Monday, 1 September 2014

Desolation - reflections and reading on the Gaza War 2014

Tacitus again - 'they [the victors of war] make a desolation and call it "peace"'.   To be sure, though now 'at peace', much of Gaza has been laid waste over the last six weeks.  Two thousand Gazans are dead, 10,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands affected by the destruction of their homes, or more widely by the wanton destruction of huge swathes of the Strip's civic infrastructure - hospitals, schools, the university, the one power station, businesses, farmland. 

The response of the great powers has been one of sleepy negligence.  Appeals to 'both sides' to desist from fighting.  The pronounced need for fighting to stop so as to allow the 'peace process' to start up once again.  No Security Council Resolutions - contrast this with the fevered activity that has accompanied American and Western intervention in Iraq against the 'Islamic State', or the military-diplomatic drums now being beaten about Russian meddling in Ukraine.

The ceasefire agreement that was put together in Cairo is, as this blog has noted already, essentially a repeat of that which came at the end of the bombardment of 2012.  This suggests that secreted within conditions as they now stand lies the complex of factors which will produce another onslaught of this kind in a year or two.  Groundhog Day in Gaza, as we say.

Nevertheless, there is now relative calm.  The point then that interested and critical people may want to think about is this - what happens during the 'peace'?   How peaceful is the peace, actually?   Is it a political and ethical space filled with eager efforts to negotiate a longer-term agreement?   Where lies the 'peace process'?

And the answer has to be that in Palestine, often it's during the 'peace' that the greatest damage occurs.  The real war in Palestine is not, actually, the one waged in paroxysms like that through which Israel/Palestine has just passed.  The real war is one waged below the level of the headlines, beyond the range of the Qassems and the M109s, far away from the diplomatic networks of Washington, Cairo, Tel Aviv and Brussels.  And this is its danger and its power.  Thirty-five years ago, Edward Said described Zionism as 'a discipline of detail', and by this he meant that Zionism as a movement has always planned for Palestine in the most extraordinarily thoroughgoing and brilliant manner.  Said was borrowing from Michel Foucault in that description, and it's fitting, as it was Foucault who offered us the most powerful recent description of the disciplinary and dominative effects of apparatuses of civil infrastructure - prisons, yes, but also schools, hospitals, asylums, and other institutions.  Foucault's bleak vision of 'the subjectification of subjects' is appropriate here precisely because of the interpenetration he envisaged of the machinery of coercion and the structures of civil society, in the world of modernity.  Said's realisation was that Israel's greatest power, its most effective weapon against the Palestinians was not its overwhelming and obvious military power, but its capacity for thinking about Palestine (with its politicians, its generals, its academics, its journalists, its cartographers, its archaeologists, its historians, its teachers, its architects), and then its ability to put those ideas into material expression.

The real power of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians lies in what Eyal Weizmann has called 'a civilian occupation' - the settling of the West Bank, the Judaization of the Galilee - what the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions Jeff Halper calls 'the matrix of control'.  And also in its manipulation of the population of the Strip, in 'peace-time'.  In a brief splendid book, The Least of all Possible Evils, Weizmann shows how closely linked the actions of the IDF and of various arms of the Israeli effort to control, exploit and regulate the Territories have been in recent times to law - to humanitarian law, no less.   The Israeli blockade and siege of the Strip has always been calibrated so as to be just on the right side of the humanitarian law regarding the minimum needs of Gazans, and this is calculated - literally - down to the last calorie.  It was in this sense that Dov Weisglass, one-time advisor to Sharon, joked that the intention of the blockade was to put the Palestinians of Gaza 'on a diet'.  And it's in this sense that we can apply Giorgio Agamben's term 'bare life' to the population of the Strip.  Israel wants to keep these people alive, but only just.  It does not want them alive enough so as to resist, so as to create viable social or political or legal institutions, so as to attain political consciousness.

The terms of the ceasefire barely touch this 'war', this war of the longue duree.  The blockade may be eased very slightly, but it can be tightened again in a couple of hours.  The IDF can intervene again in Gaza at point-blank notice.  It is this war, in some ways even more than the war of rockets and fighter planes, that ultimately may throttle Gaza, that blights lives for years, that impoverishes ordinary people,  that stunts their children, and that kills hope.

Meanwhile Israel goes back to doing what it is actually best at - not trying to destroy Hamas, but colonizing the West Bank.  The announcement of a new settlement block to be constructed just south of Bethlehem was heralded on the RTE radio news as being the largest such initiative in thirty years, but this is unremarkable, in that the years of Netanyahu's coalition have witnessed the greatest ever spasm of settlement construction in the West Bank.  The failure of the United States to force Israel to freeze settlement construction during the Kerry talks was the most obvious sign that those talks were doomed from the start.  And this makes us now realise that one of the greatest impediments to justice in Israel/Palestine is, in fact, the 'peace process' itself.

Think of all those failed plans and initiatives: Carter's Camp David, Madrid, Oslo, Wye, Clinton's Camp David and Taba talks, the 'roadmap', and now the Kerry talks.  Through nearly all of them, Israeli settlement construction, the creation of a separate Jews-only road system, water theft, land degradation, illegal dumping, fence and wall-building, illegal population transfer have been continuing.  What the 'peace process' has turned out to be is the grandest of all possible masks for Israel's land- and resource-grab - what better cover for its rogue antics could Israel want than the pointless, cynical and hypocritical  high political and diplomatic caperings in the White House, Downing Street and the Elysee, New York and Brussels, about 'the two state solution'?  Israel is keen on the process, but not on the peace, as Ilan Pappe has noted; as he's also pointed out, peace talks conducted while one side in a struggle is still making war are not true peace talks, and the fact is that in the West Bank, the demolition of a private house, the cutting down of an olive grove, the holding of a pregnant woman for hours at an illegal checkpoint are and need to be seen as acts of war.  The only good thing about the juxtaposition of the Gaza ceasefire and the new settlement proposal is that it may be jarring enough to make the rest of the world see that the real war is the one conducted, incrementally, at the rate of 'one acre and one goat' (as Chaim Weizmann once suggested), in plain sight, for the last forty-seven years.

Here is a couple of articles which help put some of this in perspective:

Jeff Halper:

The Palestinian message to Israel: Deal with us justly. Or disappear


Jonathan Cook is a British journalist living in Nazareth, and a winner of the Martha Gelhorn Prize.  Here, he writes about the mood in Israel after Protective Edge: 


Israelis unsure whether they won or lost in Gaza



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