Guernica, 1937 / Gaza, 2014
April 26, 1937, late afternoon, German bombers higher in the air, Heinkel fighters just above treetops, bombed and strafed a small market town—the prelude to World War Two—crowded because it was market day, in effect, as Goering later said, a trial run to see what it takes to destroy a city—like eugenic experiments, this the perfection of the methodology and techniques of massive death and destruction. The population were mere guinea pigs, as all victims of war crimes, to the desensitized, dehumanized perpetrators of murder.
Noel Monks, the British war correspondent, having survived the strafing of the Heinkel 52s on his way there, could see toward evening the flames of the city. “As we drew nearer,” he writes, “on both sides of the road, men, women and children were sitting, dazed. I saw a priest in one group. I stopped the car and went up to him. ‘What happened, Father?’ I asked. His face was blackened, his clothes in tatters. He couldn’t talk. He just pointed to the flames, still about four miles away, then whispered: ‘Aviones…bombas’…mucho, mucho.’”
Upon arriving, his account continues, he “was immediately pressed into service by some Basque soldiers, collecting charred bodies that the flames had passed over. Some of the soldiers were sobbing like children. There were flames and smoke and grit, and the smell of burning human flesh was nauseating. Houses were collapsing into the inferno.” The description continues; suffice it to say, he concludes: “A sight that haunted me for weeks was the charred bodies of several women and children huddled together in what had been the cellar of a house. It had been a refugio.”
Where is our Picasso today to represent the horrors of Israel’s aggression in Gaza? Our Noel Monk to show first-hand the suffering of the Gazan people, which television and press alike continually discount in America and through censorship are still more one-sided or refrain from covering altogether in Israel? A slight exception is Jodi Rudoren and Anne Barnard’s New York Times article, “100,000 Gazans Told to Flee as Both Sides Press Attacks,” (July 16), although, as its heading shows, the bias remains, as though both sides mounted equal attacks on the other (with no hint of the antecedent conditions in which the rockets of Hamas were a response to long-term occupation, desperation, degradation—met by weapons of significantly greater lethality).
I invoke the Guernica example, not for spurious comparison or analogy, but because its occurrence is inscribed in the very DNA of modern historical oppression, in this case possessing precisely the same elements of overwhelming force on a largely defenseless population, in this case, having less to do with stopping rockets than a) terrorizing a people into abject submission, and b) testing out aerial warfare to soften an enemy and perhaps even clear the way for ground action—beyond consolidating settlement gains in the territories, also serving notice on Iran and whomever else (viz., Arab democracy) is viewed as a real or potential threat down the road. Gaza especially, along with the West Bank, is the display case for advertising Israeli might to the region and the world, and otherwise, because judged inferior, of little consequence more than a convenient punching bag.
Like Guernica, destruction is intended as an object lesson, and quite possibly, as Hitler intended (though I make no reference to comparisons with Israel’s leadership—which would be a cheap and vulgar shot), a means of forcing a political-ideological realignment of world politics to ensure Israel’s global security. And like Guernica, we already see—with more threatened and promised—mass civilian casualties and a sea of rubble. BBC on July 14, despite its clear bias (Neo-Cons from Washington think tanks being its “experts” on most occasions) surprisingly had footage from the largest hospital in Gaza City, a physician deploring the low medical supplies, children under five wounded, fighting for their lives, personnel on round-the-clock duty, suffering, overcrowding, the sound of pain, as only happens with the impersonal destruction of human life, and beyond the hospital, the very rubble described in Guernica and countless other places under siege of aerial and/or missile bombardment and strikes. The Times at one point had a photograph above the article showing Israeli gunboat firing on a Gaza beach. Four children were killed in that or a similar shelling.
Where Guernica and Gaza differ in the annals of warfare (and I speak only of today, for tomorrow may well bring a full-scale ground assault) is that in the former German bombers came without warning, while now, at this moment, we see what might be considered an equally malicious, dangerous assault on the human spirit (“100,000 Gazans Told to Flee”), the warning, disguised—disgustedly—as altruism, ordering people to flee, where, how, by donkey, with large families, scant food supplies, so that their homes can be obliterated at the whim of the Occupier! And practically no opposition left in Israel, no sadness, no remorse for the children lying in that Gaza hospital room—all muscle-flexing, all prideful as skilled practitioners in the arts of terror.
I am reminded of Emerson’s aphorism, “The ocean is a large drop; the drop is a small ocean,” not only because he recognized the relation between the universal and the particular, or, for our purpose, that between context and specific development (the Israeli treatment of Gaza, today, in the works because of decades of occupation and forcible suppression), but also because that drop (Gaza) reveals to us an ocean itself of blood, humiliation, for many, hopelessness. Guernica for the moment confirmed to the oppressor the impunity with which aggression could be pulled off, precisely, again for the moment (it is hoped, not longer), Israel’s aggression toward Gaza reveals the same sense of impunity, dependent on the US watching its back, preventing the international community from acting, and that community’s own listlessness in acting against aggression (without prior American approval).
What of the first part, “the ocean is a large drop”—in reality, the global context itself, for here Israel is shooting craps with the lives of its captives, raising the risk of a wider conflagration, Gaza merely a chip in the game of power politics, in which Israel’s role becomes magnified out of all proportion to its size and, save for its nuclear arsenal, strength. It is too simple to say, Israel has become, and has been for some time, an extension of American imperialism, words that come readily to hand, but, less simplistic, perhaps, one finds that it furnishes an ideological example, or even beachhead, for extending American security and influence, widening the scope of permissibility for aggression (read: intervention, regime change, forcible commercial-financial penetration) on a world scale, yet particularly applicable to the oil-rich Middle East and beyond, the Arab-Muslim world. And qua ideological example, it helps to integrate militarism with capitalism as a world system, counterrevolutionary in nature, i.e., freed from the challenges of national liberation struggles, socialism, and even capitalism of a more regulative character.
It’s nice to have friends when one is determined on maintaining unilateral global hegemony, necessarily at the social cost of growing impoverishment for much of the rest of the world. America is running short of having such friends, particularly ones strategically placed in the fulfillment of multiple goals, from oil-security to regional stabilization (taking in the Balkans and North Africa) to political expedience at home, in which support for Israel is code for conservatism in general, the approval of evangelical Protestantism in particular, and, as with the popularity in policy circles of Neo-Cons (transcending party affiliation), the sanctioning of war, armaments, defense budgets, the martial spirit, all conducive to the formation of the National Security State and what I have termed the militarization of capitalism. Israel, of course, doesn’t have to assume the burden of protecting and preserving America’s transformation into a fully-matured corporatism it is striving to become. Liberalism is already doing a good job of that. But having a help- mate that shares the same outlook on cheapening the lives of those it exercises power over, whether at home or abroad, and sharing so many other key beliefs, values, and practices, from extolling militarism to encasing the social system in a framework of arrogance, is not to be gainsaid. Following through on Emerson, one might say that Israel is a microcosm of America, a dot in the ocean of counterrevolution.
Briefly, the article cited above—Rudoren in Jerusalem, Barnard in Gaza—has some excellent material, in spite of my demur about its heading and implied possible Israeli sympathies. Hamas is usually coupled with the term “militant,” and its rejection of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal incorrectly presented as “with no explanation.” Yet it refers to “Israel’s bomb warnings to Gazans, distributed by leaflets, automated calls and text messages,” demanding mass evacuation, and quotes the IDF leaflet, “Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families,”—a blood-curdling message (one can almost hear the loud speakers and sound trucks in Prague or Paris, Second World War-vintage). Damage was extensive from the bombings which had already taken place, e.g., “a new, five-story headquarters of the Interior Ministry was reduced to rubble,” and “strikes had also hit the homes of,” followed by a list of officials, and then this: “The Palestinian death toll passed 201 on Wednesday…after a strike on a car in the southern town of Khan Younis killed three people. At least eight people were killed overnight, among them a 5 year-year-old girl who fell from a high spot.” Then, the four children on the beach—[t]here was no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces.”
The reporters quote a Lieberman statement (see below, my Comment) and his follow-up, total in his solution: “We need to ensure that all Hamas terrorists run away, are imprisoned or will die.” No order of preference is mentioned. The scene itself is designedly one of chaos, people not knowing where to turn: “In the densely populated and poor neighborhoods of Zeitoun and Shejaya in Gaza City, many people appear confused, with some seeking shelter in friends’ homes deeper inside the neighborhoods rather than leaving.” This example speaks volumes about the terror tactics involved (Hamas called the warnings “psychological warfare”): “’We don’t know where we’re going, we’re going aimlessly,’ said Mohammed Dalul, who was driving a donkey cart with six children and an elderly neighbor. They carried only a canister of cooking gas and a single bag of clothes for the children. ‘Nobody is looking after us,’ said the neighbor, Naziha Rukhneh.” [Perhaps odd names to us, yet fellow human beings, and to Israelis, low, vile, worthless, in a word, scum, to be trampled on—mine, not that of the reporters.]
The Human Rights Watch report issued today (7/16) stated that as of the 14th, “more than three-quarters of the Palestinians killed were civilians, including 36 children, and that approximately 7,500 people had been displaced by the destruction of 1,255 homes.” The project director stated, “’Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks, but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise.” The report took exception to “Israel’s warning residents to evacuate, saying it ‘does not make an otherwise unlawful attack lawful.’”
My New York Times Comment on the Rudoren-Barnard article, same date, follows:
“To the best of my understanding, it is not possible to ensure summer vacation, a normal summer for our kids without a ground operation in Gaza.”–Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli foreign minister.
Whether gallows humor, condescending sarcasm, or moral depravity, his statement summarizes Israeli callousness and cynicism: wipe out a people; exterminate. The idea of forcing a mass evacuation from their homes on threat of death is revisiting the mindset of Naziism. As a Jew I ask, what has happened to my people, my religion, its ethical teachings, its history of engagement in progressive causes, whether civil rights, labor unionism, antiwar, the nuts-and-bolts of American democracy in action which, absent Jewish participation, is no longer the same, and for the American Jewish community has become a transmogrification of original, indeed primal, HUMANENESS into mass population removal, wholesale bombing of defenseless populations, and now, a center for the disabled?
Lieberman, Netanyahu, etc., what summer vacations do you think Palestinian children look forward to, what “normal summer” when they, their mothers, their fathers are facing death, destruction, loss of home, inadequate medical supplies, blockade? Except in America, Israel will be known in the world as a Society of Butchers, steeped so deeply in militarism as no longer even able to envision, much less act on, MORAL CHOICE.
Mass evacuation, so their homes can be destroyed, equals ethnic cleansing.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.