Gaza and the World

Every day I must review my conclusions and judgments. regarding the Gaza events. The killings and kidnappings of October 7, were bloody crimes that should never be applauded or condoned. All demands that the kidnap victims be returned safely are fully legitimate.

But must I not join in condemning the vengeful reaction, utilizing the deaths of hundreds of Jewish Israelis, terrible as they were, to justify immense cruelty which may affect their perpetrators but is now hitting all the  2.5 million Palestinians penned up in Gaza, forcing them to somehow flee bombed homes, with infants, women in labor, bedridden grandparents, thousands of the wounded – to areas with even worse crowding and scarcity – and not even safety from further bombing. At least half are children; by last Thursday, before the giant new attacks began, at least 1,500 children under the age of 10 had been killed in Gaza, 600 were under 4, and more than 100 were less than a year old. For premature infants, a failure of electricity for incubators was threatening. Thousands more were wounded. Those rescued, if they receive medical care, may face operations without anesthetics, without bandages, and without water.

These conditions culminated in long years of severely limited food supplies, water, sewage treatment, and electricity, with just barely enough for survival and exit visas tightly limited even for people needing cancer treatment. Most of those in this “open-air prison,”  if old enough, had been refugees before. I can never praise inhuman actions. But can October 7 make us forget the years of outrages committed against Palestinians by heavily armed rulers in uniform? A few are etched most deeply in my mind:

The Israeli recruit, Dana Golan, one of about 25 women among 300 males, told of a search for weapons in a Palestinian home. The family was awakened at 2 a.m. by soldiers who “turned their whole house inside out… The small children were terrified… I thought, what would I feel if I was this four-year-old kid? How would I grow up?” No weapons were found. “It occurred to me that we are doing things that just create victims. To be a good occupier, we have to create conflict.”

An unpublished Israeli report revealed how “a tragic series of mistakes” led to an airstrike in 2014 in which four Palestinian boys playing on a Gaza beach, near dozens of journalists, were killed by a drone.  The cousins, 10 and 11, were somehow mistaken, in broad daylight, for Hamas militants. After killing the first boy the drone investigators asked their superiors how far along the beach they should pursue the fleeing survivors. Less than a minute later, as the boys ran for their lives, they decided to launch a second missile, killing the other three, despite never getting an answer to their question.

On 11 May 2022 the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, one of the best-known in the Middle East, was killed while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp. At first, Israel blamed Palestinian militants despite initial reports by her colleagues. Later it claimed that she might have been killed by either side. In September it admitted she might have been “accidentally” hit by Israeli forces. But as forensic tests proved, she was deliberately targeted, shot several times and denied medical aid; the colleague who rushed to her aid was shot and severely wounded. Both wore large PRESS vests.

Terry Bullata, her friend and former schoolmate, said: “… inside or outside of Palestine we mourn Shireen; she was our voice to the world, the voice of our suffering under the occupation. She was the voice of our aspiration for freedom.”

In November 2022 the US Department of Justice opened an investigation, a move that Israel condemned and refused to cooperate with. And what has since occurred? As usual, nothing!

What do press vests mean to Israeli sharpshooters? Two weeks ago Issam Abdallah, a journalist for Reuters, was killed in southern Lebanon by strikes from the direction of the Israeli border. Six other journalists were injured in just over 30 seconds from the same direction, indicating a targeted attack.  Evidently, some descriptions were better kept from the outside world.

Even before the pictures of rows of corpses, many very small, next to weeping parents, were deleted in much of the media, we saw grim-lipped Minister Yoav Gallant announce: “I have ordered a total siege of the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed down,” and then declare: “We are fighting against human animals and are reacting accordingly.”

I wonder how anyone can admire a government whose minister, Bezalel Smotrich (the one calling himself a “proud homophobe”),  can exclaim: “That is the problem with mosquitoes. If you swat mosquitoes and hit maybe 99, it will be the 100th one, which you didn’t swat, which will kill you. The genuine solution is to dry out the swamp.” To achieve just that, his “Submission Plan” offered Palestinians three options: either leave the country, or remain, but as “foreigners at a certain level of inferiority” under Jewish law – or resist. “And in that case, the Israeli army knows what is to be done.” Asked if that could mean eradicating whole families with women and children,  Smotrich replied: “War is war.”

“Animals” – “Mosquitoes!” I also recall the following item, dating well before the October 7 killings:

“The Said al-Mishal Cultural Center was one of the oldest, most integrated, best-equipped cultural sites in the Gaza Strip. Director Ali Abu Yassin described it as a ‘Theater for Poor People’. It made it possible for people with little money to gain respect for the Arts. I trained many actors and artists here. It was like our second home…attached to no political party or government, it was an independent institution. In al-Mishal we felt free and full of life. It seems that Israel did not like that. On August 9 it bombed the five-story building. ‘When I look at the destroyed building I see my laughter, my tears, my cries and my dreams all buried under the rubble!’”

But “war is war!” Long before October 7, Israeli army spokesman Abramovic had warned that Palestinian children “may look young to you, but they are terrorists at heart. Do not look into their deceitfully innocent faces, try to think of the demons in every one of them. Honest, moral people must distinguish between genuine human beings and human animals. We kill human animals, and we do so with no compunctions. And besides, who in the West is in a position to educate us about killing human animals? Whose hands are clean?”

According to surveys by foreign experts, 95% of these “demon-ridden” children in Gaza display symptoms of anxiety, depression and trauma. One expert tells a brief but heart-wrenching story: “I met a nine-year-old boy who told me that when he hears a bomb, he rushes to his home and hides under the bedcovers. He does this hoping that he can’t be seen and therefore won’t be bombed.”

I believe those  IDF officers need not go very far into underground tunnels to find “human animals”!

Yes, the killing and kidnapping near the Gaza border fence was shocking and bad, and the emotions of relatives, mostly Israelis, can all too easily be understood. I can also understand the feelings of many who, seeing pictures of the October 7 massacre, think of the Holocaust and renew their convictions that “at least one safe haven for Jews must be defended and strong.” It was only luck which,  before 1900, sent my own grandparents in flight from repression and pogroms in Odessa and Tallinn to safety across the ocean. “This haven for Jews must be supported and sustained for all times” is an emotion, above all of the “old folks,” which I can comprehend.

But can true havens be found by exiling several million other mostly hard-working people who want only to preserve their homes, their farms, their olive and fruit trees – and their security, dignity and self-determination? And who, I think, also have a “right of self-defense”!

Hunting for answers, I leaf through other sad pages in my (uncensored) history books.

The Black preacher Nat Turner’s brief rebellion against slavery in 1831 in Virginia began with the bloody killing of over 50 white men, women and children – slave owners and their families. Horrible! Did that justify tightening the chains of that “peculiar institution” in the South?

In 1904 Chief Samuel Maharero led the Herero and Nama people in uprisings against German colonial oppression. They began bloodily, killing  123 German land occupiers, a nasty business, possibly involving torture. Retribution followed; using modern cannon, General von Trotha crushed the uprising, issued orders to kill every male Herero, and drove women and children into a foodless, waterless desert, where between 24,000 and 100,000 Hereros and 10,000 Nama died of hunger,  thirst and exhaustion in the century’s first genocide. Was the applause in Prussia justified?

Must we not also recall the mass expulsion of Indian tribes from their fertile homes to arid, infertile areas west of the Mississippi, symbolized by the “Trail of Tears” of 60,000 of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” when so many, especially children, perished along he way. For many European-Americans this was retribution for scalping and torture by “blood-thirsty savages” against prisoners-of-war or peaceful settlers, simply “justified self-defense”. Wasn’t “the best Indian a dead Indian”?

All these involved bloody death. But where was the greater justice in in Virginia,  in Southwest Africa, in Ohio and Tennessee? The analogies are too painful;  on TV I see again the killing on October 7 – but also the suffering of a million humans compelled by harsh commands to leave their homes – often enough refugees from previous expulsions. And I see the wounds – and many small corpses.

Nor can I erase from memory that blood-chilling episode in Pontecorvo’s film “The Battle of Algiers” when a revolutionary, who helped place secreted bombs in public places, is asked by a Frenchman: “Isn’t it cowardly to use your women’s baskets to carry bombs, which have taken so many innocent lives?” And gets the deadly response: “Isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? Obviously, planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, sir, and you can have our baskets.”

In Palestine and Gaza, too, I cannot agree to equating Palestinian rockets, mostly shot down by an “Iron Dome” defense system, or stones thrown by young boys, with the many decades of constant droning, the giant military machinery and the devastating destruction by Israeli forces. Pleas for equality, self-determination, and an end to constant searches and controls by heavily-armed soldiers went unheeded or ignored, or were vetoed in world bodies. Reactions by largely hopeless, constantly demeaned young Palestinians could indeed turn bloody, fully unjust in their targets, as on October 7, but were hardly surprising.

For me, anyone endorsing the current revenge by a mighty armed force against a largely helpless community must reexamine his moral code! Has he not succumbed to the thinking, common during weeks of bombing Gaza in 2014, that the death of one Israeli child by a primitive rocket, tragic as it was, outweighed the killing of 551 Palestinian children in the enclosed enclave? Currently, we catch brief glimpses of the destruction of hospitals, mosques, schools and shelters. Any endorsement seems twisted to me,  often misusing the irrelevant horrors of the Holocaust as rationale, as one-sided and indefensible as claims to all of “Eretz Israel” based on faded texts in an ancient Scripture.

But the policies of Israeli leaders, Netanyahu in particular, are hardly rooted in religious belief. Although its famous Prime Minister Golda Meir insisted that “This country exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself” she also asserted that “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”

Decades earlier, more honestly but less publicly, Israel’s first president,  David Ben Gurion, said:

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take their country away from them.”

But in the past year, this program has faced growing problems. Bibi’s far-right, Orthodox-tainted, fascist-leaning cabinet was so openly anti-Palestinian, on a racist basis, so openly intent on grabbing all of Palestine, ruling out any feeble remaining calls for a “two-state agreement”, that Israel found itself increasingly isolated. World opinion rarely worried its leaders in the past; they had two major allies. One was Germany, which leaned on the horrors in its past to swallow the nastiest cover-ups and lies. The other, far weightier, was the USA, which not only protected Israel in every UN debate and decision but granted it an annual $2-3 billion subsidy,  mostly in the form of deadly weaponry. This policy of both major parties had gone almost fully unchallenged from the start, strictly enforced by wealthy donors who swiftly guillotined election chances of anyone daring to step out of line.

But now this bulwark was crumbling. Especially young voters were questioning the policy. Some, more active politically, dared to defy taboos and pressures, sometimes going down to defeat but sometimes winning. They are symbolized by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Dem., MI), of Palestinian parentage, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, a refugee from Somalia, who also braved constant calumny and threats but also stuck to her position, thus widening chances for freer discussion. And more and more young Jewish-Americans were moving away from past blind support of Netanyahu policies.

And at home Jewish Israelis, alarmed at inroads against democracy now threatening them, engaged in giant weekly marches and rallies, directed against Bibi and his cabal, and with anger at inflation and economic difficulties thrown in. Worst of all personally: if his government was defeated and he was thrown out of office Bibi faced stiff prison sentences for bribery and corruption.

I suspect that he saw only one escape route from an ever tighter corner; some new menace to Israel as a Jewish-run state, some threat to its existence like a fearsome war. And this is just what occurred on October 7! Jewish Israelis In their great majority dropped differences and rallied ‘round the flag. And so, at least at first, did Netanyahu’s friends and allies in many Western countries.

Some authors now recall that Israeli leaders helped found and support Hamas from its start, as a “moderate” religious counterpart to Yasser Arafat’s then militant, secular PLO. Some assert that such contacts continued indefinitely, negotiated in the Qatari capital, Doha, where large sums of money changed hands, and maybe some plans and policies with them. Who knows? But whether such relationships are involved or not, many nasty questions have arisen: How could Netanyahu or his government, with perhaps the world’s sharpest Pegasus watchdog facilities, not spot the long-planned  Hamas attack in advance? Why there was so little defense readiness along the border where a big dance festival was planned? Why did it take some Israeli IDF forces precious hours before they came to the rescue? Some believe that Netanyahu was simply asleep at the switch, missing out on exactly what he has always claimed was his central mission – preventing any harm from hitting Israeli Jews – and may Palestinian rights be damned. But he failed, and most analysts seem to agree that after the tragic fate of Gaza can be sealed his leadership days will be numbered.

It would be no great loss! Looking back at history once again, I find a certain pattern – overlooked, perhaps even unknown to those who call any criticism of Israeli policies “anti-Semitic”. It was a pattern,  worldwide, which could hardly be seen as noble. And the more I looked the more I found.

After Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977, the State Department condemned Guatemala because of a long list of “gross and consistent violations of human rights.” At Carter’s request, Congress suspended further military aid. But the Israeli government immediately jumped in to fill the gap and became Guatemala’s main arms supplier, “with no strings attached.” When Gen. Rios Montt staged a coup, his seizure of the government was called “the Israeli connection.” He reportedly had the help of 300 Israeli military advisers and its weapons in his violent eradication of some 626 villages of the Ixil people (for which he was sentenced, years later, to 80 years in prison). There was more.

El Salvador, also cut off as “inhumane” by Carter and Congress, bought 80 percent of its weapons from Israel between 1977 and 1981. There were soon reports that Israeli advisers were giving military counterinsurgency training while Israeli technicians installed a system to monitor utilities and pinpoint houses where the telephone was heavily used and political organizing possibly going on.

And Honduras? After President Hernández visited Israel the two countries signed a major security-related agreement. Honduras became one of the first to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. But staunch friend Hernández is now facing extradition to the USA for money laundering and drug trafficking with the Mexican ex-drug boss “El Chapo” Guzmán.

And Nicaragua? The brutal dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, one of the first to recognize Israel when it was created, supplied Nicaraguan passports to Israeli secret agents. When his son Luis was thrown out by a popular revolution, Israel gave full support to the CIA-directed raiding, murderous “contras.”

Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro visited Israel in April 2019 and was one of the world leaders closest to Netanyahu. His police used Israeli-made pistols, rifles and Negev machine guns against the landless, the slum-dwellers and the ecology-defenders.

What about Haiti? Israel was one of the few countries to sell weapons to Duvalier dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc,” whose private armies terrorized and impoverished Haiti. Soon after the popular priest Aristide was elected president in Haiti’s first democratic elections he was deposed in a CIA-led coup by rightist military units wielding Uzi and Galil machine-guns sent just weeks earlier from Israel.

Most frightening were the friendly relations that developed with apartheid South Africa. As long-kept secret documents from 1975 reveal, South Africa’s defense minister Botha asked Israel’s Defense Minister Shimon Peres (later its president) for nuclear warheads. No agreement was reached in this complicated matter,  but the two governments became close allies – regardless of apartheid.

Perhaps most significantly, during the long decades of suffocating embargo-blockade by the USA against Cuba, there were annual UN votes condemning this total violation of international law (and any sense of decency). Fewer and fewer countries supported the USA; in recent years not even its South Pacific puppet states. Only one always votes with the USA to support the blockade  – Israel!

It is sad that Israel’s path, coupled in its early years by so many with truly humane, idealist, often socialist dreams and motivation, has moved in such a far-right direction, despite true heroism by the young “refuseniks”, who choose jail instead of military service because of its cruel misuse, or by older Israelis, like the Women in Black, who fight for true solidarity and friendship between Jewish, Muslim and other neighbors. It is such Israelis I feel close to; religious or not, they alone are carrying on the good sides and traditions of their different faiths.

There are more than enough bad, tragic traditions outweighing them, too often under the heading “Judaism!” Their proponents are clever in establishing clichés. Not only the men of October 7 but every Palestinian who fought back over the decades, with methods deemed fair or foul, was always labeled a “terrorist” – but rarely if ever one of the Jewish killers, in or out of uniform. (Just like the “terrorist” label for the ANC in South Africa!)

Looking north to the Ukraine, we find clichés just as pervasive, most often attached to the leading bogeyman Putin. (Equivalent Satanic types were hard to find in Gaza or Palestine; leaders were all too often blown up by Israeli drones or otherwise eliminated.) One-sided reporting is just as typical; two or three wrecked homes in the Ukraine and the survivors receive great sympathy, which they deserve. But how much sympathy is offered for those in Gaza’s totally flattened high-rise buildings, with who knows how many babies or bed-ridden Palestinian “babushkas” buried in the rubble?

In both regions, there is more than enough blame to go around! How carefully we must beware of one-sidedness. While the October 7 killing of civilians is constantly reshown and cited, with all its horrors – but also very questionable stories about beheaded babies (never shown) and a raped, charred woman’s corpse (who was later found alive and untouched). Horrible enough, but the suffering of thousands of civilians in Donbas before February 24 was rarely if ever mentioned.

I see only one life-saving response to all these growing trails of blood: “Stop all killing – End destruction – Cease fire now – Negotiate!”

This is actually what Putin and Lavrov called for years ago – in December 2021, again at Minsk, also at Istanbul – but in vain. One offer was labeled a “non-starter,” the next one was OK’d, but with a secret aim; using it to win time to build up armaments in the Ukraine. The third attempt, with Erdogan, was halted by English PM Boris Johnson (and behind him Biden). All were media downplayed.

Similarly “overlooked” – that in 2012 Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari, after peace negotiations with Israel, was due to send Hamas’ version of a draft agreement to Israeli mediator Gershon Baskin in the evening – just before he was killed by an Israeli drone. His death was followed by Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense” against Gaza, with up to 1,417 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths (4 from friendly fire). Had Israel ever really wanted a truce – or an agreement? In 2011, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, then Army Chief of Staff, told Army Radio that Israel would need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called our power of ”deterrence.” The assault must be “swift and painful,” he concluded. “We will act when conditions are right.” Will Gantz head Israel’s next government?

The dominant question for me today is whether we are facing a three-pronged world offensive, with Israel crushing resistance in Gaza, taking full, open control of all Palestine, and looking eastward. This would interlock with Pentagon plans revealed in 2007 by Gen. Wesley Clark: “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” Much – not all – was achieved. But Syria and above all Iran have been targeted by the USA  and Israel for years, with strategy plans well on top in both their vaults.

Fill in this picture with that relentless expansion of an atomic-armed NATO farther and farther eastward which, despite all warnings and pleas, after spreading to most of Eastern Europe, aimed at Georgia, Central Asia and above all the Ukraine, with Putin reacting almost exactly as expected.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has assured us that the United States can “certainly” afford to support wars on two fronts, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas threatens to widen in the Middle East and the US continues to back Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

And the commander of a US Army “Intelligence Center of Excellence” reports that “after nearly two decades fighting the Global War on Terror, the Army is pivoting to prepare for competition or large-scale combat operations against a near-peer or peer threat… To successfully transition from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to potential large-scale combat operations, the Army must change. In December 2018, the Army published a new operating concept, Multi-Domain Operations in response to new threat capabilities… The Army Intelligence eagerly accepts this challenge.”

Then we learn that war games are being “played” by a fleet of at least 73 NATO warships in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, with two US aircraft carrier groups and over 30 ships from 14 NATO members – the largest concentration of US-NATO warships since the 1970s. The games follow a two-week naval exercise in September in the Baltic Sea, primarily off the coasts of Estonia and Latvia, with about 30 warships from 15 nations taking part and led by the German Navy,  with HQ in the one-time GDR port of Rostock. Officially, it “is focusing for the first time on high-end warfare and the collective defense of NATO Allies”. Such a “defense” would block off Russia from all its sea exits.

Thus, Europe’s strongest economy, its major military center, is returning to well-worn paths and seaways of an earlier century. Many German leaders are content to be junior partners of Washington and the Pentagon and equal partners of men like Netanyahu. Some, while joining against the common foe, Russia, have preserved great ambitions and memories of von Trotha, Hindenburg, and maybe even others. The co-chair of the Social Democrats,  Lars Klingbeil, told an audience:

“After almost 80 years of restraint, Germany now has a new role in the international coordinate system… coming more and more into the spotlight, we must fulfill this expectation. Germany must aspire to be a leading power….We need a completely different security policy debate. Closing one‘s eyes to reality leads to war. We see this right now in Ukraine. For me, peace policy also means seeing military force as a legitimate means of politics.”

Am I being alarmist when I link of these military prongs together? Or am I somehow advancing the causes of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, or the Hamas leaders? I have no love for Putin, but I see him and his policies as more threatened than threatening. Russia’s European heart is virtually surrounded by NATO.

If I were in Israel today I might well have fears from above, but immensely worse ones if I were in Gaza. Or the West Bank. As for Trump, I do still have fears of a come-back, despite his legal troubles. But my fears for world peace: are they unfounded, perhaps nightmare products of an upset stomach?

I hear again Joe Biden’s oily words linking Washington’s allies: “America is a beacon to the world …American leadership is what holds the world together…American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with. To put all that at risk if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel, it’s just not worth it.”

I think back to what that beacon brought Chile 50 years ago, with Pinochet against Allende. Or the replacement of the murdered Lumumba with Mobutu, from 1965 to 1997 a kleptocratic billionaire dictator in a ruined nation. I think of the ruins and mass deaths in Libya, once boasting the highest living standard in Africa, now a mess. Of multitudes of corpses in Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen … a long, bitter list. Biden’s beacon is hardly related to that one of copper in New York harbor!

I think, too, of the standing ovation for Yaroslav Hunka in Canada’s House of Commons in September, although he was a volunteer in the Nazis’ Waffen-SS Galicia Division during World War Two, responsible for the mass murder of Jews, Poles, Russians (and indirectly, of Canadian soldiers). No one present could plead ignorance of his past, and least of all Zelensky, whose Jewishness is stressed so often. Here, fascist traditions in today’s Ukraine were openly accepted. But like so many embarrassing facts and events, the gory mishap was quickly swept under willing media rugs.

I think of my own Jewish roots. I learned of the Auschwitz horror when I was 17, and was moved to tears when I heard that the Red Army had finally freed the site. Like so many, I took two words to heart: “Never again!” And I meant them for people everywhere, of all nationalities, Jews, Poles and even, when I moved near them, the people of Dresden. I knew there were good people in every country – and a great need for solidarity among them all, and against those greedy ones, also in every country, who were indifferent to the number of corpses, now increasing fearfully in so many places.

Over and over it is such conclusions that impel me now more than ever, whenever I am physically able, to join all the others who are demonstrating for ceasefires, for peace, for “Never again!”

Victor Grossman writes the Berlin Bulletin, which you can subscribe to for free by sending an email to: