November 6, 2023
By Marc Cooper
The revolving door to the bottom levels of Middle East Hell has once again been flung wide open. This time by the barbaric murder of 1400 Israeli civilians and the taking of 300 others as hostages by the Islamic fundamentalist terror outfit known as Hamas. The murderous religious zealots immediately retreated after their acts of butchery and did not stand to fight the powerful IDF.
But once that door was flung open it is the Israelis who came barreling back with enough fire power to light up a continent and who now have the momentum against a much weaker enemy and who are now doubling and tripling down on atrocities. War crimes met with war crimes.
The closest analogy to the current and escalating Israeli invasion of Gaza would be the Russian assault on the city of Mariupol in Ukraine. Mass destruction. Inhuman carnage. The flattening of apartment houses full of civilians. A hail of bombs and bullets. Parades of tanks firing at will. One ton bombs dropped in densely packed Palestinian refugee camps killing and wounding hundreds – including scores of children…a de facto war crime. Ten thousand dead Palestinians so far including 4000 children. More than 1.4 million Palestinians forcibly displaced. The unbelievably crass and heartless statement by Israeli authorities that the southern edge of Gaza where Israel is ordering people to take refuge is NOT a safe area but just a “safer” one. A hospital in the south has already been hit by Israeli air strikes.
And like the Russians, even a little nuclear saber rattling. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu suspended until “further notice” Sunday one of his cabinet members who had publicly floated the idea of using nuclear weapons to wipe out Gaza (a curious statement from a government that never confirms it is, indeed, nuclear-armed).
Meanwhile, the Israelis on Sunday blacked out all telecom and web communications in Gaza making it that more difficult for an already impoverished and rootless population to blindly stumble out of the way of bombs, rockets and artillery shelling. Israel has also occasionally bombed the one road that leads from Gaza City in the north to the “safer” south. And Israel has periodically cut the road blocking any hope of safe passage.
To date about 450 relief trucks have made it through the narrow and usually closed crossing from Egypt. That’s an average of about 15 a day when prior to the war, Gaza required 500 trucks a day to keep it supplied against the border and sea blockade that Israel has clamped down for the last 17 years. While some food and medicine is getting through, Israel continues to prohibit the delivery of any fuel, rendering hospital incubators and desalinization plants useless.
As I write on Sunday afternoon, on the eve of the first complete month of war, Israeli forces have surrounded the northern Gaza City, the only real urban center in the strip whose population normally runs at about 700,000. It’s not clear how many civilians are still in the city but some estimates put the figure at over 150,000. Within a few days or a few hours, Israeli forces will penetrate the city and open up a new round of brutal urban warfare, including fighting in the underground tunnels. While the Palestinians are wildly outgunned, the battle of Gaza could become another meat grinder Stalingrad subject to a prolonged siege and house to house fighting. That’s if the Israeli Air Force doesn’t just erase the city and its inhabitants first.
Let’s be clear and extremely precise in our analysis and language as this conflict takes center stage and has all the elements to widen, rage and erupt into a global world war. There’s no room here for flip and glib and unsupported disinformation. It’s hardly about who has the right to do anything. It’s more about understanding that any country, subject to the heinous and monstrous October 7 attack by the ultra-reactionaries of Hamas, would be obligated to respond in some form or another…if for no other reason than to mollify an enraged domestic population. Hamas has made itself a totally legitimate target for liquidation.
But how do you achieve that goal? Personally, I don’t think Netanyahu has a clue. I don’t think he has a strategy and is making it up as he goes. No accident that Israel has not announced what it plans to do with Gaza and the 2.5 million Gazans once this conflict is over and once, as Natanyahu puts it, Hamas has been destroyed and its infrastructure dismantled. Well, if I am not incorrect, the forces the US tried to destroy in Vietnam are still in power even though we did succeed in killing three million Vietnamese as Robert McNamara wrote in his final book. I also believe the Taliban are still in power some two decades after we said we would crush them.
Hamas has somewhere around 10,000 fighters (though some estimates run as high as 30,000). That’s in a sea of more than two million civilians in Gaza and nobody has a manual on how you can distinguish a fighter from a baker if you are trying to kill the former. It’s just easier to kill them all and let God sort them out. That seems to be the Israeli position as the body count of civilians grows exponentially.
The official U.S. bleating over the war is almost pathetic. The Frankenstein monster we created and funded in the person of Netanyahu has gotten up off the table and is paying little heed to his American and European benefactors. The best that Secretary of State Blinken can do is to keep demanding a “humanitarian pause.” You know, like sending your battered and woozy boxer to the corner for 2 minutes to get some cuts sealed and to sip some water before being pushed back into the ring to get battered some more. Perhaps a “humanitarian pause” by the US in arming Israel might have more positive outcomes.
While this is the third or fourth major intervention in Gaza by Israel since 2006, this one is very different. The extreme right wing Netanyahu administration is weak and wildly unpopular. Before Hamas did him the favor of attacking and bolstering his regime, Bibi was on the ropes with half the country wanting to push him out and push him into jail as he, like Trump, is facing some rather serious felony corruption charges and in Israel a PM can very easily be jailed. It’s happened before. The anti-Bibi forces have predictably rallied around the flag but they are still blaming Netanyahu for letting this tragedy take place at all, alleging he was too busy trying to undermine Israeli democracy to pay attention to a worsening security threat. Chances are Bibi will be pushed out once the war concludes.
That is just one more incentive for Netanyahu to produce one final and spectacular “victory” in the off chance he might survive. Hence, this time Israel is now not just “mowing the lawn” in Gaza, they are vowing to uproot it forever. So, just exactly who will be running Gaza and what will Gaza be a year from now? Nobody knows. Nobody’s saying. What’s clear is that Israel wants to move the entire population southward away from the Israeli border. This will require either the flattening or an ongoing occupation of Gaza City by Israel. Some sort of Palestinian Bantustan will be created in southern Gaza governed by whom? Hamas’ “infrastructure” in Gaza is the actual government and its social services. If Hamas is torn apart who takes over and runs the place?
Blinken today is talking about the secular Palestinian Authority, based on the West Bank, as being brought in. But the PA is weak and corrupt and was driven out of of Gaza when Hamas won the 2006 elections and constructed a one party semi-theocratic dictatorship there. There’s also the nagging question of with half of Gaza’s residents being unemployed youth, how many more Hamas recruits does Israel generate with each barrage? Already there are visible signs of Hamas gaining new sympathy on the West Bank where the PA dominated. You gotta figure this massive incursion and mass death wrought by Israel will guarantee prolonging this 75 year old conflict for several more decades.
I don’t think it’s glib to say Israel has been suckered into a quagmire by Hamas, one that is a lot harder to get out of than to wade into. So, was that Hamas’ goal? I don’t know. I do know this: Hamas better than anybody could easily anticipate how ferocious and bloody the Israeli reprisal would be. They knew very well that by chopping up a thousand or so Israeli civilians many thousands more Palestinians would be killed in response. I can only conclude that Hamas carried out its attack precisely to run up a staggering Palestinian death toll that would block the imminent deal that Israel and Saudi Arabia were working out. The Israeli dreams of a commercial rail line between Tel Aviv and Jeddah have been drowned out in blood. The Saudis, of course, don’t give one lick about the Palestinians in private. Publicly, they shed crocodile tears and know the political cost of pacting with Israel while it is incinerating Arab children in Gaza might not go over that well on the Arab Street.
Collateral damage from this war has also peppered what’s left of the American Left with a whole lot of shrapnel. I am beginning to think that the US and perhaps the entire Western left is now in a twilight stage nearing death. The inability of so many self-proclaimed leftists to see Russia as the aggressor in Ukraine and the tacit to effusive support of Hamas by too many on the left is helping to discredit the very notion of a left alternative. A healthy left subscribes to, fights for and defends an identifiable set of universal values that include: peace instead of war, democracy not dictatorship, no religion in politics, tolerance for dissent, respect for gender non conformity, solidarity, compassion, civility and decency. Hamas meets none of those standards.
Yes, the war crimes of Israel must be denounced as such. But they lack any credibility and any impact if those doing the denouncing posture as allies of Hamas or if they remain cowardly silent on it. And it is an insult and a disservice to the Palestinian people to suggest that Hamas speaks for them. Hamas was originally supported and even in part funded by Israel in the mid to late 80’s in order to undermine the power of the secular PLO (that became the PA). Israel hoped that Hamas would pacify and distract the Palestinians from politics by marinating them in their Islamic fundamentalist mumbo jumbo. Well, that didn’t quite work out. And the Palestinian tragedy has an even more dramatic, less-discussed aspect to it. Though Palestinians in general are often portrayed as wild-eyed crazies, the truth is quite different. Myriad regional experts traditionally described the Pals as “the Jews of the Arab world.” They were the least Islamic, most secular (some are even Christians), they were the best educated, they were disproportionately professionals, they were the progressives wherever they lived, and they were the most persecuted (that is, once the Jews were driven out). That such a noble people have been sullied by a criminal group like Hamas to purportedly represent them, is indescribably sad.
Today, Hamas remains an organization that not only does not recognize Israel, it refuses to call it by name and instead refers to it as “the Zionist entity.” And while Hamas has developed a military wing it is still fundamentally an anti-democratic, theocratic religious movement that is dedicated to killing Jews. Experts figure it has the support of maybe 25% of Palestinians. So I give no quarter to college kids, and have even less time for older folks who in any way support, justify or glorify Hamas. War crimes are war crimes no matter who commits them. This type of clarity is fundamental if you want to build any sort of political movement, like one for a just settlement of Palestine. And this is a good time to start. The monolithic uncritical US support for Israel is crumbling. So many young Americans oppose what Israel is doing and what the US does to support it could even cost Biden his re-election. That would be bad. But we should take heart and encouragement from the domestic resistance that US policy on Israel is now facing for the first time. I’s a great opportunity if our fellow leftists don’t fuck it up.
After 72 years on earth I have concluded there are two types of activists on the American Left. Probably a majority on the left are there are as a form of personal therapy, what is now called performative. They are activists not because they are genuinely interested in building a movement, or recruiting others, or persuading others to change their minds, but rather are active as a form of personal identity and self-therapy. It feels good to think oneself morally superior to the hoi polloi.
They have no organic connection to any significant number of Americans so they really have no concern about meeting others where they are at and moving them. Instead, they are free to wave any placard no matter how offensive, chant any slogan no matter how stupid and take whatever errant position as nobody really cares about them. The second type of activists, a minority, actually want to reach others not yet mobilized and get them to join up and their work is made harder by the idiot “comrades” who are out of control.
To accomplish that movement building you must not only operate in good faith, but you must also shed any hypocrisy, any double standard and anything else that gets in the way of clear discourse and dialog. So let me be crystal clear. Supporting Hamas is not only a moral failure but also a political one. Accusing Israel of genocide is also morally corrupt, and politically deadly. It’s especially off putting in a conflict where the relatives of one side were indeed victims of the greatest genocide in modern history. So, let’s be clear. Genocide means the systematic killing off of a targeted race, ethnic or national group. Let’s also be clear that at least half of Israeli Jews are Mizrahi, meaning they are not from Europe. They are middle eastern and Arab Jews whose families were forced out from and expelled from nearby Arab countries including Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and others in the 1940’s. Maybe to some Harvard-enrolled trust funders these folks are Zionist Colonial Settlers exercising White Privilege when in fact many of them are dark skinned and are basically refugees from anti-Semitic Arab dictatorships. The Mizrahi are also among the murdered and missing at the hands of Hamas.
In WWII an estimated 3 million German and Japanese civilians were cooked alive by allied terror bombings. But neither country was subsumed by genocide. The Nazi occupiers burned French civilians alive while locked up in a church. But genocide was not committed by the Germans against the French (except for the Jews swept up by Vichy). The US killed another three million in the senseless war in Vietnam but that was not genocide. The Soviets mass executed thousands of Polish army officers but Poland was not subject to genocide. Even the unspeakable and unnecessary nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that together took 300,000 civilian lives still does not meet the standard of genocide.
Israel’s current military campaign should be correctly criticized and characterized as an unjustifiable, inhuman, barbaric over-reaction, collective punishment of the sort used precisely by the Nazis and punctuated by a wild disregard for civilian life…and certainly one charged with racial hatred of Arabs. I think this truth is bad enough as it is and does not need to be muddied up by exaggerated calls of genocide.
A couple of other semantic points stuck in my craw. I gag on them not because they personally offend me but because they are SO politically counter-productive. There are few human species more spineless than college administrators and they are sure making a mess of things. Banning and punishing pro-Palestinian groups and rallies on campus no matter what their content is an offensive outrage. People have a right to be partisan and even a right to be wrong. Equally noxious are the verbal and occasional physical attacks on Jewish students. They also have a right to free expression and the same right to be wrong.
I am particularly concerned about the growing use of “Zionist” as an epithet. I am personally not a Zionist. I am anti-Zionist if asked. The ADL tried to get me canned as a journalist claiming I was antisemitic because of what I wrote about Zionism 40 years ago. But given the history of the Jewish people, I fully understand (but fully disagree) with the lure of Zionism. But let’s get real. Most Americans who support Israel can’t tell you two sentences about Zionism. Most non Jews never heard of it and don’t know what it is. And while “liberal Zionist” has now become a label open to public derision by the left, the truth is that liberal Zionists are often strategic allies and in the leadership of myriad progressive social and political movements that include anti-Zionists, generic liberals, progressives, radicals, feminists and socialists. I have often worked with them on other issues knowing we disagree on Israel. So what? Back in he 80’s while kicking around Old Havana I stumbled upon a rag tag synagogue up a second floor walk up. The place of worship was one of the few authorized back then by the Cuban regime and it supported itself by selling beer from a bar inside the makeshift temple. What got my attention were two huge portraits hung over the rabbi’s podium. One was of Fidel Castro, The other was Zionist founder Theodore Herzl. Show that to the usual Knee-Jerk Anti-Imperialists and they would probably melt like the wicked witch of the north,
I am concerned because when you start labeling groups of people you can do so benignly or you can do it to de-humanize them (the pre-cursor to aggression and, yes, genocide). Blanket labeling Jewish students or Jews sympathetic to Israel as Zionist today falls into that second category. We know the danger of labelling ethnic, national and racial groups as slopes, chinks, spicks, ni**ers, dinks, reds, spear-chuckers, towel heads and sand ni**ers. The word Zionist is not as sharp edged but the intention in such labeling is to create a de humanized enemy worthy of your hatred and scorn. It’s not a good path to follow.
Finally, this is a country in which 95% of the people are sympathetic to Israel. If you want to be effective in that environment then please be aware who is watching you and listening to you. The rising popularity of the slogan in marches against Israel “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is also not the best idea. There’s plenty of dispute about the origin of the slogan dating back several decades. However, it has been the primary slogan for those extreme elements like Hamas that do not even recognize Israel’s existence and it was intended to mean simply push the Israelis into the sea. In any case, it means little to nothing to the uninitiated so perhaps extracting rather obscure and anti-Semitic slogans from your demo might be a healthy step.
Do you think maybe we can reel all this in a bit and get more serious about finding an international consensus for an eventual settlement of the Palestinian conflict rather than acting as cheer leaders or apologists for the barbaric war crimes that have been committed by either Hamas or the Israeli Defense Forces? ++++