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Destroying Palestinian Memory

Israel’s Military-Psychological Bulldozer

by NORMAN POLLACK

In explaining Israel’s invasion of Gaza, much can be learned by combining the analysis of Marx and Freud, as did Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization, on a related problem: the instinctual realm of profound layers of darkness, in which consciousness of evil on the oppressors’ part must be obliterated (for Marcuse, the repression of Thanatos as it continues to do its ugly work), in Israel’s case, its destruction of the Palestinian memory (memory as historical awareness, legitimation of group-existence, including pride and sense of place, claims to survival and growth) through mounting the disproportionate use of force, a species of overkill, metaphorically, the Israeli military-psychological bulldozer. Rather than the massive machinery for crushing homes, which in any case continues, it is intended to crush the human spirit—as already seen in the widespread devastation, rubble everywhere—now addressing the very IDENTITY of a whole people, physical genocide, as impersonally tabulated in the grim statistics of body counts, but in addition, mental genocide, the attack on a people’s self-knowledge, culture, achievements in letters, the arts, political thought.

I never imagined Israel’s campaign of mental genocide, a pervertedness which speaks to, and leaves no doubt about, premeditation in the commission of thorough destruction: shackles, torture, bombs, but this, rooting out the foundations of a people’s existence, all for the purpose of exercising domination over them and, by debasing and depersonalizing them, experience relief from the guilt of having done so—catharsis without knowing and feeling it because having structured the situation so as to treat the victim as nonexistent, a cipher, emphatically inferior, or all of the foregoing plus, for that reason, given license to dominate (and really, exterminate) without the slightest moral blemish. Therefore, when I speak of the dialectical interplay of memory and conscience, I have in mind relations of domination and submission, this, as a first approximation, yet from that point, the complication arises because it is the oppressed whose memory is being forcibly suppressed, while, as the condition for what follows, it is the oppressor whose conscience is numbed, frozen, perhaps repressed, though how repressed when the aggression toward others bespeaks a moral vacuum that even repression can’t touch? Psychopathology of the Israeli mind, the habituation to domination driving out all self-recrimination.

***

How do we know this? I was awakened to this dimension of genocide (even as once a historian, I was never attracted to the concept of “memory,” a seemingly voguish distraction from class, power, and exploitation) by Evan Jones’s recent CounterPunch article, “The Pariah State,” excellent in all respects, and to be read alongside Arno Mayer’s, Ploughshares into Swords, near-definitive in critical aspects of Israel’s self-definition, march to statehood, and gathering militarism. But among Jones’s topics covered, drawing on writers, like the father of Yehudi and Hepzibah Menuhin (two musicians-plus-more I feel especially attracted to) whose works may be largely known only to specialists—an admission of my own weakness, there is a section, “The annihilation of identity,” truly significant in pressing the analysis of Israelis’ inner psychological logic of, and political-military disposition to, genocide. I invite the reader to study the article, the totality of his evidence in mind, to see how the onslaught on identity makes perfect sense in the physical-mental liquidation, as occurring thus far and for decades in Gaza, of the Palestinians.

Jones writes (citing Nur Masalha’s The Palestine Nakba, 2012), “Having denied the existence of a functioning Palestinian society before expropriation, Israel’s founders of necessity confronted its existence… The myth of the non-existent Palestinian society had to be forged in reality.” Hence, ethnic cleansing, forcing Palestinians out (the NAKBA), leaving them without “social and political integration.” Then, of extreme importance complementing forced population displacement, “the physical space had to be furiously appropriated—the landscape destroyed, built over; everything re-named.” Hence too, “the cultural landscape: memory, history, identity and its artefacts.” Jones quotes Masalha on the campaign of the Israeli government, in 1948, to appropriate (i.e., steal/plunder) “’for itself immovable Palestinian assets and personal possessions, including schools, libraries, books, pictures, private papers, historical documents and manuscripts,’” to which he adds, “’several private collections and tens of thousands of books were looted by the Haganah and never returned.’” In 1958, “’the Israeli authorities destroyed 27,000 books, most of them Palestinian textbooks from the pre-1948 period, claiming that they were either useless or threatened the state. The authorities sold the books to a paper plant.’”

Obviously the extermination of memory, a process that, with widening acts of terrorism, intellectual and physical, has continued to this day. Jones writes in summary: “In short, the strategic and systematic annihilation of identity.” To which I would add, benefiting from his discussion, that although combining Marx and Freud may be problematic, the sexualization of domination may be seen in the thoroughness, cynicism, cult of impunity, attached to the wholesale confiscation of Palestinian accumulated learning and knowledge. The punitiveness of the assault, as though tearing apart the fabric of Palestinian life and culture, and the self-confidence with which it has been carried out, has an element of sadomasochism almost necessarily—here specifically the rape of the Palestinian mind, on condition the rapist becomes successfully devoid of conscience, examples of which can be seen in the troops in massive armored vehicles, thrilled by the power underfoot and oblivious to the damage they have wrought, then too, the Israelis cheering on hillsides as explosions light up the Gaza sky, or the whining about sacrifices in their Tel Aviv cafes, or further cheering in their living-rooms watching television, all of which devoid equally of consciousness, so rote-like the manufacture of killing fields.

The sexualization of domination was perhaps not important to Marx, domination per se, in its myriad pungent class forms–labor exploitation, to foreign policy imperialism and colonialism, to commodity tyranny and fetishism at the epistemological foundations of capitalist society, to culture and ideology emanating from the gross inequality of class-differentiation—being enough on his plate, but this aspect of domination cannot be overlooked when one considers the sadism at the core of domination, whether political-economic or taking more bizarre forms. Without his brilliant understanding of the relations of dominance and subordination, superiority and inferiority, there would be poorer psychological understanding of the correlates of domination, merely perversities standing alone, shorn of societal context. Freud was Marx’s natural ally in the crucial respect that even his psychoanalysis drew on his metapsychological theorizing, as in The Pleasure Principle or Moses and Monotheism, all-important context for fusing individual and societal repression. For me, a useful synthesis would be Adorno, et. al., The Authoritarian Personality (1950), an uncanny anticipation of the Israeli mindset and (I toss this in gratis) our ever more militaristic POTUS.

The act of eradication requires psychic energy. Depersonalizing Palestinians wipes—or seems to wipe—the psychological slate clean for the dominator/oppressor, who can feel nothing when the victim has been rendered faceless, anonymous, inanimate, on the order, drilled into the military forces and integral to the Chosen-People ethos as currently interpreted, of killing a two-dimensional cardboard figure. Yet, when the human identity of the victim breaks through, perhaps largely standing his/her ground and committing acts of resistance, then the dominator goes ballistics, and the sadistic urges/energies flow like water (or arsenic?)—the urge to ERADICATE, to silence or dissipate guilt. I return, as in my previous articles, to the psychological legacy of the Holocaust, which I take to be reaching to the darkest layers/levels of the Unconscious, and then transmitted to later generations, as the vortex of domination internalized as the practices of the oppressor. This takes on a perhaps Darwinian selective process because it works so well, i.e., an institutionalized form and expression by the State, here Israel and the IDF. The dead children entombed in rubble testify to the mightiness of the Israeli state.

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.