Tag Archives: Gaza

Divine Violence, Divine Peace: Gaza 2014

This blog is an opinion piece I wrote during the time of the Gaza 2014 war, which has been published in a special supplement (which I edited) of the journal Theory & Event about the war. The whole collection is available free on online, and includes essays by smart, insightful and sometimes sad essays by Adel Manna, Amir Nizar Zuabi, Lev Grinberg, Ofer Cassif, Muhammad Ali Khailid, Louise Bethlehem, and Trude Strand.

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

IAF strike on Gaza (Photo: EPA)

On July 7th I flew back to the US after a month-­long trip to the UK and then Israel. On the same day, the Israeli assault on Gaza began, called in Hebrew “Operation Steadfast Cliff” (tzuk eitan). In my summer schedule, I had set aside time after my return to Bloomington to work on a paper titled “Peace: An Emergent Norm of War and Conflict,” for the American Political Science Association (APSA) conference. I intended to consider Walter Benjamin’s essay “Critique of Violence” among other texts.1 But I had not taken into account that during the summer I would be trying to write against the background of a war that I felt immediately, a war that interrupted my daily schedule as I constantly listened for and looked at updates.

As I tried write I was facing the “steadfast cliff” of the Israeli war on Gaza. The utter pointlessness of the deaths, injuries and damage weighed heavily on me. I didn’t want to be in Bloomington. As an Israeli citizen I felt a duty that outweighed my professional duties, a civil duty to participate in the activities of the Israeli opponents of the war, my Israelis, who are increasingly subject to intimidation by ultra­-nationalist phalanxes on the streets and on social media.2

It was impossible to separate my work from my anxiety, anger and frustration. I had to submit to the interruption in order to think critically about the normal abnormality of what Benjamin refers to as a “state of emergency.” By contrast, a “real state of emergency” 3 would interrupt not only our professional normality but also the regular flow of history – in this case, the repetition of warfare. What, then, with Benjamin’s help, did I think about peace while rockets, bombs and shells fell on Gaza and Israel and the anti­-war demonstrations went on? How could protests constitute an “effective critique” of military violence?4

Through Benjamin’s eyes, the predominant, juridical ways of critiquing the violence of this war are not an effective critique of military violence because they partake in the same means that justify it. In his critique of the legal critique of violence, he argues that all law rests on a “common basic dogma,” that “just ends can be attained by justified means, justified means used for just ends.”5 In the legal framework of the self­defense of nation­states, or peoples, Israel condemns the military violence of the other as aggression, as a means to unjust ends contrary to the sanctity of human life. At the same time Israel justifies its own force as self­defense, as a means to a just end – national and individual survival. Legal norms do not rule out extensive use of military violence as a means of self-­defense, while the spiral of condemnation and justification speaks to a diabolical logic of “we are good, our enemy is evil.”6

Significantly, Benjamin considers military violence to be paradigmatic of all violence, including the “lawmaking”7 violence of the state, whose ultimate end is in preserving itself. Law cannot provide an effective critique of violence because law itself has a “violent origin.”8 The origin of law is war, in the “peace ceremony” that sanctions “every victory” by “recognizing the new conditions as a new ‘law’.”9 The peace that follows victory establishes the “frontiers” in which the law operates and establishes the “power” of the law.10 Israel historically has been the victor that has used military violence to determine the frontiers in which the state’s civil and military law apply. It has determined who has a right to live within these frontiers, as well as granting partial rights to some of the vanquished, denying them entirely to others.

The “mythical violence” that constitutes law is, Benjamin says, the violent anger of the gods, which humans experience as fate. Indeed, fate, anger and retribution are the terms in which military violence is felt, not the reasonable language of international law. Many Jewish Israelis experience rockets falling like bolts of lightning cast down by the gods, as terror, as the manifestation of the anger and hatred of an enemy who has no rational motive, only a will annihilate them. For their part, Gazans experience unrelenting violence from the skies and on the ground as the anger and rage of their implacable Zionist enemy who denies them national and often personal existence. Military violence is their recurring fate.

As an alternative to the fate of mythical military violence, Benjamin asks whether violence is ever justified as a means, irrespective of its ends. His controversial, affirmative, answer is that there is pure, immediate divine violence that halts mythical violence” and initiates “a new historical epoch”.11 Benjamin’s conception of the pure means of nonviolence comes down to pure language that is neither intersubjective nor communicative. It is not a means to an end, nor a medium, but an immediacy that “corresponds … to the messianic end of the history.”12 The pure language of nonviolent means is the same as divine violence.

But Benjamin also takes us in a different direction – towards the non­violent resolution of conflict, towards peace. On the face of it, he has a conventional understanding of the nonviolent means of conflict resolution, referring to the values of courtesy, sympathy, and trust in resolving disputes, along with conferences and diplomacy. 13 Yet, it seems to me, that along with Benjamin’s notion of divine violence is a notion of divine peace that also does the Messianic work of interrupting the cycle of mythical violence.

Must we then wait, perhaps forever, for the coming of the messiah for this violence to stop, or can there be peace now? Perhaps, but perhaps the interruptions of mythical and military violence are performed and witnessed on an everyday level even as the violence continues. As an example, I turn to the activities of the Parents Circle Families Forum ­ Bereaved Families a joint Israeli­Palestinian organization of about 600 families. For them reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite for conventional, negotiated peace. 14 During the Israeli war on Gaza the Bereaved Families have interrupted the military, mythical violence in two ways.

In a video that they disseminated through social media, they interrupt the repetition through which mourning for the fallen is sanctified by further military violence which leads to more bereavement.15 At a time of war when the impulse is for each nation to unite, to become one camp, the video repeatedly tells us in Hebrew and Arabic that they don’t want us “here,” with them, in a circle of bereavement.16 The solemn faces against the grey background speak a pure language, the sharing of language as a sharing of existence.

Parents Circle Families Forum - Peace Square, July 2014

Parents Circle Families Forum – Peace Square, July 2014

The group’s second interruption of military violence is the “Peace Square” next to Tel Aviv’s Cinémathèque, in which they counter the media propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel by sharing their stories, and their choice for reconciliation, providing a space for dialogue.17 The talk under their canopy will lead to no peace treaty, but it is a sharing of language and a persistent presence. 18 Their slogan is “it won’t stop until we talk” and though “it” hasn’t stopped, their talk interrupts momentarily the flow of violence.

Of course, I do not mean that in actuality the violence stops. The messiah is not here, and history continues. The language of divine peace is a language we don’t yet understand, but through it passes the “weak Messianic power” that each generation has.19 One of the Bereaved Families’ projects is a dialogue on Facebook in which posts are translated from Hebrew and Arabic, and vice versa. The site is called “Crack in the Wall,”20 and it indicates how “every second of time … [can be] the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.”21 Through these small cracks in the wall, the Bereaved Families interrupt mythical violence, making room for a different history that might burst through at any time. Peace.

Notes

1.  Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, ed. Peter Demetz (Schocken Books, New York, 1978): 277–300.

2.  Omer Raz, “Unprecedented’ violence stalks anti­war demos across Israel,” +972 blog, July 29, 2014. http://972mag.com/unprecedented­violence­ stalks­anti­war­demos­across­israel/94530/. Accessed August 3 2014.

3.  Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, (Schocken: New York, 1968), 257.

4.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 284.

5.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 278; 293.

6.  See for example Ari Shavit, “In this sad war story, Israel is in the right,” Ha’aretz online, English version, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium­1.606865. Accessed July 29th 2014.

7.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

8.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 288.

9.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 283.

10.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 295.

11.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 297; 300.

12.  Carlo Salzani, “Purity (Benjamin with Kant),” History of European Ideas 36 (2010), 444.

13.  Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 289.

14.  Its mission is to prevent further bereavement through dialogue, tolerance, peace and reconciliation. http://www.theparentscircle.org/Content.aspx? ID=2#.U4Ss7PldWSo. Accessed May 24, 2014.

15.  See Jon Simons, “Mourning the fallen: working through bereavement,”  Picturing Peace blog, July 26 2014.

16.  Parents Circle Families Forum, “We Don’t Want you Here,” video, July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgo1MpWuwgE&list=UUxz­1IROo6QyjY8fheIA9AQ. Accessed August 1 2014.

17. Peace Square Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/483960538374211/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular. Accessed August 3 2014.

18.  Israeli Social TV “Peace Square.”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KrilbWAei4 Accessed August 1 2014.

19.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 254.

20. Crack in the Wall Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/crackinthewall/info.

21.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 264.

Test is Copyright © 2015 Jon Simons and The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

Link

After the dreadful episode of the Israeli war on Gaza this summer, it’s easy to forget that it took place less than two years after the previous “round” of the long war which is Israel’s continuing politicide of the Palestinian people. But yes, two years ago, on November 14th 2012, Israel launched an assault on Gaza. Before the “steadfast cliff” of July-August 2014, there was the “pillar of cloud” of November 2012.  To commemorate the start of that war I have chosen this clip, a Social TV report of a small demonstration on the evening of the first day of the war, outside the apartment building of then Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the clip, protesters ask how come that yet again a war had been launched on Gaza. They are talking wearily about the “cast lead” of 2008-9. The offenses against Gaza  repeat themselves terribly every few years.

“Governments sign treaties, people make peace”: Buma Inbar

Mourning can be paralyzing, a melancholia that never abates. Living with bereavement can

Buma Inbar at the Erez crossing point to Gaza, during the Israeli war on Gaza, 2014. Courtesy of Buma Inbar

Buma Inbar with Turkish aid workers at the Erez crossing point to Gaza, during the Israeli war on Gaza, 2014. Courtesy of Buma Inbar

be no life at all, a life that is entirely absorbed by loss and grief. When the death of a loved one is the consequence of war, it’s easy for those, like me, who have never experienced such loss to imagine some ways to respond to the loss: to seek vengeance against the enemy; to become a bitter cynic about those responsible for the war; to flee to another life, in another part of the world, or in addiction. Harder to imagine is the response of Buma Inbar, an Israeli humanitarian and peace activist who works independently under the slogan “Governments sign treaties (may it come to pass), people make peace.” You can read more about his work and his story in this interview on the Just Vision website, and in this profile of him by the Fund for Reconciliation Tolerance and Peace.

I am on Buma’s email list, and October 10th I read this moving message from him, (which I have translated from Hebrew with his permission) calling on his contacts to attend the annual rally to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

On October 15 1995 my oldest son Sergeant Yotam Inbar, a soldier in the Golani Brigade, was killed along with another six soldiers in an utterly unnecessary and preventable incident. To my great sorry, in the last war, “Protective Edge”, once again seven soldiers from the same unit were killed because they were in the wrong APC in the wrong place.

A few days after my son Yotam was killed, I took part in the rally where Prime Minister Rabin was murdered. At the rally, sensing the steps of peace around the corner, arriving any moment, I felt that my son would be the last sacrifice before peace. To my great sorrow, that’s not how things turned out, and the wars and lack of peace continue in our region, along with the awful Occupation.

I lost my faith, but I didn’t lose my hope for peace, reconciliation, and prevention of further bereavement in our region. And so I keep going on my path.

And so indeed he keeps on going, when others are paralyzed. It would be too easy for Buma to connect his own personal grief with the collective grief about Rabin, in fatalistic mourning for the peace that never came, that was killed along with Rabin leadership in that Tel Aviv square in November 1995. Instead, he is driven by his son’s memory to keep going, as he said in an interview: “I wonder sometimes what he would think about what I’m doing. I know he would be proud.”

The Erez crossing point from Gaza into Israel. Courtesy of Buma Inbar.

The Erez crossing point from Gaza into Israel. Courtesy of Buma Inbar.

Unlike many others in the “peace camp,” Buma did not give up hope when the Oslo process failed because his hope is not in what governments can do, but in what he and other people can do. Much (but by no means all) of his humanitarian work has been dedicated to enabling Palestinians from the Gaza and West Bank to access medical treatment in Israel or East Jerusalem. The recent Israeli war on Gaza didn’t interrupt his efforts, working at the Erez crossing point to assist sick and injured Palestinians to travel to Turkey and Jerusalem, even as rockets fell. In an interview on Israel’s Channel 1 TV about his work, his voice almost failed him as he expressed his condolences to the families of the Golani soldiers who had just been killed, like his son, “my heart goes out to them”.

Buma carries on despite criticism. Why does he help the enemy, the people who killed his son? Because their suffering and loss is no different to his, he says. For others, his humanitarian work is not political enough, not sufficiently critical of the occupation and the system of power through which Israel rules and oppresses. He has to cooperate with the Israeli army and security services – or Israeli occupation forces – to get things done, and he doesn’t mind praising their humanitarian procedures. His work can be exploited to show “good” Israelis in contrast to “cruel” Palestinians. By relieving, even to a small extent, the suffering caused by the Israeli attack, he’s making it easier for the unbearable situation to be borne. Perhaps, but more likely he’s doing what he says he’s doing, making peace one sick person at a time, having compassion for the pain of the occupiers while tending the wounds of the occupied.

It won’t stop until we talk

Parents' Circle slogan

Parents’ Circle slogan

Yesterday came the awful news of the breakdown of the 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza war known as Operation Protective Edge, and that an Israeli soldier (Hadar Goldin) was missing, perhaps abducted by Hamas, perhaps already dead. It seemed that there would be no end to the Israeli ground operation and continued attack on built-up areas in Gaza, with the terrible toll in Palestinian civilian casualties as well as the losses of Israel and Palestinian fighters. Today (August 2, 2014) it seems that there is some relief. As I write, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Security Minister Ya’alon are completing a press conference in which they confirm earlier reports during the day that Israeli forces are withdrawing from built up areas in northern Gaza and that all the known tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel will be destroyed within hours. The Israeli government is scaling back the war in Gaza unilaterally, rather than trying to arrange another ceasefire with Hamas and beginning negotiations for a longer term agreement through Egyptian (and other) mediation. They will rely on deterrence, the cost of the war for Hamas and Gaza, instead of coming to an arrangement to end the military violence. At the same time, they said that the Israeli government would continue to do whatever it takes to achieve “quiet” and security for Israeli citizens.

But it isn’t over. It’s not over not only for the reasons that the Israeli government gave, namely that the air bombardment or fighting on the ground would resume if it turns out that Hamas are not already deterred. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had already declared that Hamas won’t be bound by any Israeli unilateral measure: “They either stay in Gaza and pay the price, unilaterally retreat and pay, or negotiate and pay.” Probably, the Israeli government’s latest move has left the cards in the hands of Hamas, who can choose to drag Israeli forces back into full-scale war as they wish.

It’s not over not because nothing has changed. More than 1600 Palestinians have been killed, along with 66 Israelis, and thousands of homes and other buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. The death and destruction has been colossal and dreadful.

It’s not over because we didn’t talk. It’s not over because the underlying issues that led to the violence have not been addressed. It’s not over because there is still an occupation; there is still a siege on Gaza; there are still Israeli settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories; there is still one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians in Area C; there is still a separation barrier running through Palestinian land; there are still checkpoints restricting Palestinian movement; there are still Palestinian refugees. It’s not over because Hamas and Islamic Jihad use murderous military violence rather than nonviolent means to bring the Palestinians an independent state. It’s not over for all the reasons that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has not been reached yet.

At the root of all those reasons is the refusal to talk. To really talk. To speak and to listen. To hear what is painful and to say what you fear to say. To talk not only to those with whom one feels comfortable, but with those whom you don’t trust and don’t like. To talk to your enemies. There are many reasons why Israel’s government and its citizens distrust Hamas and also the Palestinian Authority, and why talking with them will be difficult, painful, infuriating. And vice versa.

It’s not over in part because the Israeli government has decided that as a matter of policy it will not talk. It will not talk, except by the most indirect means to Hamas at all, and it will not talk in good faith – really talk – to the Palestinian Authority. It will not talk about peace agreements other than as a way to keep talking but not talk at all. And it won’t talk to a Palestinian reconciliation government that includes Hamas. It won’t talk to Hamas other than through the coercive, violent language of Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge. Hamas talks back with rockets and tunnel attacks. Helluva way to talk.

PCFC.logoIn the midst of the horrific, terrible violence there has been a quiet voice, a voice that talks, that really talks, because it also listens, because it talks for the sake of talking. Not empty talking, but talking for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of practicing peace long before the politicians get around to talking earnestly about peace. The voice, and the ear, is the Parents Circle Families Forum whose slogan is “It won’t stop until we talk.” During this war, the group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families has made efforts, such as this video on social media, to keep talking, to turn people away from the violence that breeds bereavement, and to turn them towards the talk that also listens in their “Peace Tent.”  The tent has operated daily throughout the war, in Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque square, offering a space in their words, “to provide an alternative to the propaganda and hatred running rampant in Israel …. [and]  share their stories, their choice for reconciliation.” It’s not over yet, because not enough people are listening.

Rockets or refugees, war or peace

One of the most frequent targets of rockets fired from Gaza during the current military violence, aka Protective Edge, is the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Ashkelon is on the Mediterranean coast, about 13 km or 8 miles north of Gaza, so its 117,000 inhabitants have only 20 – 30 seconds to reach cover once a Code Red alert sounds. Not surprisingly, they are fed up with living that way, and before the Israeli ground offensive began some of them wanted it to happen, while others disagreed. On the street, according to this Jerusalem Post report, there was a feeling that the government needed to get tough – we need a Putin, they said. Be careful what you wish for.

A Hamas rocket hit a house in Ashkelon, Israel, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. A woman in the home was taken to the hospital for a panic attack. Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

A Hamas rocket hit a house in Ashkelon, Israel, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. A woman in the home was taken to the hospital for a panic attack. Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

When the situation is presented this way: “we just want to live here peacefully, but the Hamas terrorists keep attacking us,” it make sense to limit the discussion to the extent of the measures that self-defence should take. Of course, air shelters and the Iron Dome rocket defence system, but to really stop the rockets, just air strikes or also a ground invasion? Just to weaken Hamas, or wipe them out?

The context calls for some other questions, both about what self-defence means, and what the situation really is. Here I won’t try to provide a whole context or history, merely to point out that Ashkelon was not always Ashkelon. It has been inhabited since long before Jews and Arabs arrived in the land, but from the 16th century until 1948, it was the Palestinian Arab village of al-Majdal, with about 11,000 residents.

A view of al-Majdal, Palestine, in the 1930s, from the American Colony photographic collection. (Library of Congress)

A view of al-Majdal, Palestine, in the 1930s, from the American Colony photographic collection. (Library of Congress)

According to the 1947 partition plan, it was to become part of the Palestinian Arab state. During the 1948 war, most of the inhabitants fled as it became the forward position of the Egyptian army, and so a target for Israeli attacks, and as a result most of the inhabitants fled further south to Gaza. When Israeli forces took the town in November 1948, there were only 1,000 people left. At first, they seemed to be luckier than the 700,000 or so Palestinians who became refugees, as local Israeli officers ignored an order by their commander Yigal Allon to expel them. In fact, their numbers increased to 2,500 as other Palestinians who had been uprooted from the surrounding area either sought a relative haven with them or were sent from other places from which they had been expelled. But they were kept in a barbed wire ringed camp known as the ghetto (yes, really) and dispossessed of their homes and livelihoods.

Generally it’s claimed that the exodus of Palestinian refugees was an immediate result of the war and the fighting, or a military necessity for the fledgling Israeli army fighting the armies of the surrounding Arab states. But the refugee crisis was really created after the war had ended, both by preventing the return of the civilians who had fled their homes and by expelling more of them. Not only were the 10,000 residents of al-Majdal who left the arena of battle in 1948 not allowed to return, but the 2,500 Palestinians who remained there after the war had ended were expelled. There was actually some discussion in the Israeli government about what to do with them, so there was no rushed response to an emergency situation, but a policy decision was made that they had to go either by choice or by force. The “voluntary evacuation” was a sham, the main point of which was to get those who left to sign papers relinquishing all future claims to return. On 17th August 1950 the expulsion began, with almost all of them going to Gaza. The expulsion is documented in Israeli records, including photographs of Palestinians loaded onto trucks.

Al Majdal, October 12th 1950. Photo by Beno Rothenberg.

Al Majdal, October 12th 1950. Photo by Beno Rothenberg.

So if we know and understand that most of the Palestinians in Gaza are refugees and their descendants, mostly from the areas where Israeli civilians are under rocket attack, how else might we think about “what must be done” now? If we perceive the horrendous situation not simply as something that began when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, but as a violent reality that has existed since 1948, what would it take to address the issues feeding into the current violence?

Zochrot, an organization to promote Israeli Jewish society’s acknowledgement of and accountability for the Nakba, looks at today’s crisis in these terms. The organization understands that for most Israeli Jews, the very thought of the Palestinian refugees returning to Israel conjures up existential danger and the fear of annihilation. But as they put it: “Return does not mean expelling Jews from their homes, but the very opposite: The mutual existence of Palestinians and Jews in the country.” They pose quite practical questions, which they work through in imaginative and creative projects: “What might return actually look like on the ground? What needs will have to be met for the refugees to be reabsorbed? How would major social institutions be reorganized to prepare for return?”

Zochrot visit to Ashkelon/al-Majdal, 2003. Al-Ustaj and Al-Shuk Streets, posted at the corner of Herzl and Eli Cohen. Photo by Adi Kemmelgren

Zochrot visit to Ashkelon/al-Majdal, 2003. Al-Ustaj and Al-Shuk Streets, posted at the corner of Herzl and Eli Cohen. Photo by Adi Kemmelgren

So, what would self-defence look like if Palestinian refugees living in Gaza returned to Ashkelon, a growing city? Would we need an Iron Dome or air shelters? Who would be firing rockets, and at whom? Would “we” need a huge military budget to defend ourselves from “them” if all of us lived not in zones defined by barbed wire and concrete walls, but by the myriad connections of Jewish-Arab, Palestinian-Israeli civil society – neighbourhoods, schools, transport, trade, culture, language, government? What do we prefer, to protect ourselves from the rockets at the cost of many more lives, or to live with the refugees?

The Qana Moment: When the Israeli government falls off its Protective Edge

When the Israeli government and military began Operation Protective Edge, they must have known that the moment would come. I’ll call it the Qana moment after the incident on April 18, 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, a round of the war between Israel (with its proxy, the South Lebanon Army) and Lebanon (in the form of Hezbollah). Then, as now with the hostilities between Israel and Gaza, an undercurrent of violence flared up into open warfare, with each side blaming the other for starting it. Then, as now, Israeli authorities accused their opponents of using civilians as human shields.

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

Then, as now, Israeli authorities called on civilians to leave the area in which they were going to attack, and hundreds of thousands did flee. Some 800 of them took refuge in a UN compound, nearby from which Hezbollah fighters fired rockets and mortar rounds towards Israeli military positions. In the response, Israeli artillery shells struck the compound, killing 106 and injuring many more. International outrage did not immediately halt the military campaign, although on the same day the UN Security Council passed resolution 1052 calling for an immediate ceasefire, which was not reached until ten days later. A subsequent UN investigation concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the Israeli shells had hit the compound by accident, and in its rejection of the report the Israeli government continued to claim that it had not intended to hit the compound.

The Qana moment is not an isolated incident in Israel’s asymmetrical wars against non-state foes, when “by accident” a horrific number of civilians are killed by Israeli munitions. In the last round of the Israel-Gaza war in 2012, the moment was the Al-Dalu family killing on 18 November, in which twelve people died in an attack on a home.

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family's home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family’s home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

In Cast Lead, in 2009, it was the shelling on January 6 of the al-Fakhura school in which hundreds of people were sheltering, killing more than 40 of them. The story is always the same. The Israeli authorities say that they were targeting a source of fire or some armed people or installation, and that the civilians were too close to the target, or there was some technical error. As Moriel Rothman-Zecher put it on his Leftern Wall blog, the Israeli authorities’ intention matters less than the consequences of their action. The killing of civilians is not an incidental by-product of this sort of asymmetrical warfare: it is an inevitable element of it, just as the deaths of Israeli soldiers, some by “friendly-fire,” are inevitable when the air war becomes a ground war. When Israeli authorities wage war in this way, it simply means that they intend to hit their targets. That is a military, not a moral, stance.

The Qana moment may already have happened in this bout of hostilities, Protective Edge. It might have been the bombing of the Abu Jameh family home on July 20th, killing 25, apparently without warning. As I write, details are emerging of another deadly strike that is eerily similar to the al-Fakhura incident: an UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun in which people had sought shelter but were apparently trying to evacuate, was hit by shells, killing about 10-15 and injuring many more.

The Qana moments don’t stop the violence (or bring the Western governments that support Israel’s “right to self-defense to withdraw their public support), nor does media attention to them address the whole range of death and destruction. At this point, unlike in the actual Qana moment, the UN Security Council has not resolved that there be an immediate ceasefire, although the UN human rights council has formed a commission to look into possible Israeli war crimes. The Israeli response has been dismissive, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni saying “get lost” and Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a travesty, given Hamas’ war crimes. In all probability, when the UN completes its report, the Israeli government will reject it, just as they after Grapes of Wrath, and for the same reasons. And when civilians are killed again in the next operation, and the one after that, and so on, they will repeat the same talking points as civilians die.

The deadly repetition of inevitable civilian casualties might perhaps be slowed if not halted by an Israeli public opinion that is as appalled by them as much as public opinion is elsewhere. But unless Israelis are seeking out alternative news to that provided by their mainstream media, they will see and hear little about the Palestinian casualties. Surely if Israeli authorities were as confident in the “righteousness of our way” as they claim to be, as in the new President Reuven Rivlin’s swearing in speech, then there would be no problem for the Israeli public to be fully aware of each “justified” death, each “justified” injury, each “justified” destruction of homes, and hospitals, and mosques. As a way of bringing the public’s attention to that for which they bear responsibility but do not hear, Israeli human rights groups B’tselem tried to pay for a spot on Israeli public radio in which the names of some of the dead Palestinian are read out. But the Israeli Broadcasting Authority rejected the group’s appeal to place the spot, so instead it can be found on social media, out of sight and mind of most of the Israeli public and its sphere of ethical responsibility.

“Every person has a name” goes the Hebrew song that is used on memorial days for soldiers and the Holocaust. And indeed, everyone does have a name, and the taking of that name cannot be excused by talking points. The cost of the Qana moments is horrendous, but they have the power to remind all of us of our ethical responsibility.

Two Pictures of War: Over the Protective Edge

On the morning of July 18, 2014 the slide show of photos on the Haaretz Hebrew online version’s front page included a couple of typical photographic representations of war. Perhaps they are unremarkable in themselves, among the daily flow of images of the current armed conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. But perhaps the way the two photos could regard each other, or what they might want of each other, is remarkable.

 

Reserve soldier says farewell to his girlfriend at a mobilization point in Haifa. Photo by Rami Shalosh, Ha'aretz online, 18 July 2014.

Reserve soldier says farewell to his girlfriend at a mobilization point in Haifa. Photo by Rami Shalosh, Ha’aretz online, 18 July 2014.

One is a picture of how mainstream Israeli society sees itself in this war. The reserve soldier is a citizen reporting for duty, ready to serve his country, to protect it. He is there to be the “protective edge.” There is no celebration in the picture, no excitement, no loud hurrah, no waving flags, no parade. Other than the couple in the foreground, and the military fatigues and T-shirts worn by three of the group of men, they look as if they could be heading off on a job together. That is how Israel sees itself going off to war, somberly, reluctantly, only because it is necessary. Only because of them, their rockets, their refusal to accept a cease fire, their refusal to let us live in peace.
These are men gathering for war, but the face that is turned towards us is not the soldier in the foreground, but his girlfriend’s. Her expression is partly obscured by her sunglasses, so we don’t see her eyes, but we can see the anxiety and concern in her face as she embraces him. This too is part of the way Israel (and other countries) go to war, the men leaving the women behind. He puts himself in danger to protect her. Yet in this war (as in many other wars) as the soldier goes off to the front while the home front is left exposed to their rockets. In this case, as the girlfriend and other friends and relatives in the picture are in Haifa, they are beyond the range of all but a few rockets. But still, it makes sense that we see her face, because in this kind of war, she is as much a protagonist as her boyfriend. All civilians are human shields in this war, including Uda Al- Wadj, the Israeli Bedouin killed by a rocket that hit his community, Qasr al-Sir, close to the Israeli nuclear reactor in Dimona.

 

Wounded Gazan girl in the Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: AP. Haaretz online, 18 July 2014.

Wounded Gazan girl in the Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: AP. Haaretz online, 18 July 2014.

In another picture the face that is most visible to us is also a girl’s, in this case an injured, infant girl, in the arms not of a soldier but a man wearing surgical gloves and a face mask. Other than the mark on her head and what might be a bandage on her foot, it’s hard to make out the extent of her injuries. Her eyes are mostly closed, but we see the distress on her face and the concern on the man’s as he moves to rest her on a bed. Behind them, we see a group of men in the uniforms of medical staff. Unable to protect the girl – and themselves – from the missiles and shells that the Israeli military rain down on Gaza, these men’s duty is to treat the wounded. Here there is no difference between the front and the home front. The girl is on the front line, along with the men.
This is how most Palestinians experience the war with Israelis, with the reservists quietly going to the front. They shoot at us and bomb us. They drive us from our land. They make war on all of us, fighters and civilians, men and women, adults and children, young and old. They turn us into refugees. The choice is to remain steadfast and risk death, or flee. In Gaza, there is nowhere safe to flee to that is safe from their missiles and bombs. We are in the hands of God.
If the eyes of the injured Palestinian girl would open and the young Israeli woman would take off her sunglasses, and their eyes should meet, would the killing and maiming stop, would the men be able to stop doing their duty? Is this what the two pictures want from each other? Is this what all the human shields, Israeli and Palestinian alike, want from each other?