The outpouring of support for Palestine around the world in recent weeks has been a very encouraging sight. Dotted with signs calling for “Freedom For Palestine,” “Ceasefire Now,” and “We Are All Palestinians,” protests burst forth in London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Ankara, Istanbul, Tokyo, New York City, Toronto, Washington D.C., Rome, Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Karachi, Stockholm, Oslo, and Wellington New Zealand. While they have no direct power to change government behavior, governments cannot afford to ignore the threat they pose to their legitimacy. The “Great Beast,” as Alexander Hamilton called the public, is at last stirring, this time on behalf of a colonized people whose suffering has for far too long been rendered invisible.
And for once social media has proven itself a positive force, spreading videos of Israel carpet-bombing a concentration camp full of children to all corners of the earth. The steady flow of images from this Truth Superhighway instantly shattered rationalizations of the barbarity, leaving in their wake only a stark and haunting picture of USraelis as remorseless killers.
Though it’s impossible to reconcile with the American self-image, we can hardly claim to be surprised at this. After all, the latest round of “humanitarian” butchery is merely one in a long line of betrayals of all that is allegedly most sacred to Americans – human rights, self-determination, the rule of law – blah, blah, blah. The latest bloodletting is supposedly justified now more than ever because – wait for it – the enemy is irredeemably evil and irrevocably committed to the rape of women, the decapitation of babies, and the massacre of old people, among other uniquely diabolical horrors. What else can we-as-decent-people do but bury them in blood-spattered rubble?
In other words, the closest thing we can actually claim as a “sacred” value is hypocrisy. We preach peace, but are forever at war. We praise diplomacy, but spit out “obey-or-die” ultimatums like machine-gun fire. We recommend self-determination, but enthusiastically guarantee Israeli apartheid with an avalanche of lethal weaponry.
The prompt international protest against this two-faced lunacy has been a welcome demonstration that much of the world will no longer tolerate the gratuitous contempt with which USrael treats Palestinian Arabs.* It is this, not international human rights law, that is forcing governments to confront their complicity in apartheid, and it is only a great deal more of it that stands any chance of bringing about peace.
Obviously, Hamas could not possibly have initiated this conflict a mere one month ago. In fact, it dates back more than a century, to when the British, themselves lacking any legitimate right to the land, promised Palestine to both Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs. As we know, the Zionist Jews won out based on strength of evidence – a Bronze Age land deed carved by God on a tablet, helpfully carried down the mountain by Uncle Moses. Even Jimmy Carter, the reputedly neutral broker of the Camp David Accords, found this evidence convincing, saying in his memoirs that Israel was “ordained by God.”
With neutrals like that, who needs partisans? Though the appearance of Biblical mythology in historical discussion ought to evoke alarm bells in any mind claiming a speck of rationality, the peculiar justifications offered up for Jewish sovereignty over Palestine have long passed muster in the United States. In a nutshell, this is the story that is quite uncritically accepted: a largely irreligious people re-claimed land after an absence of two thousand years based on Biblical texts few of them believed in. An ethno-theocratic state bent on conquest and expansion was hailed as a model of democratic socialism with unique sensitivity to morality and human rights. Its leaders embarked on an “in-gathering” of Jews from lands they had lived in for centuries while intoning the words Hitler had used in carrying out the Holocaust: “You are not a German, you are a Jew – you are not a Frenchman, you are a Jew – you are not a Belgian, you are a Jew.”
The heart of the matter was a serious and deliberate confusion of nationalism and religion. Organized Jewry, an unequivocal supporter of separation of Church and State outside the Holy Land, condoned their union in Israel, demanding the loyalty of Jews everywhere, whether or not they considered themselves as such. Diasporan Jews supported Israel out of religious duty, though they may or may not have realized what Zionist ideology actually entailed.
Though twenty percent of Israelis were Arabs from the start, Israeli citizenship** was anchored in Jewish identity, and the state announced its independence in “the name of the Jewish people.” In that context, public debate naturally centered on the question, “What is a Jew?” Since Jews, like most people, had a mixed ancestry, Israeli myth-makers eager to buttress territorial claims with evidence of historical continuity quickly blurred distinctions between Hebrew, Israelite, Judean, Jewish, Judaism, and Zionism, forestalling recognition that these referred to different people at different points in history with different ways of life. Neither the Jews or these various forebears ever constituted a race or even a distinctive pure ethnic grouping, and since Judaism had been of declining significance for most Jews for some time, it was not at all clear what the basis of Jewish statehood actually amounted to – apart from subjugating Palestinian Arabs, which quickly became the national pastime.
Seventy-five years of dispossession and two fake peace agreements later, and the overwhelming majority of today’s Gazan population – “human animals” according to Israel – are indeed living like such in the Gaza concentration camp, after having survived a whole series of violent land grabs inspired by the quest for a Greater Israel, another concept derived from Biblical fantasy. Counterposed to that fanciful notion has been the all-too-real dreadfulness of Gaza, which was the world’s most wretched colonial outpost long before Hamas appeared on the scene.
Refusing to accept their assigned fate, Gazans rose in rebellion in December 1987. Children threw rocks at tanks and soldiers carrying automatic rifles. Old people, too feeble to hurl their defiance, filled sacks with rocks for their grandchildren to throw. Young and old alike went on strike, established liberated zones, directed an underground economy, and shut their shops at noon in honor of imprisoned compatriots.
Shooting and cursing, Israeli soldiers chased the insolent children through the unpaved, pothole-ridden streets, where open sewers reeked with a stomach-turning odor. With a violent banging they announced their presence, ransacking homes and raiding hospitals in pursuit of child “terrorists.” Whenever they winged their prey or left a corpse lying in the road, they, laughed, whistled, or clapped their hands with glee.
The Palestinian Arabs, then ninety-eight percent of the West Bank and Gaza, were called the minorities. The two percent who resided in religious settlements – replete with green lawns and swimming pools – were their designated masters.
Anyone caught using the word “Palestine,” or displaying a map of its territory, was subject to immediate arrest and torture. But for reasons Israel still can’t understand, hooded interrogations didn’t make Gazans sing, while their outlawed Palestine national anthem did.
This was the language of the occupiers: confiscation, demolition, surveillance, arrest, prison, torture, humiliation, deportation, death. These were the results: hunger, disease, mutilation, death, pride, defiance, insurrection.
All this was so sixteen years before Hebrew University sociology professor Baruch Kimmerling pronounced Gaza the largest concentration camp in the world, and nineteen years before Hamas was elected, quickly followed by the siege of Gaza. Though few people seem to remember, those fateful elections were certified as eminently fair by Jimmy Carter. And once in power, Hamas quickly put out peace feelers. By 2008 they had negotiated a cease-fire, which Hamas honored for months and Israel ultimately violated.
Keep all this in mind when you are asked, “Do you support Hamas?” The reasonable answer is “yes,” when they act constructively, as they frequently do. Israel, on the other hand, never misses an opportunity to indulge an infantile spasm of murderous rage that shocks the world and worsens Jewish security. This is what we are seeing yet again in the rubble of Gaza, and it will not end until the ideology of Jewish supremacy is dealt a stinging defeat.
But what about the hostages, and don’t we have to “condemn Hamas?” Hopefully, these are naive, but not consciously diversionary questions. The answer is “no,” we do not have to condemn Hamas, at least not until Israel responds constructively to the countless daily acts of non-violent Palestinian resistance, which are by far the most numerous and common response to Israeli apartheid by its victims. Until that happens,“condemning Hamas” will continue to be an exercise in sheer hypocrisy, i.e., justifying apartheid for Israel, but not national liberation for Palestinians.
As for “the hostages,” the current campaign of saturation bombing stands a good chance of getting them killed before a negotiated exchange can get them released. But even more fundamentally, hand-wringing about Hamas’s hostages overlooks the fact that all Gazans were already hostages on October 7, and had been for decades as a consequence of their colonial subjugation. When is their release date?
Furthermore, one does not have to wish Hamas’s hostages any harm to point out that it doesn’t really make much sense to build one’s home on a volcano and then wax indignant at having lava in the living room. As a measure of the moral bankruptcy that prevails in Israel, consider the fact that the music festival dedicated to peace and love that Hamas savagely attacked – was just two kilometers from a concentration camp full of children.
The truth is that Hamas “terror” has never been the problem, as Israel reflexively dismisses any Palestinian nationalist impulse as terrorism, quite apart from any associated violence. The real problem, therefore, is not terrorism, but the 1948 declaration of Jewish sovereignty over Arab lands, which instantly made every act of Palestinian resistance into “terrorism.” Asserting a right to Jewish supremacy in Palestine was a very predictable – and predicted – disaster, even for Jews, who claim to be “redeeming” the land by taking it from indigenous Arabs. Any notion that this robbery is wrong is unthinkable in Israel, which is why prior to October 7 the only discussion of apartheid in the Holy State was about what form it should take: messianic, religious, and theocratic, or secular, Western, and democratic. Palestinians had been completely forgotten.
And not only in Israel. To our everlasting shame, it took a hideous act of mass killing to put them back on the world’s agenda. One can only hope that the “Great Beast” will keep up the pressure until Holy Apartheid is no more.
*Nevertheless, much of the rhetoric of denunciation aimed at Israel has exceeded rational bounds. Gazans are not being subjected to genocide, for example, as is rather commonly suggested by human rights experts, independent media outlets, and pro-Palestine activists, with no reflection on just how difficult it would be for Israel, itself born as the alleged solution to genocide, to get away with its own genocide. Tedious legal debates aside, mathematics argues against the claim that genocide is occurring. Right now, ten thousand plus Gazans are said to have been killed since October 7. Even if we assume another ten thousand are buried beneath the rubble, that is still less than one percent of the population of Gaza (2.3 million), an appalling total, but nevertheless well short of genocide. Furthermore, the intent is to make them flee, not kill them to the last man, woman, and child. This de-population effort, known as “transfer” in Zionist commentary, has been present from the beginning. A June 12, 1895 diary entry by Theodore Herzl, the “Founding Father” of Zionism, predicted that his dream of a Jewish homeland would require the expulsion of the indigenous Arab population.
**Actually, “Israeli” citizenship is codified as either “Jew” or “Arab.” Allegedly possessed of equal civil rights, the two groups belong to separate nations.
Michael K. Smith is the author of Portraits of Empire
Egyptian podcaster Rahma Zaid quoted in Novara Media You Tube video, “Netanyahu Gears Up For Ground Invasion,” October 26, 2023
On Hitler’s words during the Holocaust, and the blurring of history and mythology see Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection – What Price Peace? (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1978) p. 5, 10, 106
On Theodore Herzl and “transfer” of the Palestinians, see Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, Gaza in Crisis – Reflections On Israel’s War Against The Palestinians, (Haymarket, 2010), p. 67
On the music festival that Hamas attacked, see Ilan Pappe, “Crisis in Zionism, Opportunity For Palestine?” U.C. Berkeley lecture, October 19, 2023
On Baruch Kimmerling describing Gaza as a concentration camp, see Norman Finkelstein interview with Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept, May 20, 2018
On the 2006-8 history of Hamas, see “Norman Finkelstein RESPONDS to Bernie Sanders statement OPPOSING GAZA CEASEFIRE,” You Tube video available at www.normanfinkelstein.com
On the Gaza uprising of 1987 see all of the following:
Edward W. Said The Politics of Dispossession – The Struggle For Palestinian Self-Determination 1969-1994 (Chatto & Windus, 1994) p. 166, 194
Edward Said, The Pen and the Sword, (Common Courage, 1994) p. 114
Gloria Emerson, Gaza, (Atlantic Monthly, 1991) pps. 15, 21, 30, 35, 183
Michael Palumbo, Imperial Israel, (Bloomsbury, 1990) p. 233
William Lutz, Doublespeak (Harper Collins, 1990) pps. 157-8