CounterPunch / October 9, 2023
Shock and horror. But to and for whom? At 6.30 am on October 7, the State of Israel was certainly in shock. From the south, its citizens faced attacks by, as news reports put it, air, sea and land executed by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Within a matter of hours, the death toll of Israelis had jumped by hundreds, complemented by hundreds of deaths in Gaza. Along the way, unspecified numbers of Israeli hostages have been taken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a declaration of war.
In the short term, the offensive by Hamas looks like a spectacular bloodying of Israel’s strangulating forces and any number of restrictive labels you might wish to apply to the bully that holds the reins over any prospect of Palestinian sovereignty. It is particularly bruising given the rag-tag status of previous Palestinian military efforts to breach the security barriers of the Israeli state, not to mention showing up its hubristic security and intelligence services, caught entirely napping.
This is not to suggest that Hamas, and its various Islamist iterations, is ideal as a governing or prosecuting body for the Palestinian cause; it is merely to observe that, as a reality, retributive or retaliatory counters to Israeli power, the no-change-in-hope-of-Palestinian-extinction message, was bound to happen. As it will happen, again.
In August 2019, Shlomo Ben-Ami put it with crisp grimness. With the two-state solution essentially condemned to moribund retirement, “there is little to stop Israel from cementing the one-state reality that its right-wing government has long sought, regardless of whether it leads to a permanent civil war.”
The violence is the apotheosis of what happens at the end of a road of exhausted options, a terminus where negotiations no longer matter, when the government in power, itself corrupted and spoiled and facing opposition from its own citizens, finds itself at sea as to how to defeat an enemy it refuses to acknowledge, except in violence. In April, The Times of Israel reported that fighter pilots in the volunteer reserves had threatened to withdraw their labour, agitated by Netanyahu’s legislative efforts to hobble the judiciary. Leaders had warned that the country faced civil war.
From outside the conflict, the ongoing debate rages on who has a monopoly on violence and its decent uses. Depending on who exercises it, it constitutes a terroristic act warranting justified massive retaliation. For others, it’s justified self-defence. “There is never any justification for terrorism,” stated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ignoring the obvious point that many states tend to be born in the convulsing labours of terrorism, not least Israel itself. The EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen “unequivocally” condemned “the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also regarded such “acts of violence” as “completely unacceptable,” insisting that civilians had to be protected.
Laced with a delicious, smacking irony, were remarks made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a man who claims little by way of restraint in fighting invaders and occupiers (Russians, would you know?) and seems to ignore the states of occupation that stain other parts of the world. “Today’s terrorist attack on Israel was well-planned, and the entire world knows which sponsors of terrorism could have endorsed and enabled its organization.” Dare we even bother to ask?
“Decency,” as George Bernard Shaw tells us in Maxims for Revolutionists, “is indecency’s conspiracy of silence.” Palestinians are to be conspiratorially decent before the killing of the two-state solution and the impoverishment of their lands. (The blockade in Gaza has left 80% of the population dependent on international aid, facing a contaminated water supply and persistent power outages.) They are to be decent and well-mannered before bulldozing policies of collective punishment. They are to be decent before discriminatory administrative detention and segregationist policies that have been said by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli B’Tselem to satisfy the conditions of apartheid.
The reality, as Raz Segal punchily declared, has been etched “into the landscape of the occupied Palestinian territories,” a policy of colonization manifested “through walls, fences, other barriers, and roads intended only for Jews or only for Palestinians.” Writing in 2002, former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair merely confirmed that, “We established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories.”
When allegations of apartheid are made, along with accusations that Israel’s policy towards Palestinians conforms to a long tradition of colonial oppression and displacement by the dominant power, defenders arc up in defiance, seeing antisemitism everywhere. On February 8, 2022, Deborah Lipstadt, in testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in confirmation hearings for the role as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, did just that. She rejected any claims of apartheid, notably by Amnesty International, as “unhistorical,” a crass act of delegitimizing a proud democratic country.
And what of the comments from those engaged in planning the assaults of October 7 ? Mohammad Deif, leader of Hamas’s military wing, claimed that the operation was launched as a direct response to Israeli provocations towards the sanctity of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, notably by Jewish nationalist settlers. “They [Israeli forces] consistently assault our women, the elderly, children and [the] youth; and prevent our people from praying in the Aqsa Mosque while allowing groups of Jews to desecrate the mosque with daily incursions.”
Support has been forthcoming from various predictable quarters, though this is hardly to suggest that the plight of Palestinians will not, given the right moment, be bargained away. Yahya Rahim Safavi, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, declared that Tehran would “stand by Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.” Liberation causes can titillate when embraced hundreds of miles away.
As the battle rages, Israeli politicians can reflect on some common ground with their counterparts in the United States who fund them well. Both have endeavoured to embrace models of existence that caricature peace even as they ennoble the conditions of war. The United States and Israel share that same tendency that had defined their power for decades: the conditions of peace are always underwritten by a permanent, warlike impetus. The expression from historian Charles Beard, expressed in 1947, never seems to date: “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge; he lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne