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Political Bestiality

The Israeli Pogrom of Gaza

by NORMAN POLLACK

Let’s start with terms: “bestiality,” bestial is marked by base or inhuman instincts or desires, brutal, to which bestiality adds, display or gratification of bestial traits or impulses; “pogrom,” an organized massacre of helpless people, specifically [and ironically], such a massacre of Jewish people. (Webster’s) Singly, and in combination, I believe we have an accurate description of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the irony of course being that we see a replay of the barbarous treatment of the Jews practiced throughout history now instead being carried forward by Jews themselves in, yes, a massacre, as brutal as in Czarist times, of Gazans.

Before proceeding further, let’s throw in another phrase, emanating from Israeli and multiple Jewish sources, the charge, to be applied to fellow Jews for any criticism whatsoever of Israel, which makes one a “self-hating” Jew. I frankly don’t know whether to accept the designation (sans quotation marks), in which case I would be expressing my abhorrence to the war crimes committed by Israel, by convention, in world Jewry, THE representative of the Jewish people and religion, leading therefore to feelings of shame, alienation, and betrayal, that my religion, ancestral heritage, upbringing, could so distort the meaning of Judaism as I’ve known and loved it, necessitating, through the dictates of conscience (itself formerly a Jewish trait shared with world secular and religious thought), that I formally leave the Jewish faith until it purges itself of urges toward domination and, also yes, sadism. Or else, retain the quotation marks around “self-hating” Jew and come out fighting, throwing the vile epithet back in the face of those who use it to silence dissent and prevent exposure,, within the Jewish community, to recognition of what is being done in its name and to solidify its identity and devotion.donate now

Obviously, I choose the latter, stating outright that Israel and world (especially American) Jewry blindly supporting it have contributed to the falsification, denigration, debasement of Judaism, a treacherous act of negation even Nazism with its gas chambers and concentration camps could not do, i.e., destroy the Jewish love of freedom and cosmopolitan outreach to all peoples in search of a humane, equitable social order. In fact, the phrase “self-hating” Jew is disguise, cover, defense mechanism, to hide what has become the tragic phenomenon resulting from the Holocaust. Rather than experience a burst of emancipation from that darkest of dark experiences, Jews have internalized it, introjected the behavior and values of their captors, murderers, assailants, replicating through application to others the crimes committed on themselves (ourselves, to bring it home). “Self-hating” Jew is in fact a reactive formation, possibly even a projection of what through intervening levels of the unconscious is the realization by the Jewish people of the true state of their current mindset and experience. I am speaking, then, of Jewish self-hatred, which is self-hating Jew stripped of the quotation marks, SELF-HATRED because the denial of all that made Judaism worthwhile as both a secular and religious experience in modern times—secular and religious being an almost empty distinction when one notes the unified Jewish response on behalf of the welfare of others, in America, blacks, the poor, radicals, militant labor, dissidents of every description—all washed away in the last half-century, first, gradually, then by the 1980s a growing tumult of, now the introversion of McCarthyism, of Reaction, an anticommunism of the spirit having nothing to do with communism but as code for opposition to antiwar, civil rights, whatever rocks-the-boat movements, most vociferously applied to the defense of Israel and the actions and tenets of US foreign policy.

Jewish self-hatred, out of unconscious recognition (not an oxymoron) that Judaism stands for power, force, militarism, occupation, conquest, the inferiority of blacks, Arabs, Muslims, a hodgepodge of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, deep-lying fears of real and imagined rejection, the element of self-hatred becoming prominent because in former times the opposite was true, Jewish identity having been the haven for intellectual freedom, forthright opposition to repression, gentle in its respect for tolerance and concern for the weak. Einstein would not bomb Gaza hospitals. The Rosenbergs would not, like Obama, flirt with nuclear annihilation. Schwerner and Goodman, with their comrade Chaney, would not murder small children, whether a Vietnam hamlet or in Shejaiya. But let’s get beyond the past. Shejaiya (I here and later anglicize it for Shujai’iya because of my earlier usage) provides sufficient indictment of the bestiality of the Israeli aggression.

***

This is the fifth in a series of articles on the invasion, the tone getting more militant as the brutality of the mission (to terrorize the Palestinian people and inflict as much damage and destruction as possible) widens and intensifies. 500 dead. Now 600 and more. The appetite of the beast is not sated. Israelis reveal a streak of uninhibited lust for blood seldom seen so publicly displayed, and not just in official circles. Consider two examples, reported in the Guardian. The first, perhaps not even Nazis could duplicate; rather than Eichmann-like bureaucratic methodical dealing in death, Israelis celebrating in a festive mood the death rained down on Gaza through airstrikes—more like a college fraternity drunken party than anything. I refer to Harriet Sherwood’s article, “Israelis gather on hillsides to watch and cheer as military drops bombs on Gaza,” (July 20), with the subheading, “People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive.”

We read, “As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.” Sherwood continues: “Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze. Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks.” No “self-hating” Jews here, but should the despicable callousness ever break through, enough raw psychic material for Jewish self-hatred—the trouble being, breaking through appears near-impossible, how far gone, fortified behind towering psychological walls, these people are, as though even Jewish self-hatred, predicated on a modicum of awareness, is a step above and beyond the reach of who and what they are.

Her account, in Siderot, only gets worse, gruesome to the point of nausea (mine). “On Saturday [the 19th],” she writes, “a group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Gazans know this, see the hatred at the check points and blockade even in “normal” times, the display of force everywhere, the sophisticated gadgetry of a supposedly superior society, the human depravity of “selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.” Siderot: “A house with a war view may even command a premium price these days.” “Anticipatory excitement grows as dusk falls,” because there will be more rockets after breaking the Ramadan fast, “and the Israeli military will respond with force.” Again, “The thud of shellfire, flash of an explosion and pall of smoke are greeted with exclamations of approval. ‘What a beauty,’ says one appreciative spectators.”

One wonders if Gazans are taking selfies against a background of dead children, rubble, further rubble? I have to say, no wonder the tunnels and rockets, a desperate attempt at self-respect (the opposite psychological dynamics of the Israelis’ self-hatred, mocking human life because unable to affirm it—or rather, confusing affirmation with a hedonistic, exhibitionist lifestyle, empty of regard for others but the self, driven to deface and exterminate those who are a reminder of what true affirmation is like), if not indeed survival. How hold the Occupation as a constant, and blame those suffering under it for rockets? Perhaps the Occupation is the unstated basis for Jewish self-hatred. One last reference to Sherwood’s article—a bit of touchiness on the Israelis’ part about their obvious inhumanity: “Given the dramatic views, media news are coming to the area to cover the fighting. On a nearby hilltop, an ugly scene develops as a group of Israeli men threaten a photographer, accusing him of being a ‘leftist’. We are warned against asking for interviews, as another cheer goes up.” To Israelis, and now world Jewry, to question a broad range of policy, in America and Israel alike, is to be a “leftist,” a term equated with the phrase “self-hating”.

The second Guardian article, also by Sherwood, “Israel uses flechette shells in Gaza,” (July 20), for me, an unknown, but not unexpected, development, given the seeding of antipersonnel devices earlier in Lebanon, bears the grisly, rightly so, subheading, “Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts.” They’re illustrated in the piece. (This may help to explain the images seen of small children whose faces have been scarred by shrapnel.) She begins: “The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operations in Gaza,” as in the case of those “fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis [of which we’ll hear more recently in the commission of Israeli atrocities], on 17 July…. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict.” Its explanation was classic—hiding behind law written by the conquerors: “As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict.” And with the laws of human moral conscience, in light of their promiscuous (i.e., unrestricted, indiscriminate) use, scope, and lethality?

Flechette shells should be thought per se evil. Probably US use of napalm in Vietnam was cribbed from and justified by the same contrived explanation or cheat sheet. B’Tselem describes the shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5 mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide.” (I can hear the cheering from the hillsides—just the knowledge of and celebration of its release, even when the tanks are out of sight.) B’Tselem also notes that whatever its status, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.” Even B’Tselem waffles by not declaring for outright prohibition, on the ground that “avoid[ing] to the extent possible” plays into the hands of any despot, like Netanyahu, who stands up and cynically proclaims his sorrow at civilian casualties, even a single one. Flechettes accounted for Palestinian deaths in Gaza earlier, and “also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

***

Finally from the Guardian, and moving forward in the Israeli onslaught, we have Sherwood, along with Peter Beaumont and Ian Black’s article, “More than 20 members of one family killed in Gaza strike,” (July 21), the subtitle of which graphically gives the lie to the Netanyahu-Obama sales pitch on the desire for moderation: “’We don’t want to see any more civilians killed,’ says Barack Obama as IDF attacks intensive care unit in day of bloodshed.” Roll out the propaganda machinery of damage control as what should be regarded as the sacredness of hospitals in the bombing or shelling of targets is ignored and disregarded, on the ground that they are storage depots for weapons (Israel’s lame excuse) or the destruction construed as part of an absolute right of self-defense (which Obama, not deploring these acts, uses to exonerate Israel of all war crimes). The first sentence says it all: “A hospital was shelled, killing and injuring staff and patients, and up to 28 members of one family died in an airstrike as Gaza endured another day of relentless bloodshed on Monday [the 21st].”

The international uproar over Shejaiya (I discussed the mass killings there in a previous article) required the flurry of Obama statements and Kerry’s diplomatic activities, the uproar itself however going largely unreported in the American media. The lead photo for the article, mother, child in her arms, older man, crouched on the floor, the caption, “Palestinian patients in the hospital after the building was shelled by the IDF,” is the ideal backdrop for Kerry’s amoral cynicism. Authorized by Obama to do “’everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities,’” Kerry now in Egypt blames Hamas for the violence and states that Israel, presumably including the hospital shelling, is making “an ‘appropriate and legitimate effort’ to defend itself but the consequences were of deep concern.” How deep the concern, this official Washington talking out of both sides of its mouth?

We learn further, “In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital became the third to be struck in the 14-day conflict when three shells slammed into the intensive care unit, surgical and administrative areas. Five people were killed and 70 wounded, including about 30 medics…. Ambulances tried to evacuate patients but were forced to turn back by continued shelling. Israel has claimed that Hamas hides weapons in hospitals.” Therefore, blow them up? More still: “Further south, in Khan Younis, an extended family was wiped out in an air strike on a house. The number of dead was put at between 24 and 28. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said “another 10 people were killed in a single air strike in Rafah, including four young children and a baby.” And Save the Children estimates “that on average, seven had been killed every day during the conflict,” one of its spokesperson’s also reminding us, “’For many children, this is the third war in six years that they are going through.’” A second photo taken at a morgue is captioned, “Palestinians pray over the bodies of 17 members of the Abu Jamea family, killed by an air strike.”

Sherwood, et. al., in an article, “Israel hits hundreds of targets in Gaza as soldier is confirmed missing,” (July 22), point out that one hundred alone focused on Shejaiya, “the scene of the most intense fighting of the conflict.” In the larger picture, according to B’Tselem, the description worthy of an indictment of Israeli leadership, civil, political, military, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague: “Horrific developments in Gaza have reached intolerable heights; Israel is bombing houses with people in them, entire families have been buried under rubble, and streets lie in ruins. Hundreds have been killed so far, dozens in the last 24 hours only, many of them women and children. The number of refugees is rising: tens of thousands of people have nowhere to go and no safe haven.” 1939? No, July 22, 2014. Nor in any particular exaggerated. We have the reports, the photographs, the children’s deaths, the rubble—and the slickness of the Israeli reply.

***

Anne Barnard, in her New York Times article, “Questions About Tactics and Targets as Civilian Toll Climbs in Israeli Strikes,” (July 21), enables us to fill in important details, first, about what happened in Khan Younis: “The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses. It came to rest along with a twisted laundry rack still laden on Monday with singed clothes and a child’s slipper.” This, in a densely populated urban area; carnage is the only word that will do: “When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households—including 19 children—gathered to break the Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.”

Enough reason for the slaughter, or do we now see McCarthyism’s guilt-by-association principle raised to near-infinity, itself testimony to a mindset verging on a totalistic concept and practice of repression. “The attack,” Barnard writes, “was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroys Hamas’s tunnel network.” The explanation is self-serving and hardly connects with, except as a terror-tactic, the civilian killings on a massive scale. Barnard appears to realize this perfectly well, whatever The Times’s editorial policy: “The Palestinian deaths—75 percent of them civilians, according to a United Nations count—have prompted a wave of international outrage, and are raising questions about Israel’s stated dedication to protecting civilians.”

Israel’s reply: All Hamas’s fault, “saying they have chosen to keep operating among civilians,” while the now familiar spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said “he had not been able to confirm the circumstances of the attack here or who the target might have been.” Par-for-the-course stonewalling, nor would he “address questions about whether the target would have been considered worth so many additional deaths.” That is of course the question Israelis would not reply to; whatever the status of past surgical strikes (were they such? were they even then justified?), now, she continues, “there have been numerous instances of family homes being struck with residents inside.” Out of the mouths of babes, or even Times reporters, comes wisdom: “More and more Palestinians are accusing Israel of trying to inflict maximum suffering to demoralize Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas.” The tone of her writing seems to credit the observation.

How could it be otherwise, the facts now on the table, the war crimes not simply evident but becoming self-evident? More description of carnage, and then a fact which suggests ghoulishness beyond war crimes, to wit, encourage Gazans to seek safety in an area, then BOMB it: “On Monday night [the 21st], a strike hit an eight-story apartment building in downtown Gaza City—an area where Israeli officials had urged Gazans to take shelter. The building collapsed as rescue crews were inside, killing more people. The death toll, at least 13, was still being tallied.

Here one credits the Israelis for their frankness, as that of one senior military official who said that not all civilian casualties “come from strikes going astray; some take place when civilians are in places the military aims to hit.” What he meant was not terrorization as such, but a contrived picture of Hamas “holding people inside the apartments while shooting from there,” which comes down to the same thing (a license to kill). Barnard sees through this: “That did not appear to be the situation at the Abu Jameh home, where survivors said, the family was gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast, a ceremonial meal, a time when Israeli military officials would have known that people were likely to be home.” All of the dead were from that family, except for one Hamas member “who was visiting a member of the family.” Enough, no more for now. The picture is clear: “Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike.”

“Self-hating” Jew, no, Jewish self-hatred, for the acts committed in the name of Judaism, and for the negation of the acts which had once distinguished Judaism as the vehicle and spirit of world humanism, peace, social justice, racial harmony, and individual self-creation and self-development, all the fruition of the struggle for freedom.

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.