Israel, Hamas, Palestinians and the U.S.

One atrocity doesn’t justify another. Please tell me. Who are the real monsters here?

Israel, Hamas, Palestinians and the U.S.
A woman mourns relatives killed by an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza City Hospital. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem. Full article and photo essay from Reuters here.

I have been without words the last few days, watching the gruesome violence of war breaking out in Israel. I’ve been reading and contemplating the endless hatred that resulted from the decision to partition Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state in 1947, as a remedy for the horrors suffered at the hands of Germany in events leading up to WWII, and the ghastly atrocities that followed, the concentration camps, the mass graves, and the living skeletons allied troops found at the end of that war.

In my teens, I read numerous books about the WWII. I have a memory of bursting out into tears at the image of a one-legged man crutching his way across a landscape of rubble and craters, as I played on the floor with toys when I was far younger. My parents didn’t realize I was absorbing that grim, gray documentary.

Born in 1961, I was aware that many important adults in my life had been impacted by the war in some way, whether it was serving in the military, growing victory gardens, or working in converted factories that built the terrible machines of death. It is nearly incomprehensible to think a single human being aided by a group of equally ill people turned an entire nation into a factory of its own kind, one of death and torture, that included vivisections, human skin turned into lamp shades, and the organized murder of six million Jews, Slavs, Poles, gypsies, and others who were deemed subhuman animals.

The Gaza Strip is a 25-mile-long by 6-mile-wide, open-air prison. Bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, blockaded by Israel to the north and east, and Egypt to the south, walls, fences and military checkpoints define the rest of its border. This tiny tract of land houses 2.3 million people, under blockade since 2007, when Hamas, an armed faction of the Palestinian people, seized control from Fatah, the other major political party. Hamas disturbing mission is the obliteration or dissolution of Israel through jihad. For clarity’s sake, the word jihad means "striving" or "struggling," especially for a praiseworthy aim. I believe the pure form of the word has been twisted in Western culture, as it has become synonymous with war and terrorism. Tragic human behavior often begins with miscommunication.

Israel map illustration shows how tiny and hemmed in the Gaza Strip is.
Israel map shows how tiny and hemmed in the Gaza Strip is.

Regardless of the word, whether it’s a jihad, a European style crusade, genocide of indigenous people, or ethnic “cleansing,” I don’t need to tell you the moral hypocrisy of war justified by religious beliefs. As an atheist, I just shake my head in disgust at the ease with which those believing in their version of God above all others break their own moral tenets.

It’s ironic that the Gaza Strip resembles the “Jewish Quarters” of WWII Germany, one of over a thousand ghettos Nazis herded Jews into as they prepared to carry out The Final Solution, the extermination of races they deemed inferior, particularly Jews who comprised most of the victims.

Similarly, Palestinians have been packed into a tiny strip of land and deprived of basic rights, let alone the ability to dream of a better future. Their children, traumatized and angry, die from bullets for provoking soldiers and tanks, with rocks. Their young people die at a high rate from suicide. According to the UN, abject poverty in Gaza runs at 36 percent, unemployment over 40 percent, and food insecurity around 50 percent. 83 percent of workers are paid less than the minimum wage.

From a U.S. News article, Maram Faraj, a 23-year-old Palestinian woman living in Gaza was quoted:

I don't feel safe in my country. I always feel like I'm going to be the next victim. I always think about the way that I will die. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Will I ever die normally?’”

Pleasure or pain literally changes brains. Those changes can be physically passed to offspring, a genetic mutation. This has been shown in neuroscience studies of the brains of mice. If you kick your dog over and over again, what kind of animal do you create?

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Abdel Aziz Mousa Thabet commented in an article for The Guardian.

They become fighters. I warned about this 15 years ago, that in 15 years these traumatised children will be more aggressive, they will want to fight, there will be more violence in the community,” he said. “It’s a cycle of aggression.” “So now we will have another generation of more aggressive behaviour. They will go to more extremes because they have no future… It’s a cycle of aggression. Children see their parents killed in front of them. What do you expect?”

The October attack by Hamas which killed over 1,300 people, 1,000 of them civilians, can carry no adequate excuse, attacking civilian populations is obviously grotesque, as well as illegal under the rules of the Geneva Convention, but there are reasons, like all the brutal crimes we carry out on one and other. For Palestinians, grievances go back to the partitioning to form Israel followed by the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, which created over 700,000 Palestinian refugees. The Six-Day War in 1967 resulted in Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, Jordan’s West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. That displaced 280,000 to 325,000 more Palestinians from the West Bank. This led to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, in which Egypt and Syria attempted to reclaim their lost territory.

The wars Israel has endured are good reason for paranoia and militancy, yet those solve nothing. Many dispute their claim to territory taken during the Six-Day War, I do not. They were attacked, defended themselves and won. However, since that time they have continued to annex the West Bank without provocation against international law, and the Palestinians live in an apartheid system governed by the military, while the West looks away from the abuses.

Water, food and electricity have been cut off to Gaza, endangering people further. Many sleep outdoors in the rubble, on pieces of cardboard. 360,000 Israeli reserves have been called up for a ground invasion, to follow the indiscriminate bombing we have witnessed. Israel has not been eradicating Hamas, but they have been killing Palestinian civilians, thousands already. Hamas does not represent the majority of Palestinians, but what choice do they have? There have been no elections held since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

I am struck hard by the language of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who has vowed to wipe Hamas "off the face of the Earth." “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly,” Gallant has said. This is the language of genocide, the very tragedy Jews were victims of eight decades ago.

Devestated, gray bombed out landscape of pulverized buildings.
Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested Palestinians flee south through this landscape. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Benjamin Netanyahu, whose reputation is that of a strongman, has warned Palestinians to flee south, but there is nowhere to go. Does he think his so-called warning will absolve him of war crimes? Does he care? Apparently not.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said Friday:

Moving more than one million people across a densely populated warzone to a place with no food, water, or accommodation, when the entire territory is under siege, is extremely dangerous – and in some cases, simply not possible.”

No kidding. Most of the roads are blown up.

Biden’s immediate, unqualified support for Israel was predictable. For years, we have chosen not to confront Israel on their systemized human rights abuses of Palestinians, but I have witnessed this type of behavior often in my lifetime. I am reminded of the Iraq war, in which it was claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

George W. Bush and our insipid congress did not represent me when he invaded Iraq. I listened to international weapons inspector Scott Ritter interviewed on my public radio station numerous times, emphasizing clearly and forcefully that Hussein had NO weapons of mass destruction. Then I listened to Congress subvert the Constitution by granting Bush unilateral power to wage war, without a congressional vote. Stupidly dangerous. That was not in my name.

Then we, the primary writers of the Geneva Convention designed to avoid the horrors of WWII flouted it, by attacking a country that didn’t attack us, outsourcing kidnapping and calling it “extraordinary rendition,” and redefining law so supposed enemy combatants could be held indefinitely without charges. And supposed military hero Colin Powell lied to the UN about the existence of WMDs, to get the ball rolling. We know what was found. Nothing. But we did kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Disturbing image of woman in military fatigues with a naked man on the floor, leashed around his neck.
Games at Abu Ghraib. Who is the monster in this photo?

We had people thrown into vans based on rumors and questionable informants, hauled them off to Abu Ghraib prison, held them without charges, or counsel, stripped them naked, tortured them with sleep deprivation, blasted heavy metal at deafening levels in their concrete cells, threatened them with dogs, subjected them to brutal cold, used electric shock on their genitals, and of course now infamous water boarding, to coerce confessions. Torture is a notoriously unreliable, an illegal tool under those conventions we happily set aside. We weakened our standing in the world, sacrificed any right to hold the moral high ground, and endangered our own service people to suffer the same treatment, should they become enemy combatants.

John McCain, who Donald Trump called a loser, knew something about getting tortured in service to his country.

Biden came out in immediate support of Israel, and Netanyahu, whose support in the country was shaky at best as a right-wing strong man, is likely to gain support just as George W. did after 911, the puppet of Dick Cheney former CEO of Halliburton, which not coincidentally made billions off the war.

So how do you define terrorist, or monster? If you base it on violence, injustice and repression, let’s revisit how America was born. Certainly, we were no better than terrorists in the eyes of the British aristocracy, who themselves gave us the model for successful, empirical terrorism. After we defeated the bastards, we proceeded to carry out genocide on Native Americans and enslave Africans jammed into the holds of ships, half of whom died on each voyage over.

Is Hamas the monster? Is Israel the monster? Are Palestinian children radicalized by hopelessness the monster? Is the U.S. the monster for looking away as Israel imprisoned 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip and continued to annex the West Bank?

It is sad to watch Israel turn into a monster. This all started with the carving up of the Middle East by colonial powers a long time ago. The Palestinians were victims from the beginning.

Latest headline from the New York Times:

Israel and Palestinians Blame Each Other for Blast at Gaza Hospital That Killed Hundreds

Of course, they do.

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