‘Hell is the incapacity to be other than the creature one finds oneself ordinarily behaving as.’ Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza, 1936
‘I faced more danger this past weekend when I went to the Coney Island fireworks than Israelis have felt, experienced, [and] suffered from the Gaza attacks.’ Norman Finkelstein, Russia Today interview, 11/07/14
After Samson tugged and shook the temple of Dagon, sacrificing himself to murder countless ‘heathens’ who rejected the militaristic dictates of Yahweh, his effective suicide bombing was used as a model of courage and heroism by the Israelites. We are often told by statesmen, clerical elites and school teachers that this kind of martial mentality, though allegedly just, is a thing of the past. But a glance at the fanatical right-Zionist culture (as opposed to Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky’s form of pre-state socialist left-Zionism promoting Arab-Jewish co-operation) which pervades the Knesset, it’s tempting to conclude that the Netanyahu government finds much use and inspiration in Samson’s barbarism – with one qualification. For them, the suicide part is unnecessary. So long as the UN Security Council members who wield considerable influence continue to support Israel militarily and ideologically the bombing of the Palestinians can continue unhindered, in ways which even the God of the Old Testament (who, as Dawkins never tires of teaching us, was malicious and hateful) would have found reprehensible.
The ongoing assault on the impoverished and defenceless Gaza Strip is part of what may well be the most horrific crime of the post-war era, the destruction of Palestine and the longest military occupation in the world. UN Resolution 242 demands that Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, established after the June 1967 invasion, but Israel refuses. Israel has drained Gaza’s aquifers, leaving 95% of the water undrinkable – the UN has even estimated that by 2020 Gaza will be ‘unliveable’.
It is widely assumed that the current crisis began when three Israeli teens were kidnapped in the West Bank just over a month ago, later found dead. But the Israeli claims that Hamas was behind the kidnapping have zero evidence to support them, let alone any motive for Hamas to carry out such a senseless act. Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, assessed the recent crisis well in a piece for the The National: ‘After six Jewish Israelis were arrested on suspicion of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 17-year-old Palestinian kidnapped and burnt to death on July 2, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned those responsible and stated that his government does not distinguish between Palestinian and Jewish “terror”. Let’s leave aside for now the fact that there are no bulldozers heading to the homes of the Jewish suspects; or the fact that the Israeli soldiers who shoot dead Palestinian teenagers in West Bank towns and refugee camps – including in just the last few weeks – are applauded for their “courageous” actions.’
On July 10th it emerged from an unnamed IDF source that strikes on Gaza were being carried out at a rate of once every four and a half minutes, a level of destruction reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing during the Nakba of 1948. All this is in line with Israel’s stated goals found in documents released in 2010 after a campaign by the human rights group Gisha, which revealed ‘a deliberate policy by the Israeli government in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are “putting the people of Gaza on a diet”.’
Meanwhile, wealthy Israelis gathered on pleasant hilltops to secure front-row seats from which to observe their government’s bombing of Gaza:
Even more surreal was the emergence of Israeli ‘bomb shelter selfies’, which not only displayed their dramatic levels of safety from Hamas, but also revealed their intense historical ignorance and disrespect for those who endured the suffering inflicted by past wars, most notably World War II, a case supposedly very close to the hearts of right-Zionists. For reasons of cultural imbibement and media bias, Israeli’s are increasingly blind to the suffering of Gazans. Their country has become, as Alexei Sayle recently put it in an appropriately crude way, the Jimmy Savile of nation states, abusing the children of Gaza.
The so-called Operation Protective Edge launched on July 8th (which is ‘protective’ in the same sense that the Anglo-American forces which illegally invaded and tore apart Iraq in 2003 came out of the ‘defence’ budget of the UK and the US), or more accurately Operation Massacre (OM), is the latest phase in Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinians and has been ongoing for over a week. Israel has killed over 200 Palestinians and wounded 1550. On Sunday July 14th, Pierre Krähenbühl, head of UNRWA, claimed that ‘women & children make up sizeable number of victims’. On the same day, Gaza’s Al-Mezan Centre claimed 76% of those killed were civilians. More recent reports from Gazans on Facebook claim that the Israel Defense Forces are phoning Gazans in their homes to intimidate them into leaving and moving to the city centre. This practice was even used on July 16th to ‘alert’ Al Wafa Hospital in north Gaza, which was ordered to evacuate.
To an outsider lacking the customary manners and ideological blindspots of the men in Westminster, the BBC’s response on July 15th to the first Israeli fatality may appear skewed, seeming to value the life of this individual more than the estimated 200 Palestinians who have so far been killed by an illegal, nuclear-armed occupier. At roughly 7pm the BBC News website’s front page dedicated a chunk of its exciting ‘Breaking News’ banner to the fact that an Israeli civilian had just been killed by rocket fire. And this is no doubt important and tragic news. But given the way the public-funded institution had been casually, almost lethargically reporting the deaths of Palestinians during the previous days, the bright red ‘Breaking News’ slot perhaps came across as more of a sigh of relief, a kind of cynical vindication that the Israeli government, after all, were not the bad guys. OM was at last justified, and the purely retrospective nature of this reasoning is a mere footnote.
The BBC’s Jonathan Marcus supposedly examined on July 10th the weapons being used by both sides, although his report astonishingly omitted any mention of Israel’s offensive capabilities, focusing purely on their Iron Drone defence system. Clearly having remembered to take his ‘prejudice’ pills that morning, Marcus explored in some detail the types of rockets used by Hamas, which had at that time claimed zero Israeli lives, making it plain who he perceived the aggressors to be. His language was also telling: compare the plain ‘Israeli military’ to the ‘armed wings of Hamas’. He added: ‘Israel’s extraordinary practice of calling up the residents of such homes to warn them to vacate the premises ahead of any attack does not alter the fact that deaths have occurred’. Unfortunately, his use of ‘extraordinary’ bore connotations of credibility, even bravery, instead of the more accurate suggestions of psychological instability and cowardice (he also squeezed in a brief misrepresentation of ‘anarchy’ for good measure). While Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements, and while international law permits retaliation on the part of an occupied people (with many scholars interpreting the law as permitting violent retaliation, as Finkelstein points out), Marcus continues to follow the familiar script that Hamas are the aggressors despite the fact that this role is impossible for them to fill so long as Israel controls the air space, surrounding water and most of the territory neighbouring Gaza. The legal role of ‘aggressor’ has already been filled by Israel. Correspondingly, state-sponsored terrorism is by far the most serious category of terrorism in the world today, responsible for far more deaths than the likes of Hamas and al-Qaeda. Dostoevsky rightly observed in Notes from Underground that ‘the most refined shedders of blood have been almost always the most highly civilized gentleman’, to whom their enemies ‘could not have held a candle’.
During the November 2012 strikes, the BBC News website was unfailingly dedicated to the headline ‘Gaza rockets fired at Israel’ while tanks entered Bethlehem and the West Bank. The assassination of Hamas militant Ahmed Jabari by the Israeli Air Force and Shin Bet on November 14th, which lit the spark of the crisis, was universally described as an ‘assassination’, not terrorism, although the perspectives may have changed had Jabari ordered the killing of Netayahu. That evening onNewsnight, BBC presenter Gavin Esler permitted Israel’s deputy foreign minister Daniel Ayalon to claim that the ‘taking’ of Jabari was in ‘self-defence, it’s … classic self-defence’. The BBC’s Wyre Davies even sympathised with Israeli sunbathers unable to use their beaches. Marcus claimed that Jabari’s killing was ‘a taste of things to come’, serving as a mouthpiece for Israeli military propaganda. The UK government’s official position was, and still is, that Gaza was occupied, yet in practice William Hague pleaded only with Hamas to observe a ceasefire, not Israel. The background to the crisis was also lacking. On November 4th, the mentally unfit Ahmed Nabaheen was killed by Israeli soldiers while taking a stroll near the border, and could have been saved had medics arrived in time. On November 8th, Israel invaded Gaza and killed a 13 year-old boy playing football, Ahmad Abu Daqqa. Reports of these deaths were found in the usual places like The Electronic Intifada, but a general ignorance pervaded the mainstream. In 2011, considered a year of relative calm, Israel killed over 100 Palestinians by firing projectiles, and in September 2012 alone 55 were killed, stirring few in the Commons. On July 16th, Israel again decided to target young footballers by shelling a group of children on a beach, killing four.
The effects of these blatantly anti-Palestinian reports become particular vivid when we ask who benefits from the promotion of these right-Zionist positions. One pro-settler solution to the current crisis was written on July 15th by Moshe Feiglin, a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, whose solution is to ‘Conquer – After the IDF completes the “softening” of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations. … Sovereignty – Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews’. Presumably being influenced more by the later writings of Robert Ludlum than by reason or compassion, his other bright ideas included ‘Attack’, ‘Elimination’, ‘Ultimatum’, and ‘Siege’.
When reporting the deaths of Israelis at the hands of Hamas, the BBC (and the liberal media generally) never fails to point out the number of children killed and infrastructure damaged. But when reporting the deaths of Palestinians at the hands of professionally-armed Israeli forces, an ‘impartial’ death toll is simply quoted, leaving out the addendum ‘including X children’. Here are Mike Berry and Greg Philo’s findings from their concise history of the conflict, Israel-Palestine: Competing Histories (London: Pluto Press, 2006, p. 259): ‘In our samples of news content, words such as “mass murder”, “savage cold-blooded killing” and “lynching” were used by journalists to describe Israeli deaths but not those of Palestinians/Arabs. The word “terrorist” was used to describe Palestinians, but when an Israeli group was reported as trying to bomb a Palestinian school, they were referred to as “extremists” or “vigilantes”.’
Jonathan Cook’s view from Nazareth is much the same: ‘Palestinians who kill Israelis are terrorists, and Israelis who kill Palestinians are either heroes, if they are doing it in an official capacity, or deeply damaged individuals on the “fringes of society”, if they act on their own. Either way, they are not meaningfully held to account’. Hence why a recent BBC News report on the afternoon of July 16thstressed how Israel had suffered ‘its first fatality’ while 207 Palestinians had merely ‘died in Israeli air raids’, toning down the palpable responsibility. To the Economist, observing Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at armed Israeli guards, the ‘violence is not one-sided. It has, in point of fact, been initiated by the Palestinians … Israel’s aim is to stop them’ (6th October 2001). A much more accurate comment was made by Ben Kaspit, for whom, unlike the Palestinian hordes, Israel is not a state with an army, but an army with a state.
Chomsky painted a similar picture in a commentary for Z Communications: ‘At 3am Gaza time, July 9, in the midst of Israel’s latest exercise in savagery, I received a phone call from a young Palestinian journalist in Gaza. In the background, I could hear his infant child wailing, amidst the sounds of explosions and jet planes, targeting any civilian who moves, and homes as well. He just saw a friend of his in a car clearly marked “press” blown away. And he heard shrieks next door after an explosion but can’t go outside or he’ll be a likely target. This is a quiet neighborhood, no military targets – except Palestinians who are fair game for Israel’s high tech US-supplied military machine. He said that 70% of the ambulances have been destroyed, and that by then over 70 had been killed, and of the 300 or so wounded, about 2/3 women and children. Few Hamas activists have been hit – or rocket launching sites. Just the usual victims’.
The BBC’s Sarah Fowler wrote on July 15th of the ‘cyber battle for hearts and minds’ being conducted by both sides, seemingly unaware of the biases of her own article. She banally stated that ‘The IDF has also frequently issued warnings to Gazans online. In one recent tweet, it wrote: “To warn civilians of an impending strike, the IDF drops leaflets, makes personalized phone calls & sends SMSes. How many militaries do that?” ’ Not mentioned were the reports of the IDF striking civilian targets after less than a minute’s warning, an act which only serves to add to the psychological torment of the onlooking Gazans rather than prevent them from danger. Meanwhile, her readers were presumably intended to shake with fear when they found out that ‘Hamas has become more sophisticated in its use of social media’, with the power of tweets for Fowler appearing to provide a worthy opponent for the IDF’s sophisticated military hardware.
The musician Brian Eno wrote a perceptive letter to The Guardian published on July 11th which addressed some of these concerns: ‘[L]istening to the BBC one would be left with the impression that killing children had never happened in Israel before. But it has. And it happens with monotonous regularity. Not, by and large, to Israeli children, but to Palestinians. And not only killing, but imprisonment and torture and day-to-day harassment and brutality. … [In 2013] There were 58 education-related incidents affecting over 11,000 Palestinian children, with 41 of them involving Israeli security forces operations near or inside schools, forced entry without forewarning, the firing of tear gas canisters and sound bombs into school yards and, in some cases, structural damage to schools. In 15 of the incidents, Israeli security forces fired tear gas canisters into schools run by [UNRWA], some during class hours, without forewarning. … Can the BBC honestly say its recent coverage reflects this balance of events?’
The highly respected author and professor of History at the University of Exeter, Ilan Pape, likewise wrote of Israel’s ‘incremental genocide’ in Gaza: ‘The media is loyally recruited, showing no pictures of the human catastrophe Israel has wreaked and informing its public that this time, “the world understands us and is behind us.” That statement is valid to a point as the political elites in the West continue to provide the old immunity to the “Jewish state.” However, the media have not provided Israel with quite the level of legitimacy it was seeking for its criminal policies. Obvious exceptions included French media, especially France 24 and the BBC, that continue to shamefully parrot Israeli propaganda’.
The self-appointed cheerleader of liberalism, The Guardian, is happy to publish accurate criticisms of the BBC, but it recently ran the astonishing headline ‘US offers to broker peace deal as Israel pounds Gaza’ on its website’s front page on Friday July 11th, far too long into OM for any reasonable doubts to be raised about who Barack ‘hope in the promise of tomorrow’ Obama was secretly winking at. More recently, ‘The US Senate appropriations defence subcommittee agreed a military spending Bill yesterday that would provide $351 million (£204m) for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system’ (Morning Star, 16/07/14). The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Peter Beaumont, also claimed on July 16th that the ceasefire supposedly proposed by Egypt had ‘failed’, repeating the party line. But in order for something to fail presupposes that there must be a way for it to succeed. Given the consistent breaking of Hamas-respected ceasefires in the past, Israel’s nuanced definition of ‘calm’, and its persistently skewed and illegal ‘offers’ to Gaza, the only way Hamas could possibly obey a ‘ceasefire’ is if it suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth – even this most likely wouldn’t be enough, with any future Gazans targeted by Israel being instantly branded ‘terrorists’ or part of the ‘armed wing of Hamas’. In another article supposedly lending sympathy to Gazans (The Guardian, 15/07/14), Beaumont wrote how ‘The way the Israeli military tells it, “knocking on the roof” is a careful and humane practice. But too often it is not careful, as the civilian death toll from the attacks on Gaza attests’. But these and other claims nevertheless legitimise Israel’s claimed ‘right to defend itself’ from Gaza, no matter how superficially critical Beaumont may be of its tactics.
More urgently, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on July 16th that the plan for a supposed Egyptian ceasefire proposal was created in Washington and drafted by Israel, before Tony Blair, of all people, was chosen to act as the messenger: ‘Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats said the reason the Egyptian cease-fire initiative was so short-lived is that it was prepared hastily and was not coordinated with all the relevant parties, particularly Hamas’. As false claims about Hamas once again rejecting a ceasefire begin to emerge, those who vociferously condemn the organisation typically fail to note the ongoing siege of Gaza and that Hamas heard of the ceasefire through the media, not being consulted directly. The BBC felt no need to report this during their July 15th update, although it did manage to use with a straight face the IDF as a source for their user-friendly but history-ignorant conflict timeline:
The London Evening Standard, keeping the city’s commuters ill-informed since the 2009 Lebedev takeover, kept to the line that ‘Hamas rejects ceasefire’ for its July 15th edition. We immediately learn in vivid detail how Hamas had ‘fired a hail of rockets into Israel’ (before waiting until the ninth paragraph to hear of the lack of fatalities at the time), while Israel blandly launched ‘air strikes’. Reports of this kind permit Israel to claim victimhood and continue its illegal settlement program, with an Amnesty International report from 1999 revealing how Israel has manipulated the notion of ‘public land’ to continue its colonisation efforts, partly relying on Ottoman land legislation dating back to 1858. Pro-Israeli media reports also permit Israel to exploit the memory of the Holocaust, as Finkelstein has written (with Israel emitting cries of ‘Never again’ while simultaneously bombarding Gaza with missile strikes). The BBC promised to upload to its English website a recent interview with Finkelstein on BBC Persian, but later refused for alleged technical difficulties. Given the way Finkelstein handled an interview with BBC HARDtalk in 2012, the real reasons for this mishap become clearer.
A recent Truthdig piece by Chris Hedges explores similar themes: ‘The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food – the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. They live with massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people’.
What also isn’t mentioned in the press, as Ben White notes, is the fact that after the November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense Israel at once broke the ceasefire observed by Hamas and proceeded from November 22nd to February 22nd 2013 to kill 4 and injure 91 Palestinians, initiate 13 tank incursions into the Gaza strip and 30 navy attacks on Gazan fishermen, while the Palestinian attacks from Gaza into Israel during this three month period amounted to a grand total of 2.
In response to the above ‘failed’ ceasefire attempts over the past week, The Washington Post reported on July 16th that Netanyahu has given the military authorisation to use ‘full force’ against Gaza: ‘Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire’. The usual stale political-speak is now abandoned. It would be hard to find a more explicit call for outright slaughter in the modern era than this, so far casually reported by the press. Samson, it appears, lives on. Apparently rusty on his introductory logic and semantic theory, Netanyahu effectively claimed, as he has before, that in order to establish a ceasefire it is necessary for Israel to maintain concentrated fire on the Gaza strip, serving only to provoke further attacks from Hamas.
There has also been much popular discussion recently of the May 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France, which established many of the modern demarcations of Middle Eastern states, but as far as I can tell there has been no discussion of the Agreement’s larger imperial context. During the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century, sherif Hussein bin Ali, ruler of the holy city of Mecca, revolted against the Ottomans in June 1916 in the name of Arab nationalism. His rebellion only managed to muster a few thousand fighters and achieve only minor victories against the Ottoman army, and sensing an opportunity for control in the region in the event of Ottoman decline (which had been occurring since the mid-nineteenth century), Britain subsidised Hussein’s army to the tune of £11 million. ‘British officers served as military advisers to Hussein’s revolt’, writes Mark Curtis in Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2011, p. 9), including the revered T. E. Lawrence ‘of Arabia’. ‘One month before the Arab revolt broke out’, Curtis adds, ‘Britain and France secretly agreed to divide the Middle East between their zones of influence, in the Sykes-Picot agreement, named after their respective foreign ministers’. Lawrence explained in an intelligence memo in January 1916 that the Arab revolt ‘was beneficial to us because it marches with our immediate aims, the break up of the Islamic “bloc” and the defeat and disruption of the Ottoman Empire, and because the states [Sherif Hussein] would set up to succeed the Turks would be … harmless to ourselves … The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities incapable of cohesion’. What we could call the Lawrence Policy of implanted factionalism was later of some use to Britain with the formation of Pakistan from the 1930s until its declaration in 1947.
Submitting the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880 to some scrutiny will also reveal how little the unaccountable and undemocratic western military strategies have changed. To quote a parliamentary inquiry of 1879: ‘The object … is to help our countrymen to understand by what steps they have been involved in a war with the Afghan nation, and what grounds are assigned for that war by its authors. The war was sprung on us with great suddenness. Not only was there no consultation of parliament by our government, no communication to that body of any change of policy tending to involve us in a quarrel, but, when questions were asked on the subject the answers given were calculated to mislead, and did mislead the most sceptical officials and experts, and through them the whole nation.’
Putting aside the rest of the important pre-war background, which hands Britain more than enough of the blame for the plight of the Palestinians, successive UK governments have catered to the needs of Zionist militarism. British arms exports doubled during the second intifada from 2000 to 2001, reaching £22.5 million. No eyelids battered in Whitehall after three British citizens were killed between December 2002 and May 2003, an impressive display of either restraint in order to maintain relations, or outright disregard for civilian life in the name of corporate capitalism. Given Britain’s foreign and domestic policy record, it is likely the latter. In the years up the present, British supplies to its favourite Middle Eastern client have included small arms, grenade-making kits, tanks, combat aircraft, electric-shock belts, chemical and biological agents such as tear gas, rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons.
One study by the Oxford Research Group and Saferworld found that the government subsidises UK arms traders by £420m, rising to £1 billion if research and development costs are included. Of small arms and light weapons licenses granted, part of our annual £5bn arms export base, recipients include: Bangladesh, Brunei, Grenada, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uruguay and Zambia. Eyewitness testimonies of use of UK equipment for terrorist purposes are usually dismissed as ‘unconfirmed reports’ in the House of Commons. Arms contracts with Saudi Arabia also reached £300 million in 2010 alone. Blair’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, however, showed signs of sympathy in urging that ‘whether one agrees with the stance of the Israeli government is not the point. What is important is to understand the huge pressures on them’. The deaths of Palestinians should be of no concern to the rational statesman. New Labour also chose to abstain from a UN resolution condemning Israeli violence in December 2001, evoking little comment in the media. Contradicting Whitehall’s rhetorical commitment to nuclear disarmament, UN resolution 687, calling for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, is also constantly undermined by US-British support for Israel’s nuclear possessions (along with its own, increasing, supply).
Contrary to the conventional portrayal of Britain as a stern critic of Israel’s separation wall along the West Bank (the anger with which David Cameron defined Gaza as a ‘prison camp’ has oddly not been matched by his actions), in October 2003 (the same month Israel bombed ‘an apparently abandoned Palestinian “terrorist training base” ’ in Syria, in retaliation for the bombing of a Haifa restaurant which killed 19 people, including four children) Britain abstained from the UN Security council vote declaring the wall illegal. In the same year, it was revealed that British missile trigger systems were being used in the US Apache helicopters sold to Israel, with the image of Israeli pilots in US helicopters becoming a familiar one over the decades. The policy of divide of rule, found throughout British imperial history, still works considerably well in international affairs. One of the central strategies in Iraq after the 2003 invasion has been to divide the Shia from the Sunni population, encouraging the rise of death squads, something which has recently had dire repercussions for the nation. In Palestine, too, dividing Gaza from the West Bank, splitting the Palestinian resistance, using the PLO authority and the PLO security apparatus to crush demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, has effectively undermined Palestinian calls for self-determination.
The possibility of trade sanctions against Israel has always been off the agenda. Instead, Israel ‘continues to receive preferential trade treatment by the British government and the EU. Britain has designated Israel one of 14 favoured “target markets” ’, as Curtis writes. British actions towards terminating these expanding settlements to establish such a two-state settlement are superficial at best. The favoured option has always been instead to break the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention in support of Israeli atrocities. In a Joint Intelligence Committee report in 1969, Britain’s ambassador to Israel commented on the economic motives for supporting Israel: ‘Israel is already a valuable trading partner for Britain, and … there is a high future potential for our economic relations with her … On the other hand, it seems hard to avoid the conclusion … that our prospects for profitable economic dealings with the Arab states are at best static, and may indeed over the long term inevitably decline’ (JIC, ‘British economic interests in Israel and the Arab world’, 28 November 1969, CAB188/5). A pro-Arab policy in the region was rejected by the Foreign Office a year later largely ‘because of the pressure which the United States government undoubtedly exert on HMG to keep us in line in any public pronouncements or negotiations on the dispute’ (FCO report, ‘Future British policy toward the Arab/Israel Dispute,’ 14 September 1970, FCO 49/295). A study of Britain’s arms trade by Curtis and fellow historians Helen Close, Vanessa Dury and Roy Ibster notes that ‘Over £110m worth of military and “other” equipment was licensed for export to Israel from 1999 to 2006, throughout a period of offensive operations in the Occupied Territories and the war with Lebanon’.
Most of this background is starkly lacking in today’s media reports. John Stewart recently gave a rare and insightful comic perspective on OM, but commentary of this kind is rare in the mainstream, and if it is found it rarely passes beyond the ‘safe zone’ of satire, comedy sketches and panel shows into open and serious discussion. So long as celebrities like Shakira, Rihanna, Tom Jones, Scarlett Johansson and Madonna continue to place career and personal wealth over basic human dignity by performing in and acting as apologists for Israel, it will be unusually difficult for the needs of the Palestinians to be heard. There are, however, alternative sources of information, albeit ones which you have to search for, and won’t find cited on the front pages of The Times or the fashionable New Statesman. Harry Fear’s reporting in Gaza is a genuinely daring source of fearless journalism, as is the work of Patrick Cockburn, Jonathan Cook and Robert Fisk, which exposes the racism at the heart of the Israeli state.
An early friend of the West, Rav Kook, the chief Ashkenazic rabbi from 1921-35, was convinced that ‘the difference between the Israelite soul … and the soul of all non-Jews, at any level, is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a human and the soul of an animal, for between the latter there is only a quantitative difference but between the former one there is a qualitative one’. Valuing an Israeli’s life over that of a Palestinian’s, or vice versa, is inconsistent with elementary moral principles and well-established tenets of international humanitarian law, not least because, as Dawkins and Shakira teach us, we are all Africans.
No sentimentalist, Churchill also clearly explained his views on the Jewish right to the holy land in comparing the Palestinian Arabs to dogs: ‘I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place’. His literary flair no doubt proves him worthy of the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, ‘for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values’.
The white phosphorous shells used by Israeli forces against the civilian population of Gaza in January 2009 during Operation Cast Lead were ‘incendiary airburst weapons designed to incinerate a wide target area’, as Curtis put it. This fact (documented by respectable aid groups) failed to impress BBC World News correspondent Ben Brown, who announced on January 9th that white phosphorous shells were being used simply to illuminate targets in Gaza. It’s easy to imagine the reaction in Britain if the German press had reported during World War II that the Nazis were using poison gas against the Jews merely to make them easier to detect. Despite the glaring historical record, it is rarely discussed in the mainstream how during the post-war period Britain has intended to defend the Middle East at all costs, giving the region highest priority second only to the British Isles themselves.
White phosphorous was also used illegally in the US attack on Fallujah in 2004, ‘creating increases in cancer, leukemia and infant mortality and perturbations of the normal human population birth sex ratio significantly greater than those reported for the survivors of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945’ (Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi Cancer, ‘Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2010, vol. 7) – another footnote to history deemed noteworthy only by Cockburn. White phosphorous is in many ways a modern parallel to Churchill’s favourite toy, poison gas, the use of which he spent time mastering early in the 1920s. This, he believed, would spread a ‘lively terror’ amongst ‘uncivilised tribesmen and recalcitrant Arabs’, beginning a harsh legacy of British violence against the Kurds and Afghans.
In contrast, the message Einstein spread of Arab-Jewish co-operation can be seen as a form of left-Zionism or anarchism: ‘We need to pay greater attention to our relations with the Arabs. By cultivating these carefully we shall be able in future to prevent things from becoming so dangerously strained that people can take advantage of them to provoke acts of hostility. This goal is perfectly within our reach, because our work of construction has been, and must continue to be, carried out in such a manner as to serve the real interests of the Arab population also. In this way we shall be able to avoid getting ourselves quite so often into the position, disagreeable for Jews and Arabs alike, of having to call in the mandatory power as arbitrator. We shall thereby be following not merely the dictates of Providence but also our traditions, which alone give the Jewish community meaning and stability. For that community is not, and must never become, a political one; this is the only permanent source whence it can draw new strength and the only ground on which its existence can be justified’ (Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, New York: Bonanza Books, 1986, p. 179). Testifying before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in January 1946, Einstein confessed ‘The State idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-mindedness and economic obstacles. I believe that it is bad. I have always been against it’.
Returning finally to the original barbarian, taking the Book of Judges as his source material, the description of Samson’s actions at the temple towards the end of Milton’s play Samson Agonistesappears to complete the author’s recreation of Christian history, from Eve in Paradise Lost (‘She pluck, she ate’: a representation of the Fall), to Christ in Paradise Regained (‘He said and stood’: a representation of the Redemption), and to Samson in Samson Agonistes (‘He tug, he shook’: a representation of the Apocalypse). With hindsight and personal safety, Milton was able to add poetic instruction and dramatic order to the calamitous events of the Israelite’s past, lending ideological support for the violence of 17th century English colonialism. But if the Kings and Prophets of the modern world – Netanyahu, Obama, Cameron, state intellectuals and the mainstream media – continue to downplay Gaza’s dilemma whilst supporting the butchering of its children, such poetic eloquence and indulgence will be available only to the right-Zionist intellectuals of future generations, who will thuggishly and inaccurately write of the need for Israel to valiantly ‘defend itself’ against hordes of Palestinians.
This path can only be avoided if the general public collaborate to undermine the authority of elite statesmen and force them to abandon their fevered support for Israeli aggression. When alone, it’s possible to read, write, and donate, but no modern political movement of any serious stature has ever been born out of individual drive, only collective will. The Morning Star accurately reported on July 14th that ‘Britain calls on Israel to end its massacre’, noting the ‘limp response’ from William Hague and associating the recent cases of progressive human rights activism across the country purely with the British people, not the British state. Increasing displays of public defiance, of the kind found in Glasgowon July 12th, or in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool (or this coming Saturday outside Downing Street), and promoting boycott and divestment (with sanctions being at the horizon) across the country, are imperative if parliament is to be influenced in any serious way. These forms of continued demonstration, patient explanation, and principled resistance can be tiring and boring at times. But the soldiers who direct the Israeli missile attacks are not bored, and so long as they continue in their effort, so must we.