Saturday, January 3, 2009

Semantics of a Massacre

It seems that what is in order for a clear understanding of the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, is a return to “first principles”, the essential historical causes of the conflict. This is necessary because our perception of the events in Palestine has been suppressed and conditioned by layer after layer of western orientalist propaganda which has brought about in our minds an effective inversion of the roles that each party plays in the conflict.

In the public image of the conflict that has been manufactured by corporate media outlets, the Palestinians have become the aggressors, while the Israelis are depicted as a rational, peace-loving nation which has found itself on the receiving end of unjustified violence perpetrated by fanatics. This accomplishment of the supranational propaganda-machine has been achieved through the constant repetition of a set of mythical narratives which heavily imbue even the coverage of the ongoing tragic events in Gaza.

The effectiveness of this mythical representation rests on the fact that it assigns to the weaker side (that of the Palestinians) certain attributes, which although untrue, appeal even to sympathizers of the Palestinian cause. For example, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians were allowed to develop a structure of self-governance bearing an external resemblance to the formal state structures of independent nations. The so-called “Palestinian Authority” (P.A.) boasts a president, a prime-minister, a diplomatic corps and so on. However, the harsh reality behind this farcical imitation of self-government is that Palestinian officialdom is in effect a body of state functionaries without a state, or any sovereign status whatsoever.

Their creation was a diplomatic measure designed to attach a degree of international legitimacy to the permanent military occupation of the Palestinian territories, through the introduction of an artificial peace-process with the participation of the Israeli invaders on the one hand, and the so-called representatives of the Palestinian people on the other. The establishment of the P.A. served to fulfill precisely this servile function of legitimizing the occupation, as is clearly demonstrated by the treatment of the Hamas government, which albeit democratically elected, refused to recognize the Oslo Accords. When the military wing of the Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier, no formal parliamentary status, or political immunity prevented the forces of occupation from capturing en masse and illegally incarcerating the majority of Palestinian MPs affiliated with the islamist movement.

In this instance, it was clearly shown that their sovereign status can be repealed at will and that the political institutions of the occupied lands are merely an extension of the military occupation maintained by Israel. According to the formal phraseology of the Oslo Accords, the P.A. is supposed to function as the harbinger and nucleus of a future Palestinian state, an exercise in collective self-management. Few understand that in reality, the P.A. is the precursor of its own self and will foreshadow nothing, as it will embody the only form of Palestinian political self-management which is compatible with indirect rule by Tel Aviv. In view of the above, it is reasonable to suggest that the Palestinians have no legitimate political representatives apart from the members of the popular organizations of armed resistance which continue to oppose the occupation by any means necessary.

The public debate concerning current developments in the Gaza strip is being framed in terms of a “war” that is raging in the region. This in itself is a misrepresentation of the situation, since the technical definition of war requires a certain balance of power between opposing forces, as well as a level of reciprocity pertaining to the hostile acts and casualties inflicted upon the parties involved in the conflict. Nothing of the sort has happened in Gaza so far. To be sure, what we are seeing is a one-sided campaign of extermination against a defenseless population, carried out in a systematic manner by a sophisticated war-machine.

The difference between the operational capabilities of the Israeli armed forces and those of Palestinian resistance militants is so huge, that scarcely can this encounter be described as “war”. This disparity is eloquently registered in the gross asymmetry between the mass havoc that has been wreaked on Gaza by Israeli bombardments which have left no aspect of civilian life unaffected, and the sporadic, low-intensity explosions caused by the launching of Palestinian rockets against Israeli border towns.

On the Palestinian side, we have the systematic devastation of a densely-populated urban area, the murder of over 400 persons so far (many women and children among them), thousands wounded, the networks of civilian infrastructure completely destroyed and the intentional deprivation of the most basic goods and necessities. On the Israeli side, we have 4 fatalities, a few minor injuries and some material damage mainly in the form of broken windows!

The same uneven ratio of casualties is expected to apply at the event that the Israeli army launches a fully-fledged invasion in the Gaza strip, regardless of the public statements of Hamas officials who claim that the majority of Israeli soldiers who enter Gaza will be “returned home in a coffin”. Those of us who support the cause of Palestinian liberation would undoubtedly be content to find out that Hamas indeed possesses the firepower to repel an Israeli ground assault. Yet to actually believe so, is to unwittingly fall into the mental trap prepared for us by the propaganda machine of international Zionism.

To be sure, we would love to believe that the Palestinians finally have the power to protect themselves from predatory Zionist attacks. We would love for history to repeat itself, only this time with Hamas in the place of Hezbollah and Gaza in that of southern Lebanon. Indeed this is a hope we must continue to nurture, but under no circumstances should we mistake our hope for concrete political reality, which could provide a standpoint for the formulation of policy towards conflict resolution. A certain misplaced sense of equality is implied in the propagandist notion of “war” between Hamas and Israel. Through their symbolic elevation to the status of official warring party by the Western media, the Palestinians feel that they have finally earned a measure of respect lacking in their hitherto oppressed existence.

Yet the recognition offered is purely semantic and serves to conceal the uneven nature of the contest. While Palestinian combatants and POWs continue to be treated as non-entities vis-à-vis international law and the death-toll continues to rise unilaterally on the Palestinian side, Israel is able to utilize the concept of “threat” contained in the notion of war in order to claim that it is engaged in a struggle against an enemy powerful enough to pose a threat against its existence. Under this light, it would be entitled to use all means at its disposal to counter such an existential threat.

Another popular myth refers to the causes of the present confrontation. According to the official version expounded by the corporate media, Hamas is liable for not accepting a renewal of the ceasefire and initiating a new cycle of violence by launching rockets against Israeli border towns. Dominant media narratives refer to the ceasefire as if it marked a period of peaceful coexistence in which all acts of hostility among the two adversaries were suspended, thereby creating the necessary space for political solutions to the conflict to be contemplated.

The truth of the matter is that while Hamas fulfilled the terms of the agreement and actively suspended all military operations against Israel, during the same period Israel did not terminate its policies which constitute integral tactical aspects of the total war of annihilation it is waging against the Palestinian people. At no point did it cease its aggressive colonization against Palestinian lands and it maintained in full force the economic blockade of Gaza, decimating the local economy and transforming the besieged inhabitants into living corpses existing merely on subsistence level. Economic suffocation is an act of war in-itself and violent colonization is the root cause of the conflict. It is the method by which the state of Israel was established ex nihilo and precipitates the gradual extinction of the Palestinian people and their historical disappearance as a nation. For Israel, the ceasefire simply meant that it could prosecute its genocidal war against the Palestinians via other means. For Hamas, the only form of political activity accessible to them, is armed resistance. The choice presented to Hamas is either to die swiftly by the bomb, or slowly by deprivation, disease and starvation. In effect, Israel demands that the Palestinians stand idly by, while it is completing their slow demise.

The government of Israel claims that it has an obligation to protect its citizens in the south who continue to live in fear of constant Palestinian shelling. They say that all that Israel desires is to be allowed to “live in peace”. Yet this is asking too much for a nation which has imposed its brutal military rule and regime of enslavement upon a whole people. As the famed Jewish novelist Etgar Keret put it recently, one cannot expect to conduct genocide and then expect to quietly carry on with his daily affairs. Armed resistance is absolutely justified on the part of the Palestinians who are striving to expel the conqueror and end the military occupation of their homeland.

On the other hand, Israel can lay no rightful claim to peace, for it is a nation which has devoted the totality of its energies and considers it a historical duty to subjugate the Palestinians, expel them from their land and literally extinguish them from the map. Israel never ceases to evoke its inalienable “right to exist”. But, it is clear now that the realization of that right cannot be accomplished without depriving the Palestinians of their right to self-determination, life and dignity.

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