Israel’s Exterminatory Impulse Toward Gaza
Disproportionate power yields the psychopathology of sadism. This becomes circular, for sadism does not come out of thin air, its presence—whether through the experience of conquest, arrogance inhering in a superiority mindset, the profound darkness of introversion and collective nightmare of, here, having suffered the Holocaust and internalizing poisonous thoughts, values, and actions of the Perpetrators, or, as I believe, ALL of the foregoing—is itself the catalyst for creating and enlarging disproportionate power ready for use and to be used continually to demean and debase the Other and periodically in spurts, as now in Gaza, to take special delight in cruelty while therefore, because of subjugation of the weaker and defenseless, taken as self-confirmation of moral-political exceptionalism. Netanyahu (not the individual alone, but the personification of a nation, particularly its military elite, self-regarded and identified as The Jewish State, conferring a certain license on those deemed included, rather than an equalitarian-based democratic polity) combines the bureaucratic grounding down, impersonal, unfeeling, of the Gazan people, with—again, the nation in support of his policies—the delight in cruelty of the Marquis de Sade. Eichmann/Sade, the unrestrained execution, under premises of search-and-destroy in UN safe havens, now JABALIYA, of penned-in fear-stricken children. Child murder may not, although it should, get one before The Hague Court, but the stain of war criminal will not be easily removed from Israel’s international reputation. What I write is not anti-Semitism; rather, it is condemnatory of Israel exactly because of its defamation and distortion of Judaism as I’ve known it, the radical-humanistic-intellectual-aesthetic record over the last 150 years, courageous in the struggle for human emancipation, freedom of thought, social transformation—all directly violative and destructive of the rights and aspirations of Palestinians and, increasingly, the oppressed everywhere.
Inflated rhetoric? Hardly. The sustained killing by Israelis, constant, multipronged (weaponry: air, sea, land), intended for obvious and blatant terrorization pure and simple—only an Eichmann would array the forces to strike and a Sade to wait for a crowded courtyard or a middle-of-the-night bombardment—requires a gift for words to describe I do not have; but inflated, no. The situation is far worse, the child, two weeks premature, delivered by cesarean section from the mother killed by an Israeli bomb, and, despite frantic efforts, who died age five days; the deliberate targeting of the major power plant which supplies electricity to Gaza, so that all the services dependent on it, from hospitals to water treatment plants, were impeded in their functions or halted altogether; a virtual pond of sitting ducks unable to move, to be shot at the whim of the invader/occupier. And Israelis turn a blank face to the atrocities, or offer pro forma tears, and in some cases, go out and celebrate (as I earlier described, the hillside spectators at Siderot with their cheers, drinks, and munchies). Yes, the sadism of power, the power of sadism, a reciprocal process of dehumanization leading to more atrocities.
My words fail, but those who suffer have a simple, honest eloquence fully up to their suffering. From Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren’s New York Times article, “Israeli Shells Said to Hit School in Gaza, Killing at Least 20,” (July 30), we read first: “The strikes came in rapid succession. At around 5 a.m. Wednesday [the 29th] at a United Nations school at the Jabaliya refugee camp, where 3,300 Palestinians had taken refuge from the fierce fighting in their Gaza neighborhoods, what appeared to be four Israeli artillery shells hit the compound.” The account continues: “One hit the street in front of the entrance, according to several witnesses. Two others hit classrooms where people were sleeping. Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people were killed by what witnesses and United Nations officials said was the latest in a series of strikes on United Nations facilities that are SUPPOSED TO BE SAFE ZONES [my caps.] in the 23-day-old battle against Hamas and other militants.”
Stop here a moment: 5 a.m. bombing attack; a UN school used as a refugee camp (from other sources we learn the Israeli military forces were repeatedly given the coordinates, so as to avoid an attack on a presumably safe haven [here I have to say, this was one of six UN shelters bombed, Israelis, by their actions, favoring the targeting of schools, hospitals, and mosques—as well as infrastructure]); 3,300 Palestinians, manifestly, extreme overcrowding in a very limited space; fierce fighting in neighborhoods (Israeli troops in house-to-house searches, using machine guns); four shells, more than enough, and deliberately placed, for this finite area of humanity; classrooms where people were sleeping (we’ve seen the images of people packed in, mothers clutching children); finally, the belief these were safe zones, thus drawing the families in. But why go on, details rolling off the world’s back as the slaughter does not abate? Instead, the eloquence I mentioned, here Ahmed Mousa, age 50, in the courtyard when the shells hit: “My house was burned and death followed us here. Where am I supposed to go?” Offensive ground troops in the neighborhoods defies civilized values, and the school/shelter bombing, the same, compounded by the Israeli explanation that militants “’opened fire at Israeli soldiers from the vicinity’ of the school in their Jabiliya refugee camp [add refugee camps to the list of favored targets, as noted in an earlier article, and brought home by Sharon’s merciless attack on one in Lebanon setting a precedent] Wednesday morning, and that the Israeli troops ‘responded by firing toward the origins of the fire.’” This the official word, and “firing toward the origins of the fire” does not elicit confidence of appropriate behavior.
At this writing, the matter is under investigation, Israeli jargon for doing nothing or a whitewash when atrocities are involved. And of course, never an apology, a presumed sign of weakness that shatters the image of invincibility. As the reporters note, under what I take to be similar circumstances, “The military had earlier denied responsibility for 16 deaths last week at a different United Nations school serving as a shelter, in Beit Hanoun, saying that the only piece of Israeli ordinance to hit the school compound, an errant mortar, struck when the courtyard was empty.” The courtyard was NOT empty, more explosions hit the same compound, and the Israeli stock answer, to Jabiliya as well, is that errant Hamas firings, aimed at Israel, fell short and hit the compounds.
Robert Turner, Gaza-based director of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), sees it differently, the agency, “sheltering more than 200,000 Palestinians in 85 of its schools,” having already had between five and seven attacks on its facilities, was now “still checking reports that a school in the Shati refugee camp and one in the Mamouniya neighborhood of Gaza City had been hit overnight.” And he added, understated, as I find to be his wont from other comments earlier, “’What we’ve seen seen in our shelters is indicative of what we’ve seen more generally. When they started naval bombardment, artillery and tank fire, that’s just not as accurate as airstrikes. They can’t see what they’re shooting at, so we’ve seen more destruction, more damage, more death.” A bit too laconic for what the situation warrants, but perhaps making him a more credible witness in his recounting of the deaths.
The grimness of the onslaught does not rest: Palestinian death toll as of the 29th, more than 1,250 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 56 Israelis, 3 civilians; overnight, five mosques hit; and a taste of going all-out, seen in the statement of Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, chief spokesman for the Israeli military, over Army Radio, who declared, “The progress is toward an offensive. We are shoring up the targets already reached and are taking over new locations. There are a lot of targets in the Gaza Strip, and we are attacking from the northern to the southern Gaza Strip.’” In Gaza, Hubbard and Rudoren write, “there was little sign of a letup: an Israeli missile killed 10 members of the Astal family who had huddled in their diwan, or meeting room, according to news reports and the health ministry, among other major strikes.” And this at a time of relative quiet from incoming rockets to Israel.
Nevertheless, the picture in Gaza darkens still more: “Jabaliya, a refugee camp just north of Gaza City, has been under intense artillery shelling since Tuesday afternoon [the 28th], killing 50 people over a 24-hour period, health officials said. Already one of Gaza’s most densely crowded areas, its streets had been packed in recent days with people who fled their homes closer to the border when Israeli troops invaded. More and more had crowded into the Abu Hussein girls’ elementary school.” Here we are, and here the reporters’ discussion serves, whatever their intent, as a brief indictment of genocide. Turner had provided GPS coordinates of the school to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) 17 times, including 8:48 p.m. before the next morning’s shelling, “to ensure it would be spared.” Instead: “At least four strikes hit in close succession in a straight line across the school compound, INDICATING ARTILLERY FIRE (my caps.), according to people who saw the attack; one struck a house behind the school. The drop ceiling of one classroom collapsed, and the tin roof was peppered with shrapnel holes. The ground was covered with rubble, clothing and pools of blood. Sunlight shone through a hole in the roof of another classroom, also hit by a shell.” (BBC showed much of these scenes at the Abu Hussein school on the evening broadcast of the 30th.)
Through it all, the UN itself, despite a severe statement holding Israel accountable for vast devastation, does little, perhaps mindful of the US’s veto in the Security Council. Thus, under extreme provocation of the shelling of another UN facility [on the 27th], words did not match the nature of the offense. The reporters again: Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, “released a statement on Wednesday saying that his agency’s compound in Gaza had also been hit early Tuesday morning ‘by a number of projectiles which caused damage to the main building and to United Nations vehicles.’ A preliminary assessment showed five strikes on the compound and two on the ground outside, the statement said.” Errant Hamas shots? Not likely. Serry said he “’is deeply concerned about this incident and other violations of United Nations premises during the conflict,’” but he “did not directly blame Israel.” In fact, his statement leaves much to be desired: “’We have to remind relevant parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect United Nations operations, personnel and premises which must remain inviolable.” With that, the Israeli military might well be laughing between its teeth.
The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood reporting, “Gaza: at least 15 killed and 90 injured as another UN school is hit,” (July 30), adds several important details to the foregoing account, notably, the statement of Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, that he condemns “’in the strongest possible terms the serious violation of international law by Israeli forces,’” and continues in words graphically revealing the tragedy: ‘“Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.’” Explaining they had ‘“analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage…[and that] our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school,’” Krahenbuhl concludes (note the final sentence): ‘“It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.’” In other words, directed to the very shelters that were to be bombed! Plaintively, he adds: ‘”Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response [,] are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue.’”
Further voices, here, Assad Sabah, huddled with his five children under desks in a classroom of the school, “the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night,” told the Associated press: ‘“We were scared to death. After 4.30am, tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school. One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside.’” And Sherwood: “The last two nights have seen the most fierce bombardment in this Gaza offensive, with intense air strikes, tank shelling and bombardment from Israeli gunboats.” Abu Hussein followed Beit Hanoun (my earlier article on this mass killing), Israel pleading there, too, an empty space, the playground, while large numbers gathered for busses to evacuate them to a safer place (if that were possible!). Meanwhile, the Israeli public is unmoved by the atrocities (conversely, self-defense in their mindset), Sherwood reporting: “But support for the military operation among the Israeli public remained solid. A poll published by Tel Aviv university on Tuesday found 95% of Israeli Jews felt the offensive was justified. Only 4% believed too much force had been used.”
As for the destruction of the power plant, which Amnesty International called, “’collective punishment of Palestinians,’” this “strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.” “’Everything was burned,’” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza energy authority. Genocide—deliberate and systematic destruction of a group, here in Gaza protracted, into the fourth week of the invasion, not only in time, but in thoroughness of the destruction, a land of rubble where not only the power plant but the Strip and, of course, the very lives of the people who have survived, will take years to rebuild.
Sudarsan Raghaven, William Booth, and Ruth Eglash, in their Washington Post article, “U.N. agency: Israel shelled Gaza school sheltering evacuees; 20 reported killed,” (July 30), supply further details on the school bombing: “…shelling struck a classroom where some 50 people, mostly women and children, were sleeping…. Most of the dead, however, were young men, who had woken for the traditional Muslim dawn prayer, said Moen al-Masr, a doctor at the Kamal Odwan hospital.” The Post’s reporters continue: “’We found people torn to pieces,’ said Allah al-Bes, 33, who was seeking refuge at the school with his wife and three boys. ‘It was like hell.’ Bes and his family went to the school after an earlier attack on a UN-run school in Beit Hanoun. ‘We have learned no place is safe in Gaza,’ he said.” Let those final words serve as an epitaph for, illustrating, and bearing out, the Israeli genocide of Gaza.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.