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Lament for Shejaiya

Modern Judaism’s Proscriptive Nature

by NORMAN POLLACK

Among Jews today, Israel is an end in itself, the demand for uniformity of acceptance, synchronized with acts of invasion, now deafening. Thirteen days into the present military attack, onslaught, really, given an intensified war setting featuring bombings, missiles, artillery, ground troops, large civilian casualties, neighborhoods in flames, all intended to kill, maim, terrorize, the last even adopting the techniques of psychological warfare (leaflets from the air, ordering evacuation), have wiped away all pretence tunnels and rockets are the cause of Israel’s assault on the Gazan people. Hospitals become morgues, an ambulance is fired on, GRIEF found everywhere—rampant institutionalized sadism having little to do with Israelis’ nominal objectives, else why the deliberate civilian carnage?

Let’s go back a day or two, to the New York Times account of Anne Barnard and Jodi Rudoren, “Despite Israeli Push in Gaza, Hamas Fighters Slip Through Tunnels,” (July 19), [the original title of the article, “9 Members of a Family Are Buried in Gaza,” same date]. Already, despite The Times’s evident sympathies, perhaps only partially shared by these reporters, favoring Israel, we read: “Though the government has said the ground campaign will be limited and focused on the tunnels, the growing intensity of the battles that are pushing deeper into civilian areas suggested that the impact on Gaza’s civilians could grow far worse.”

One does not have to be a soothsayer to make that prediction; the 46 dead that day was only a preview of or down payment on the carnage to follow the next day. Even for the 19th, they write: “Already tens of thousands of Gazans have been forced to flee. The day’s death toll appeared to be the highest since July 8, when Israel began airstrikes it said were meant to quell rocket attacks.” Yes, but—not rocketers, but plain civilians are being targeted. Thus: “At one hospital in northern Gaza, the director said that 40 casualties arrived in just four hours Saturday morning…. The Palestinian death toll in Gaza rose to 336, with more than 2,400 wounded” [the UN estimating 75% of the casualties being civilians]. This is not a numbers game; in the next 24-36 hours, The Times constantly revised the Palestinian death toll upward with each bulletin from the front.

And as earlier in the campaign, the Israelis, reminiscent, as I pointed out in a previous article, of the loudspeakers and sound trucks of the Nazis, “dropped leaflets urging residents of additional areas, including two crowded refugee camps, Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi, to evacuate, raising alarms from the United Nations, which said that shelters were already overwhelmed and in danger of running out of supplies.” From news reports and television footage, one sees fear, panic, bewilderment, parents clutching children, moving en masse yet directionless, because knowing Israeli aircraft and artillery are no respecter of anything that moves—as, days before, the four children playing on the beach in Gaza City, and the four playing on a rooftop. The reporters, again: “More than 63,000 people have flocked to official shelters, a number that has tripled in two days, and many more have taken refuge with friends and family.”

The message: Evacuate, while we blow up your homes; don’t evacuate, yourselves as well. Yes, the Abu Jarad family, first nine reported killed when an “Israeli artillery barrage Friday night” hit their apartment, then eight, ”including four children,”—as meanwhile, “in northern Gaza, scores were buried. In Khan Younis to the south, seven people were killed, mostly men, and others were wounded when a drone struck a group of people in the middle of the city, the health ministry said.” For the nth time, I say, so much for surgical strikes (unless accuracy in the service of premeditated murder), because targets are chosen for their terror-potential or left random to the same end.

My New York Times Comment on the Barnard-Rudoren article, same date, follows:

The Abu Jarad family serves as refutation of Israeli claims, voiced yesterday by Netanyahu, of having the most moral army in the world. What is truly sickening is the way Jewish people who criticize Israeili military actions are knee-jerk charged as “self-hating” Jews, a charge that reveals how far Israelis and the American Jewish community have sunk in their blind apology of Israel’s war crimes.

I am a Jew, proud of my heritage, proud of the Decalogue as a majestic contribution to the world’s moral-ethical teachings, proud of the role Jews have played in modern times in literature and the arts, proud, perhaps most of all, in the way American Jews until about 1970 have been in the vanguard of radical and liberal causes in America, a universality of brotherhood and dedication to civil liberties.

What now? Inability to see the murder, yes, murder, committed against Palestinians, too, complicity with reactionary governments worldwide. And of course NYT posters, on cue, come back: Norman, you anti-Semitic Jew, etc.

Cynicism, callousness, underlying guilt are all eating away at a world religion I loved dearly for its genuine regard for all people. Now, only HATE, viciousness, fear of exposure as moral monsters–so be it. Cling to your illusions. Bask in victimhood, anything but face the truth, the truth that Jews have become the oppressor, not the oppressed, cruel, unfeeling, a total negation of the sublime beauty of Judaism in the past based on humanism and humaneness.

***

The following day, Sunday (July 20), was no better, here Barnard and Isabel Kershner’s, “Israeli Attack in Gaza City Said to Kill at Least 60 Palestinians,” specifically, “in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in eastern Gaza City,” reports that “[f]or the Palestinians, it was the deadliest episode since July 8, when Israel began its offensive,” and continues: “The Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 300 people were injured in Shejaiya. Tolls were not available from the refugee camps in central Gaza, where fleeing residents reported a similar Israeli advance, with artillery.” (I would add, refugee camps seem to be a particularly compelling target for Israel, as in Ariel Sharon’s attack on one in Lebanon several years back.) The Palestinian government, which includes the Authority and Hamas, called the Shejaiya killings “a heinous massacre,” Israelis claiming justification because a tunnel network facilitating militants’ incursions into Israel had to be stopped. Therefore, the now, as borne out by the previous record, accustomed overkill, “at least 403 Palestinians, many of them civilians…killed,” along with “about 2,600…wounded during Israel’s 13-day air and ground offensive, according to Reuters.” Tellingly, “The director of Shifa Hospital said [of the 60] 17 children, 14 women and four older persons were among the dead from Shejaiya.” All, one surmises, were presumably terrorists crawling through the tunnels, ready to strike?

Shejaiya, Israel’s Guernica, and for the same reason, to terrorize a population into submission, comes into view: “At the edge of Shejaiya, dark smoke rose above buildings on Sunday [The Times’s front-page photograph confirms this] and shelling cracked and thumped nearby with hardly a second’s pause between rounds. Shops were closed, and clusters of people periodically emerged from the narrower streets of the neighborhood and rushed up the hill toward downtown.” A “heinous massacre”? For example: “A chain of five children holding hands trotted uphill, dragged by an adult—the smallest boy, around 3, with an expression of confusion and terror. Barefoot, he clutched his flip-flops in his hand.” Vans with five on the roof, “the inside packed with people and mattresses.” To continue: “Some people sat down as soon as they got out of immediate danger…. Asked where she would go, one woman sitting on a stoop with a half-dozen children said, ‘God knows.’”

And this: “At Shifa Hospital, a girl who looked about 9 was brought into the emergency room and laid on a gurney, blood soaking the shoulder of her shirt. Motionless and barely alive, she stared at the ceiling, her mouth open. There was no relative with her to give her name. The medical staff stood quietly around her.” Israelis, are you listening? Can you even hear in your smugness, your superiority, your bloodless arrogance? Days before, Lieberman was concerned that Israeli children might miss summer camp because of hostilities. This child never had a chance to go: “Every now and then, they checked her vital signs, until it was time. They covered her with a white sheet, and she was gone. A few moments later, a new patient lay on the gurney.”

Tunnels, rockets—why not? After six decades of forced displacement, ethnic cleansing, humiliation at the checkpoints, OCCUPATION, one might ask, who are the terrorists, the Palestinians or the Israelis? Let Shejaiya be weighed in the scales when answer is given, Shejaiya of course being not alone. An elderly woman, helped by a woman, a lab technician, who had “brought a medical kit with her, along with her son’s diaper bag, in case anyone needed help,” after being treated when her foot was cut “on glass as she fled barefoot,” said that “her family were refugees from what is now Beersheba. They fled from there in 1948 during the war over Israel’s founding. ‘I’m afraid that this is another 1948…. God forbid. We were driven out in 1948 and WE ARE BEING DRIVEN OUT AGAIN NOW.” (My caps.) Casualties rising, hospitals bursting at the seams, 400…when will it stop? When will the international community act in light of its professed principles?

***

At the moment, seemingly the worst thing a Jewish person can do is charge Israel with war crimes, and point out its dishonoring the very religious faith it hides behind—the Jewish State—in committing them. For that opens one instantly to the charge, a “self-hating” Jew, done with exquisite and thunderous synchronicity, all propaganda and interest-group machinery participating, so as to bulldoze, intimidate, corral, bring into line any Jew who dares to think for him/herself, the process, while continuous, to avoid dissent at all costs, nevertheless peaks at moments such as this: the escalation to enforce conformity when Israel is on the march. Long-term historical explanations are not wanted; only the tunnels and elementary rockets count. No one dares ask, what if Zionist settlers from day one had been solicitous of the welfare of those who already inhabited the land, rather than treating them as wholly dehumanized and fair game to be forcibly removed? I will reserve for another time my thoughts on the “self-hating” Jew, and throw back in the face of those who claim to speak authoritatively for Judaism that rather, it is they who are self-hating, whether they realize it or not, because they cannot affirm the living spirit of Judaism itself, i.e., the self-affirming and life-affirming Jew we all have known so well in the period before, say, 1960, vivified in the biracial coalitions embodied in the martyred deaths of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman—none of whom would be bombing houses in Gaza.

Postscript: Rudorun, her article, “Israel Claims Destruction of 2 More Gaza Tunnels,” (July 21), is less about tunnels than carnage, with civilian casualties, this the following day, already passing the 500 mark. She writes, the scene already familiar: “In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, several thousand residents streamed toward Gaza City on foot, in donkey carts, and packed into cars.” One thinks of the desperate flight of refugees in World War 2 (absent the aid now brought in) as one reads: “The United Nations said as many as 100,000 residents were taking refuge in 67 shelters and that an airlift of aid including 45,000 mattresses and 10,000 blankets from Dubai had landed in Amman and was en route to Gaza. ‘Situation for civilians beyond imagining,’ a spokesman, Chris Gunness, said in a post on Twitter.” To underscore the point, one reads: “With the Palestinian death toll reaching 500, families gathered at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to collect bodies for burial.”

Tunnels, surgical strikes, Netanyahu’s most humane army in the world, every effort made to prevent civilian casualties? Here the reporter adds, “At the Abu Jamei family’s home in southeast Gaza, people searching beneath the rubble left by an overnight attack Monday counted 26 bodies, by far the most victims of a single strike in this offensive.” The offensive continues. Photographs of the terrorized, the sea of children, the mass flight—to nowhere safe, tell the story.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.