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Who Started It?

Bloodbath in Gaza

by PATRICK HIGGINS

For days now, Israel has been launching aerial attacks on Gaza, resulting in many dead and many injured. The attacks are part of a larger and massively depressing spectacle of a usurping colony forcing a population into a wall-enclosed ghetto and bombing them in the name of Judaism and the Jews.

A New York Times article, published November 14th, reports on the death of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari, killed by one of Israel’s recent (“pinpoint,”* according to the article) airstrikes. Naturally, the article makes sly non-mention of the others—including the children—killed in the strikes. One phrase in the article reflects the Israeli government’s logic regarding the matter: “The ferocity of the airstrikes, in response to what Israel called repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based Palestinian militants…”

The article goes on to bolster this logic when considering the always-tenuous ceasefire between Hamas, the governing body of Gaza, and Israel:

“Since [2008-2009] Hamas has mostly adhered to an informal, if shaky, cease-fire and at times tried to enforce the smaller militant groups to stick to it. But in recent months, under pressure from some of the Gaza population for not avenging deadly Israeli airstrikes, it has claimed responsibility for participating in the firing of rockets.”

So the question posed is, Who started it? When one reads the above words, one gets the sense that the “starting” of “it” amounts to a recent phenomenon, and that the question’s answer is to be found in recent events, circa last weekend. This logic upheld by the Israeli government and the U.S.’s “newspaper of record” is also upheld by—I apologize in advance for the astonishing lack of surprise here—the U.S. government.

At the end of his presidency, George W. Bush** justified Operation Cast Lead—Israel’s massacre of around 1,400 Palestinians—by saying Hamas started it by breaking a ceasefire with rocket fire.

First of all, that was never even true. Israel broke the ceasefire on November 4th, 2008, when it raided the Gaza Strip and killed six Hamas members. The raid was reported by the Guardian at the time. The event wasn’t really mentioned in the mainstream discussion of the U.S., which reveals something about the predominant U.S. attitude towards Israel and Gaza.

Supporters of Israel often brag about how Israel “withdrew” from Gaza, as if Gaza’s transition from formally occupied territory to open-air prison constituted a grand Israeli peace effort. But Israel breaches Gazan territory at will and becomes quite pestered when it’s met with resistance for doing so. This is perhaps unexceptional. Israel’s sponsor, the United States, similarly believes it owns everything and can do what it likes to whatever territories at any time. Just think of its vast drone network, always busy murdering civilians in places from Pakistan to Yemen.

Technically, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza offered Israel a truce as recently as November 12th. But let’s ask the question in a deeper sense: Who started it?

The question is easily answered, but it should be asked with more specificity: Who started the murderous settler-colonialism? (“Murderous settler-colonialism” is redundant, but I will nonetheless employ the phrase to make the point as clear as possible.)

Israel did, of course. The question of settler-colonialism is important. It clarifies. After all, settler-colonialism is a process. In Palestine, it’s always underway. More important to note is that it’s always violent.

Built into the settler-colonialist project is a plan to separate the people of the subject population from each other, severing individuals from their communities. In order for this to occur, the subject population’s present must become its past and that past must then be erased. This happens both through appropriation and through sheer destruction.

Sheer destruction is another art Israel has learned exceptionally well from its sponsor, the United States. One task undertaken by settler-colonialists in the U.S. was the mass extermination of North American bison (which, unbeknownst to far too many, still goes on today), dramatically changing the land that Native Americans knew so intimately. Similarly, Israel has for years been undertaking the mass extermination of olive trees, dramatically changing the land that Palestinians knew so intimately.

Indeed, the U.S. and Israel share values. Moreover, they share tactics. Their special relationship is drenched in a common genre of imagery: the imagery of death, as evidenced by the countless corpses of buffalo and olive trees, to say nothing of the countless corpses of people.

The blockade of Gaza is one form the violence of Israel’s settler-colonialism has taken. It’s not commonly regarded as violence in the U.S. After all, supporters of the U.S.’s sanctions on Iran so often consider them alternatives to violence.

Actually, sanctions are horrifyingly violent. The 500, 000 Iraqi children murdered by Bill Clinton’s sanctions in the 1990s are testament to the fact that those seeking to “cripple” economies are seeking to starve children.

The reality is the same in Gaza. One report by the United Nations has declared that it will become “unlivable” by 2020 if present conditions continue. Under these conditions, perpetual and vicious, rockets—made with the few materials to which access is possible—are resistance symbols, declarations of struggle, promises that Israel’s violence will not be accepted by Gaza, despite the military power of the forces arranged against it.

In summation, those who observe the violence in Palestine and feel compelled to scream to Palestinians about the necessity of recognizing Israel’s right to exist either cannot or will not recognize murderous settler-colonialism.

How about that question: Does Israel have a right to exist?

It is not typically good form to answer a question with a question, but because this particular question is a trick, I feel comfortable doing so. So: Can “Israel” be separated from the murderous settler-colonialism in which it has been engaged since its foundation?

Let’s suppose the answer is no. By that I mean that the Palestinian right of return continues to be denied and Israel’s racist system built on paranoia over demographics continues its violence. In that case, the answer to the question of whether Israel has a right to exist is as easy as the answer to the question of whether murderous settler-colonialism has a right to exist.

That is answer is no.

Nope.

Not a chance.

*Read “Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen,” published in the Guardian and written by Rory McCarthy, in which an Israeli official is quoted bragging about a “pinpoint” operation. Fares Akram and Isabel Kershner casually use exactly that word to describe Israel’s actions in the recent article “Israelis Launch Major Assault on Gaza, Killing Hamas Leader” in the New York Times.

**Bush was obviously awful, but what about Obama? Well, pro-Obama efforts only harm Gaza. He is the head of an imperial state. It’s his job not to give a shit about Palestinians.

Patrick Higgins is a writer living in Detroit. He can be E-mailed at higginspat@hotmail.com and followed on Twitter @DonnyDiggins.