purports to uphold, some awareness that an evil thing is being done which must be hidden or disguised.
But now the masks are falling away - or rather, they are being flung aside with gleeful abandon. America’s top officials - including the president and vice president - openly admit to ordering torture...and they are praised for it, even held up as shining examples for future leaders to follow. Vast swathes of the corporate media labor mightily to justify the ancient evil of the water torture, and other “high-end interrogation techniques,” to use the diabolical terminology of CIA Director Michael Hayden. The escalation of the on-going American war crime in Iraq - the so-called “surge” - is lauded as a “success beyond our wildest dreams” by the new, “progressive” manager of the empire, Barack Obama. (Imagine calling an action that allowed a known serial killer to extend his spree for years into the future a wild, dreamy “success.") Citizens of the “liberal democracy” in Israel - the “light unto the nations” - gather in safety and comfort on open hillsides to watch, cheering, as bombs fall on the trapped and helpless civilians penned in the Gaza ghetto. These macabre celebrations are echoed across America, where bitter partisan foes put aside their differences to come together in their unstinting, uncritical support of child murder across the sea.
What commentary could adequately address such madness? Simply to see it is to know what it is. And if you cannot already see it for what it plainly is - when the bare, unaccomodated facts shout this evil from the lower depths to the highest heavens - what amount of commentary will sway you?
Then again, I don’t write to sway anybody any more, if I ever did. I write to stay sane, to keep from exploding in rage or going dead with despair, to try to clear a space in the howling madness for myself, and for anyone else who might come this way. I write to bear witness - mostly to myself, and to what’s left of my conscience. I write because somewhere along the line, by drift of circumstance, my mind was shaped in such a way that it is only by writing that I can try to understand the world, and my own thoughts and beliefs. If I could do all that without writing - or if I could stop looking at reality and caring about it - then I probably would. But for whatever reason - those same drifts of circumstance, no doubt - I can’t; so I go on.
And so, back to it. What is the latest on the slow-motion razing of the Gaza Ghetto? How many dead, how many new horrors? What madness cries out from the facts today? The Independent reports:
Three members of UN staff were injured when three Israeli shells hit the headquarters, setting it on fire. Thousands of tonnes of desperately needed food and humanitarian supplies were destroyed and about 700 refugees given shelter in the building had to be evacuated. UN officials said the shells were white phosphorus, believed to have been responsible for burns suffered by some Palestinian civilians.
The Scotsman has more on the Israeli chemical weapon torching of desperately needed food supplies:
“The main warehouse was badly damaged by what appeared to be white phosphorus shells,” UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said at a news briefing in New York. Those on the ground don’t have any doubt that’s what they were. If you were looking for confirmation, that looks like it to me.” The compound belongs to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unwra).....
Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the military fired artillery shells at the UN compound after Hamas militants opened fire from the location, a version of events John Ging, director of Unwra in Gaza, rejected as “nonsense”
Mr Ging said Israeli shells first hit a courtyard filled with refugees, then struck garages and the UN’s main warehouse, sending thousands of tons of food aid up in flames. Later, fuel supplies ignited, sending a thick plume of smoke into the air.
Was this really a “mistake,” as the Israelis first claimed? Of course not; they knew exactly where the UN compound was located, as the Independent reports:
The only mistake here was the UN’s, in telling the Israelis exactly where to fire in order to terrorize the organization into curtailing its increasingly strident criticism of the Gaza razing. And as noted above, it was not long before the Israelis dropped the transparent lie that the UN attack was a mistake, and instead began claiming that it was a justified response to gunfire coming from the compound. This lie too will be doubtless tumbled in due course, but the story will have already moved on to new prevarications over other atrocities by then.
Yesterday also marked the beginning of what looks to be sustained campaign to destroy the remnants of Gaza’s medical infrastructure. The Independent reports:
The hospital is in the Tal Hawa district, a packed residential area. Streams of people fled from the fighting, carrying what belongings they could on foot, by car, and, in some cases wheelbarrows after homes were demolished and set ablaze. Mahmud Tejan Hussein drove away with seven members of his family. “Bullets started hitting our house and I decided that we must get away from here. There are Israeli tanks in the area now and we might get blocked off if we wait. But I do not know where we are going to go. We wanted to go to the UN office, but that has been attacked. Wherever we go, the fighting will follow us.”
Musah Mohammed, 36, who stayed at his home in an apartment block, said: “We cannot go out. There is shooting in the street. My mother is ill and she is old; we cannot leave her here. People are shouting to each other from balconies crying that they need help. We have no electricity and very little food and water. We are very afraid; we do not know what will happen next."
What is the purpose of all this crimeful frenzy, this berserker rampage? Despite the earnest handwringing over these questions among the punditry, here too the facts speak clearly. The purpose of the action in Gaza is the same purpose behind every Israeli military action against the Palestinians, a goal enunciated with Kurtz-like clarity by General Moshe Ya’alon, former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, in 2002: to “sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people.”
We are continually told that Israel is a bastion of “Western values” in midst of barbarian lands. It is certainly proving it now. As we noted here the other day, Israel is displaying the same kind of Western values that the European settlers in North America showed in searing into the consciousness of the Native Americans that they were a defeated people. Or that the English showed in breaking the Welsh and subduing the Scots. (Although they never could quite sear the Irish deeply enough.) Or as, going back through the glorious history of European civilization, nation after nation, people after people, tribe after tribe were seared, broken, vanquished, absorbed or simply liquidated.
Yes, yes, I know that’s not what they mean when they speak of “Western values.” They mean, essentially, that there is more personal freedom in Israel than you will find in many other countries, especially in that region. And this, essentially, is true - as long as you are not an Israeli Arab, or a journalist who wishes to report on what your “liberal democracy” is doing in its military actions, or someone who has run afoul the ever-more violent religious extremists who are increasingly embraced by the power structure.
But the Israelis have learned what the American elites have long known: “personal freedoms” (for approved groups) need not threaten the power structure. In fact, the infinite distractions they provide can even siphon away most of the political energy of the body politic, leaving elites free to do as they like: start wars, bomb hospitals, torture captives, loot the treasury on behalf of their cronies, etc.
Personal freedoms are a fundamental good, of course; in fact, they are a fundamental human right, not a “gift” from the powerful. But the presence of a relative amount of personal freedom - even a large, flourishing “dissent” industry - in any society is not of itself a bar to crime, violence, terror, injustice and repression on the part of the government. Think of Saddam’s Iraq, or Afghanistan before the American-sponsored jihad destroyed the secular socialist state there in the 1980s. Both regimes combined political repression with more personal freedoms than either of those states enjoy now.
In much the same way, the personal freedoms of many Israelis and Americans have not prevented their governments from committing horrendous crimes. The victims of these crimes are just as dead, the lives of the survivors are just as shattered, just as riddled with grief and cries for revenge, no matter how free the espousers of Western values are to walk into Starbucks with a copy of Haaretz or The Nation - or Das Kapital or Mein Kampf or People Magazine - in their hands. If the espousers don’t use their personal freedoms to oppose evil by their governments, then what does that say about their “values”?
In any case, the bravura display of ancient Western values keeps going in Gaza, while a handful of people in the Western citadels of “civilization” (including Israel) are trying to use their personal freedoms to stop it. For example, a letter published in Friday’s Guardian, signed by dozens of British scholars, scientists, writers, physicians, and others - with many Jews, even some IDF veterans, among them - gives a succinct overview of the context of the ghetto razing, along with measures to change this murderous context:
We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.
We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders. We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Perhaps they too are doing nothing more than trying to stay sane, trying not to explode, acting out of some psychological need to bear witness to a reality that will not change. Perhaps protesting and documenting evil will prove futile in the end. These are great likelihoods. But if those who do have some measure of personal freedom do not act and do not speak, then it is an iron certainty that these great evils will go on.