“Israel has learnt Nothing and Everything from the Holocaust”
– My old flatmate, a Sinti Jew
I was in Prague during the Operation Cast Lead. For those who are unaware, Operation Cast Lead was the offensive into Gaza and Palestine in the tail end of 2008.
A little piece of personal history, the Middle East holds a deep place in my heart. I was born there. I have lived there. I have been back to the desert more than once in various capacities. From Kuwait to Saudi, even Iraq. But the one place I have never been to is Israel. I have the dubious honour of celebrating my birthday on a day of infamy. I was born on August the 3rd, 1985. I was born in Kuwait. I picked my pseudonym after the hospital I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood in (My parents are doctors, not because I was sick. The wards were my playroom…)
August the 2nd is the Invasion day of Kuwait. The arguable start of the Gulf Wars which have brought so much misery to all. I used to Joke that I was the boy with the weirdest birthday party. The only one where you start with more presents than at the end (Soldiers looted the house on my birthday when I was 5). I was a refugee by January, we tried to escape through Saudi, Iraq and finally to try and enter Israel. We were not allowed. Such a round about route was fortunate. The american bombardment was set to begin and if we had moved through Iraq rather than try our luck in the south we would have driven down the Highway of Death.
We weren’t white. We weren’t “jewish”. Such was the laws of Israel that a family in need of help was turned away at gun point. The people who saved us? Were Lebanese and Jordanian. Lebanese gave us medicine, food and fuel and visas. Jordan gave us space to stay until we could be rescued. People who had nothing were more willing to help. It was my first contact with Israel. Learning about it as a youth I was incensed. We help everyone. I was a hindu after all… I was aware of the Indian Jews who were amongst the least persecuted jews in history since Hinduism has no problems with Jews.
My second contact was during a trip to India. I saw the other side of Israel. India is loved by Israeli middle class families as a way of dodging the draft. Many kids make trips to India to avoid going back home because they don’t think the constant palestinian conflict is good. Israeli kids are marched off to wage war on palestinian kids for the sake of the hawks who think security comes at gunpoint. Israeli kids who are marched off to war while the people who declare Israel as a jewish state for God’s Chosen sit safe and sound and never have to fear the deaths of their children.
During Operation Cast Lead another Jewish Friend quoted missile statistics. I asked for a death toll, upon a quick google I found out it was a small number. Tragic, but no real excuse for Operation Cast Lead whose death toll was around a thousand dead people. A lot of them civilians. It was nothing more than collective punishment. The home made rockets were no match for a factory made guided missile. The technological gap was a first world nation fighting a Vietnam tech army. My flatmate pointed that out, horrified at the casualty reports because in his mind it was not Israel fighting for it’s freedom or defending against a superior aggressor. To him it bore historical similarities to the way Nazis treated Jews. It deeply disturbed him because the excuses given for attacks on schools were frighteningly similar to the excuses given in the 40s during the Warsaw Uprising. That they were defending themselves from the jewish threat… Which is why they required heavy artillery to fight men and boys with handguns.
This was not a clean war. Sometimes you can easily say who the heroes and who the villains are. In Israel and Palestine? There is no such line. On the one side you can speak out against the fear caused by Palestinian insurgents. On the other side you can speak out against the technological superiority of Israel. There is no simple answer. The honest truth about the Middle East is that we should have never created Israel. In retrospect (and even at the time) the answer was painfully clear that it was a stupid plan done due to a combination of guilt, pity and religion. Arabs were never really considered and the fact is that we still don’t really treat the arabs all that well. But keep this in mind. I am trying to be as objective as possible which is impossible when you grew up hearing about how Saddam funded Hamaas fighters and how Israel shot school children. IMHO both sides are wankers and the world would be a better place if we just concreted Jerusalem over and told both sides that “this is why you are not allowed to have nice things”. You can fight over the giant concrete cube if you like.
In all seriousness though? Let’s look at what Gilad Sharon (the son of Ariel Sharon) thinks…
“A strong opening isn’t enough, you also have to know how to finish – and finish decisively. If it isn’t clear whether the ball crossed the goal-line or not, the goal isn’t decisive. The ball needs to hit the net, visible to all. What does a decisive victory sound like? A Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated.“
It’s not a game Gilad. It really isn’t. I have lost a lot of things to war. I am a sufferer of PTSD courtesy of warfare. I am deathly terrified of explosions. I know how terrifying a missile strike is. I have survived both Scud and Tomahawk. I grew up hearing the sudden explosions, I learn to walk on footprints rather than risk the sand. I have friends who died because of a stupid light or a landmine. I may not have understood when I was 5, but I understand now what I faced and what I survived.
To stand behind the lines and talk of war and the behaviour of the victors as a victory cry that lets the entire world know of their enemies defeat is to completely misunderstand assymetrical warfare. It is this principle that the Americans did not understand in Vietnam. Or the USSR in Afghanistan or indeed the allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. You defeat assymetric warfare by removing the will of people to fight. You do that by diplomacy and compromise. Not by behaving like a barbarian. Brute force does not create victors in modern warfare, just more villains.
To accomplish this, you need to achieve what the other side can’t bear, can’t live with, and our initial bombing campaign isn’t it.
THE DESIRE to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.
Which is where the opening phrase of this post holds true. We aren’t discussing modern warfare. We are discussing total warfare. Gilad is uncomfortably close to encouraging an atrocity here.
His excuse is that the Palestinians demonstrated their democratic rights by picking someone who Israel didn’t like. How can any Palestinian believe in a Palestine when Israel determines what isn’t and is the right candidate? His argument is there to dehumanise the enemy. The Palestinian is ALWAYS a terrorist. The Gaza Strip is Filled With Terrorists. It’s no different from what Hamaas say about Israel but honestly if you are going to hold yourself to standards you pick higher ones rather than the low. My treatment of women isn’t based on the argument of “At least I am not Chris Brown”.
Why do our citizens have to live with rocket fire from Gaza while we fight with our hands tied? Why are the citizens of Gaza immune? If the Syrians were to open fire on our towns, would we not attack Damascus? If the Cubans were to fire at Miami, wouldn’t Havana suffer the consequences? That’s what’s called “deterrence” – if you shoot at me, I’ll shoot at you. There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
Again… The words of my friend hold extremely and sadly true here.
The Israeli army has been known to use cluster munitions in civilian areas. Weapons designed for maximum collateral damage. There were reports of usage of time delayed munitions to hurt rescuers during the Lebanon war. Deterrence at the cost of civilian lives is not “deterrence”. It’s called “hostage taking”. An eye for an eye may be in Judaism, but we live in the real world. And eye for an eye just leaves a lot of blind people and makes money for the men who make pointed sticks.
If the Cubans were effectively occupied by Americans and had their land parcelled out into fenced off areas where traffic was heavily controlled, then perhaps they would have taken to arms too. When we see “Palestine” on TV, they don’t show us this map. This is the real palestine. A series of modern walls to control movement of people. There is no Palestine, it is not soverign. It is a series of ghettos. If Americans kicked Cubans out of their houses under the guns of the army and then took them over while subverting any democracy in the region, then perhaps Cuba wouldn’t give a flying fuck what happened to Havana or their lives. Gilad hides the truth here, he makes it seem like the Palestinians have no genuine issues. That Israel are harmless and fun loving while their neighbours are dour wankers. Today we laugh at how we treated the germans during WW1 and 2, recognising that most were just human beings doing what they think is right. We even cheered for them in shows like Das Boot (one of my favourite anti-war movies. It is the best use of silence in a story ever.). We forget our enemies are human which is how we create atrocities.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold a weird place in my mind. My grandmother is the only survivor from WW2 in her family. I am half khmer. The khmer are a culture that is in ruins and that is trying to recreate a new culture from the ashes of WW2, Imperialism and Military Juntas. The few original khmer that survived the last 90 years of History help cobble together an entire culture. We forgot how food was made. Our songs, our words, our art were all subject to destruction. My grandmother cheered Nagasaki and wished there were more. Japanese people killed her family. Before she met my grandfather she claimed to have killed many (She couldn’t count.). The pain and agony of japanese atrocities has left a scar across Asia that many people still bear to this day. The Khmer Rouge’s entire ethos was that Khmer culture was inferior and that it needed to be destroyed and remade to be strong again. To not repeat the horrors of the Japanese Invasion. Burma and Cambodia’s juntas both had the same ethos and systematically destroyed everything in the hope that they would somehow become stronger. The majority of khmer who still have any inkling of the older culture are like myself. Not native or not from the region at all. Many traditional khmer arts are taught by men and women with Australian and New Zealand and British accents where they fled after WW2.
My grandmother changed her mind after she even went with one of her children to Japan when she saw Nagasaki and Hiroshima for herself. They helped my grandmother shed some of the rage she carried and the pain and to forgive and move on and grow as a human being. That was the first day my grandmother ate something Japanese. She just ate at McDonalds everyday there until then. She told me she went to feel better by seeing their “just desserts” but stopped when all she felt was “pity” and sadness and to realise that these people too were victims of the war just as much as she was. Those were my grandmother’s scars.
The pain and suffering we inflicted were necessary but that’s because of the way war was being fought at the time. We have no idea how close Japan was to surrender. The Islands and the Mainland campaigns were showing that the Japanese had no “common sense” often holding onto overrun positions. They didn’t believe in a defence in depth philosophy of marshalling strength and making opponents pay for every single metre of land. Until Okinawa it was not believed that the Japanese would never fight in such a way. After Okinawa it turns out they can combine the attitude and create a horrific meat grinder where japanese lives would be used to halt the advance of allied troops, fighting to the last man costing lives and that these deaths somehow inspired other Japanese to be as unbreakably brave.
No one wanted to invade Japan, the Atomic Bomb was a method of completely destroying the Japanese resistance. Ironically, I honestly think that if we didn’t destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki we would have had to fight a land war which would have killed more people on both sides. What we didn’t know was how bad Japan was at the time. It was literally falling apart on itself with the Imperial Council still Saber Rattling and still thinking that if they created Fortress Japan using the bodies of all the Japanese they could somehow repel or at least make Japan not worth invading. Okinawa cost the Americans a lot of troops after all. They were still planning to die as samurai, fighting to the end. We would have died in our thousands and they would have died in the millions. We can talk about the pros and cons of it’s usage till the cows come home… But what we know is that after we used it we can never ever have a war where we use such a weapon again. The cost to our humanity is far too great. Ultimately we don’t know what would have happened and hindsight is 20/20.
To laud it as a high point of human achievement is to realise that WW2 was the very worst of human achievement. We killed each other in the millions… We spent ages working on new and exciting ways to kill each other. We were all the losers. Yes there were shining examples of humanity in this dark time but for the only reason they are considered as such is because of the war. These men and women would rather be average joes than be heroes if it meant there was no war.
The Bomb made us realise that. To call upon it’s atrocity as an example of correct responses is to not learn ANY of the lessons of history.
There is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. Otherwise there will be no decisive victory. And we’re running out of time – we must achieve victory quickly. The Netanyahu government is on a short international leash. Soon the pressure will start – and a million civilians can’t live under fire for long. This needs to end quickly – with a bang, not a whimper.
To call for the genocide of another group of people is to learn nothing and and everything from jewish history. It’s learning nothing from the mistakes of the past and everything about how to do something wrong. To admit that there is an international community watching and that somehow Gilad thinks that the Israeli government can get away with genocide and collective punishment is a chilling thought.
Oh I forgot. Faith in being god’s chosen people. Why do I think that’s the driving force behind Gilad’s complete and total lack of common sense or historical awareness. I don’t know if Gilad is a staunch jew but this kind of conviction that nothing will happen from the International community has to be grounded in the delusion that jews really are “god’s chosen people” rather than homo sapiens with a weird fascination with circumcision and monotheism. That somehow the international community will not get mad at them and place restrictions on trade which they deeply rely on just because Israel plays to another divine rule book…
Ultimately the Hawks of Israel love warfare. It gives them an excuse to push into Palestinian land which triggers more violence which keeps them in power. Many of the orthodoxy still believe that the Torah defines the borders of Israel and its’ Israel’s duty to achieve those. Gilad may believe in that. The hawks stay in power the longer the threat exists because of the fear Israel can drum up. It’s used fear to excuse it’s actions so far, but these don’t sound like the words of someone who fears Palestine. These are the words of hate. And we expect a little better than blind hate from our allies. If you cannot understand the pain of the Palestinian then you cannot understand why they fight and if you cannot understand that you can never learn that the only way for peace is the acceptance of the sovereignty of Palestine and the creation of a proper sovereign state. And the only way to do this is for both sides to stop listening to their religion and start listening to their people. To forgive and to move forwards rather than starting a new cycle of violence and fear and death.
I understand this is a simplification of a ludicrously complicated issue but honestly? As someone whose history and life has been shaped by warfare I am terrified when someone says things like this.