Killling “Snakes” and Selves

“Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

Ayelet Shaked, Member of Israeli Parliament


I am Jewish but that identity doesn’t define me. I was Bar Mitzvah-ed, but that day ended my religious connection. I parroted some memorized Hebrew, but I certainly couldn’t understand it. I celebrated but only because I had too. Family and all.

More, once, and only once, before or since, have I directly, personally, encountered outright anti Semitism. A parent of someone I was dating flippantly said something about Jews controlling the world and I nearly assaulted him. I do not have a lot of patience for racism in any context, but I was surprised that his idiotic verbiage set me off as much as it did. It wasn’t blood ties, and it certainly wasn’t religious beliefs that spurred my reaction. So I guess saying the Four Questions a few times as a kid may have had some modest cultural impact.

Does some residue of my childhood tangential Jewish involvement, perhaps having liked Rabbi Schankman of Temple Israel up to my becoming thirteen, cause me, now, to feel just a bit more aggressively outraged and nauseated by the current events in Gaza than if I hadn’t been to Temple a few times? I have no idea, but I don’t think it matters. What does matter is the absolute, unmitigated horror that is now occurring in Gaza. Yet, there are so many horrors. Can words situate this one in the evil hall of fame?

Corpses? Yes. Plenty of corpses are piling up. Broken buildings? Yes. Rubble is waste high and climbing.

When I was becoming adult, violence was Vietnam. In the midst of that, I wondered how humans who had enjoyed even modest personal freedom and development, rather than, say, being beat up and caged as kids and denied education and culture, could be even a fraction as cynical and delusional as my own government was.

But while “destroying the City to Save it” set an incredibly high standard for vile rationalization – I can’t help but notice the “to save it” part of the phrase. In those days, and even more so since the movements of those days had their effects, if nothing else, to perpetrate vile actions in pursuit of reasons of state or reasons of profit required aggressive claims of high motives. Yet, for the Israelis, this no longer seems true.

Yes, for international consumption they fabricate idiotic justifications – mainly they say this is our defense against them defending themselves. And, just to be clear, to those who say that Israel has a right to defend itself, there is only one correct answer. Yes. It does.

And what that means is to escape being attacked by the occupied, Israel can leave Gaza, cease the occupation, cease the racism. That is the only legitimate way for an occupying force – anywhere, anytime – to defend itself against the colonized. Stop perpetrating the crime. There is no warrant for an occupier to get violent. That is just more crime. The solution is to get out.

If you don’t understand that, think of it this way. Imagine the British who were in the U.S. fighting the colonists saying, hey – we have a right to defend ourselves. The reply ought to have been: yes, you do, and your right to do so sanctifies your leaving, but not your shooting us.

Or how about the Nazi in France, or  perhaps a better analogy is the Nazi in Poland – in Warsaw. Imagine they said, hey, we have a right to defend ourselves. Again, the reply ought to have been, yes, you do, and that right sanctifies your leaving, but not your obliterating our lives, culture, and constructions.

Ditto for the U.S. in Indochina and a long list of other places. And ditto for Israel in Gaza. Defend yourselves, by all means, sure, and to do so, get out.

But that isn’t my real point in this little rant. Rather, I want to note something new about the events, perhaps worth a few words. It is that the Israelis seem quite content, certainly for domestic consumption and to a degree even internationally, to make no bones about what they are doing.

Knock knock – goes the small missile rap on the roof. Boom goes the hospital underneath shortly later. No worry, just “dead snake” patients and their dead snake doctors.

Ring ring goes the phone. Rubble goes the home. No worry. Just dead snake kids and their dead snake mothers. Another snake habitat reduced to ash. Hooray.

Okay, this is obviously barbaric. If you can’t see that, I don’t know how to better communicate with you about it. But the thing is that these “warnings” also may seem to you insane. It isn’t just the vile cynicism of telling people to get out when the only place they can go is a place that is likely next on the target list. The warnings also make totally evident, and utterly undeniable, what most countries try to hide, or to not be guilty of in better cases.

That is, the knocking to announce what is coming makes totally evident that the Israelis are not hitting houses and hospitals and the rest of Gaza’s life and achievement by accident, but intentionally. The knocking first says, we can hit whatever we want, down to small homes, whenever we want, down to the minute. They are literally saying, here, look at what we did. See the kids shattered and shredded? See the hospital made into ash? See the power plant shooting only flames into the surroundings? See the school, the mosque, the park, the beach, the water sources all covered in rubble and torn flesh? What you see is precisely what we intended to do. There is no collateral damage. There is just intended damage. We Israelis actually want to kill whatever moves. And we want to tell those still moving when we are done that we did it, willfully. We know how to communicate!

When I was in High School I used to stay up nights, sometimes, trying to understand how someone could become a good German. How could people go about daily life while their country engaged in hellish infernal injustice – in that case, the ovens. But I understood in time. The pressure of wanting to get by, of wanting to fit and of not thinking there was any alternative, and, for even more people, the bliss of ignorance (well guarded by asking few if any questions), and, for even more people, literally ignorant fear and intentionaly stirred up desire for revenge, did the trick. And I saw it all in the U.S., during the Indochina campaigns, and regarding the history of racism, and now too, as we destroy the environment. So I get that.

But then there are the storm troopers. The Brownshirts. This is harder to explain. I used to think maybe it was something about the German language – I knew they didn’t have different DNA but they did, after all, talk different. And then I learned that the training that produces soldiers, and to only a slightly lesser extent the education that produces adults, is precisely about obliterating human judgment and sentiment. And that many succumb. And so now we have Israelis. And the capacity for self delusion and ugly denial and even aggressive and fascistic purpose, in the broad population – even if they didn’t constantly claim to have deep and special understanding of the ills of racism – is truly remarkable. Truly sad. Truly enraging.

Even as I cry for Palestine’s pain and hope they prevail, part of me also wonders, when the dust clears, what the hell are the Israelis who are urging incinerating Palestine and Palestinians going to tell themselves so they can live with themselves? The corpses that look so human were really snakes? Or that I was, at least for a time, a monster? And what will they tell their kids? In order to live with their kids. And for their kids not to become monsters – one hopes.

And arguably even more so, what are the Americans with a disgusting past of supporting this horror going to tell themselves? And to tell their kids? And I fear the answer may be nothing at all. Because the ash can of history – which is CNN and the New York Times – may lug away culpability and truth by way of the sewage that is their reporting.



  1. Bill Michtom August 3, 2014 3:00 pm 

    I strongly recommend Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews.

    Hilberg (in three volumes) explicates the process, the “how” of the Holocaust. Through that one gets some of the why, but the understanding of what and how explains the horror completely.

    As an intro, the Wikipedia article gives a good understanding of what he did: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Destruction_of_the_European_Jews

  2. HENDERSON HELENE August 3, 2014 8:34 am 

    As a teenager, I also used to stay up at night wondering why did the Holocaust happen and more importantly what would I do if similar circumstances happened again ? It was an obsessive thought until I found out my great-grand-mother was Jewish.

    But still I try everyday to be a resistant against injustice and violence.

    As far as Germany is concerned, I think you shouldn’t forget that the first people who were sent to concentration camps were Germans who didn’t agree with Hitler, and the entire population was closely monitored by Nazis. It’s not comparable but I hear Israelis who don’t want to join the army go to jail.

    Genocides happened before the Holocaust and have happened since. Naively, compassionate people around the World expect the Jews, who were martyred, to behave like saints, and Israel to be an example of fairness. Well, there goes one more illusion. Having martyrs in your family doesn’t make you a better person.

    Only strong personal ethics can vaccinate you against “evil”.

    It is sad to say, but I think Israel and the USA are auto-sabotaging. Rather they don’t seem to understand global counsciousness around the globe has evolved, and old lies will not be believed anymore. When the dust clears, it is not clear who will be the winner.

  3. avatar
    Arby August 3, 2014 5:33 am 

    “The oppressors who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves.”

    That’s quite insightful.

    For a while, I was pondering the difference between Nazism and fascism. I use the two words interchangeably, but I wondered whether I should. I’m clear on the meaning of ‘fascism’ (which I’m not inclined to complicate, unlike some). Nazism was fascism as well, but was there a difference. I think that Nazism can be viewed as a successful marketing of imperialism. It’s the world’s slickest, still, selling of the state’s plans to steal others’ resources, primarily by stealing others’ countries. The symbols of Nazi Germany, and similar symbols such as you see on clothing wore by neo-Nazis in Ukraine Greece or Israel (do an image search of Good Night Left Side) are meant to convey cool. If you’re going to do the wrong thing anyway, then you might as well feel ‘good’ about it. The number of sites online offering neo-Nazi paraphernalia is staggering. What is that?

    Those who find some sort of satisfaction in serving as (appointed and self-appointed) enforcers and gatekeepers for rightwing authorities need to, first, think. That’s ‘think’, not ‘feel’. They are supporting others with an agenda. Do they agree with it? Or do they just want to be with the winner and enjoy wearing the same Nazi symbols as others? There’s two ways to get attention, which we all need: You can attract people to you; by being kind, helpful, interesting, good. Or you can force attention from others; by being outrageous, which can take many forms, including the form of violence which terrifies and destroys and certainly gets the attention of the terrified and deprived.

    Once we decide on a certain course – words, deeds or both – we will then rationalize, or make appear ‘good’, that course. If it’s a course that we know is wrong, then we will either show humility and admit our error and change course. Or else we’ll dig in, make excuses and create a narrative where the victim of our misdeed is deserving and perhaps even the offender. Then there’s self-justification. That refers to one’s overall course. And when you are patted on the back for choosing and sticking with a wrong course that your neighbors have chosen, that can be called self/world-justification.

    And rationalizations and self/world justification do not clinch the argument. They do not mean that you’re right, that you’ve won and that you are now going to enjoy the good life that you’ve essentially taken from others. But you can tell yourself that if you have no intention of changing your mind. Many Israeli citizens, carrying guns and supporting those carrying guns, will no doubt tell themselves that soon they will be truly free when their Palestinian enemies have been vanquished and they no longer have to worry about acts of terrorism by enemies too close to home. But that doesn’t mean squat. In their small bubble, they can get away with that. But what happens when those of us outside their foul bubble pop it by pointing out that there’s no good life at the end of stealing your neighbors’ property and murdering them, which you may – if you’re just a grunt soldier or some other regular citizen – have done for the benefit of a minority of neoliberal capitalists who simply do what neoliberal capitalists always do, namely expand (taking territory and resources). Are the gas companies and the Israeli politicians who aid and abet them in order to steal the gas off of the coast of Gaza planning to share that with all Israelis? Does the Israeli ruling class, and wider society, possess such a culture? Or does almost everyone in fully indoctrinated, Nazi Israel actually follow a ‘riches for the strongest’ (strongest = most violent and traitorous)? The secret is out. Some decent, conscientious Israeli soldiers have made it known that they don’t support the specific actions of their army, in the current slaughter, nor do they support the inequality and the thinking that produces it among the leaders and much of the population and will no longer participate.

    Good life? Good luck. It’s not that capitalists don’t do socialism. They do it stunningly well. But today’s sort are also wolves and will eat other in a heartbeat. And they believe in inequality. There always has to be a loser. You’re in – until you’re not. That’s ‘riches for the strongest’.

    Will Israelis ponder those facts?

  4. John Vincent August 2, 2014 11:58 pm 

    The racism consuming Israel is utterly hideous, with the Guardian reporting Israeli polls showing 86% of Israelis support the war… the slaughter, taking place in Gaza. Indeed, how can the hatred that has been created ever be completely dissipated?

    Paulo Freire argues:

    The oppressors who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.

    Is it reasonable to expect that some day Palestinians will have the strength and power to liberate both themselves and Israel from this mutually destructive relationship?

    And what about the role played by the United States, who could force Israel to stop their brutality at any time? Aren’t they the ultimate oppressor providing Israel with the necessary diplomatic, economic, military and ideological support needed to continue?

    How do Americans appalled by the brutality taking place in Gaza reconcile the fascistic rhetoric and accompanying legislation, or the utter silence, coming from their representatives in government? And what about the many Americans who don’t even consider their government’s role or follow with any interest what’s going on in the occupied territories. What role do they play? How will Palestinians and Israelis learn to live together when Uncle Sam directs geopolitical outcomes to suit his own amoral interests, enabling Israel to continue its oppression of Palestinians, while an enraged or complacent American public remains marginalized and unable to alter their government’s foreign policy, or doesn’t care to as a result of instilled apathy? It’s oppressive and we need to garner the strength to free ourselves.

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