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civilisation

In the Australian today, Martin Peretz froths and raves about the need for Israel’s attack on Gaza to go on – and on and on and on. Why? Well, the Palestinian leaders, don’t you know, are not ‘civilised’.

A ceasefire can sometimes be had between civilised governments. But why isn’t anyone pressing the US and its allies in Afghanistan into a ceasefire with the Taliban? A stupid question. Because the enemy is the Taliban, and the Taliban could as easily convert to Christianity as agree to an armistice with their opponents. Maybe they’d agree to what the Arabs call a hudna, a pause, a lull, but only on tactical grounds.

Hamas is a Taliban state, as one Israeli diplomat put it. This is almost an epiphany, a clarifying truth. Hamas operates against its Palestinian enemies like the Taliban do against their Afghan enemies. Imagine a Hamas squad entering a kindergarten in a kibbutz.

Neither the Taliban nor Hamas strive for earthly aims. Armed with instruments of death, they each fight for a heavenly design. But on earth. Yes, what a heaven that would be. Death is their own blessed comrade. Go ahead, establish a ceasefire with one of them. America before Israel.

The Taliban are not analogous to Hamas. They are identical, equivalent.

We can express that equation (and its implied conclusion) mathematically. If Hamas = the Taliban + the Taliban = Al-Qaeda, therefore exterminate the brutes. QED.

Your common or garden imperialist generally avoids colonial-era words like ‘uncivilised’ since they reek too openly of old school bigotry. (The synonyms provided by the online thesaurus include barbarian, barbaric, barbarous, philistine, primitive, rude, rugged, savage and so on – why not just call them niggers and be done with it?)

But, as mentioned in an earlier post, Peretz knows what he’s about. In 2007, Eric Alterman noted Peretz’s

obsessive and unapologetic hatred of Arabs, the evidence of which is visible nearly every day on Peretz’s “The Spine.” Here are just a few of the choice descriptions Peretz has had occasion to employ in his magazine about assorted Arabs, whether Palestinian, Iraqi, or of the generic variety: They are “violent, fratricidal, unreliable, primitive and crazed … barbarian”; they have created a “wretched society” and are “cruel, belligerent, intolerant, fearing”; they are “murderous and grotesque” and “can’t even run a post office”; their societies “have gone bonkers over jihad” and they are “feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) atrocities”; they “behave like lemmings,” and “are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all”; and to top it all off, their rugs are not as “subtle” and are more “glimmery” than those of the Berbers.

Peretz might vent a little more openly than propriety generally allows but his description of Hamas as consisting entirely of bearded ooggety-booga men obsessed with death and virgins is more or less ubiquitous in the mainstream media. Not surprisingly, reality is a little more nuanced.

Writing for the Times, William Sieghart provides a welcome corrective.

Last week I was in Gaza. While I was there I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them. Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.

Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they “dangerous Hamas militant gunmen”? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a “militant training camp” but in the same police station in the middle of Gaza City that had been used by the British, the Israelis and Fatah during their periods of rule there. [snip]

The story begins nearly three years ago when Change and Reform – Hamas’s political party – unexpectedly won the first free and fair elections in the Arab world, on a platform of ending endemic corruption and improving the almost non-existent public services in Gaza and the West Bank. Against a divided opposition this ostensibly religious party impressed the predominantly secular community to win with 42 per cent of the vote. [snip]

Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them.

As Sieghart’s piece makes clear, any notion that Hamas can be surgically excised(to use the obligatory medical metaphor) by military strikes is entirely fantastical. Palestinians voted for Hamas not because they were brainwashed by religious fanatics but because they saw Fatah as corrupt and compromised and incapable of improving their lives. Fatah’s vacillations about the current crisis and the suggestions that it had been actively working with Israel to target Hamas militants have scarcely changed those perceptions.

Again, it needs to be stressed that Hamas was democratically elected. An analogy comes to mind. In 2004, the British newspaper the Guardian, in a piece of monumental clownery,  encouraged its readers to write to voters in Clark County in the swing state of Ohio urging them to vote against George Bush. Not surprisingly, Ohio voters resented the implication that they needed patronizing foreigners to manage their voting choices. Sample reply:

Have you not noticed that Americans don’t give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies … I don’t give a rat’s ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don’t. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah – and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.

As for the stunt’s consequences, Slate noted:

The most significant stat here is how Clark County compares to the other 15 Ohio counties won by Gore in 2000. Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark. He even increased Gore’s winning margin in 12 of the 16. Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark.

Now that was a letter writing campaign. Imagine if the Guardian had sought to change hearts and minds in Clark County by mounting a crippling blockade that reduced the population to starvation and then followed that up with an indiscriminate hail of missiles and bombs. Would voters then have been convinced of the merits of John Kerry?

Peretz and his cothinkers understand quite well that Israel’s Gaza operation won’t weaken Hamas’ support. That’s why there can’t be ceasefire. Peretz’ prescription is, instead, for ongoing, endless war.

Unpalatable as it might be for those accustomed to think in soundbites, the conflict in Palestine comes freighted with a historical context. Lawrence of Cyberia explains how:

The vast majority of the people in the Gaza Strip are the original inhabitants of the towns and villages of southern and coastal Israel, who took refuge from Zionist armies in Gaza City because it was the last southern city left in Palestinian hands in 1948.

In short, the people in the Gaza Strip who are today firing rockets at the towns of southern Israel are, overwhelmingly, the children and grandchildren of the Palestinian people who were expelled by Israel from those very same towns in order to gerrymander a Jewish majority where one did not naturally exist.

Yesterday, rockets from Gaza fell on the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Benny Tziper in the Hebrew-language version of Ha’aretz online was the only person I saw publicly mention that the Israeli city of Ashkelon was, until quite recently, the Palestinian city of Majdal al-Asqalan whose Arab population was expelled within the lifetime of many present-day Israelis to the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip:

[...]A nice man was there at the entrance to the museum, an invalid of IDF from the Yom Kippur War, who was born and lived all his life in Ashkelon. From his knowledge and enthusiasm one could tell that he loves the city very much. He had no problem telling me how in 1953 the Arabs were expelled, and the long process of looking for a new name for the place started (the Arab name was Majdl), till it was decided to call the place Ashkelon. The entire communications between the authorities regarding the cleansing of the city of Arabs and Hebrewisation of the name is exhibited in the museum. I think that nobody makes the connection today between the fact that the Qassams land on Ashkelon and the fact that poor Arabs who did nothing wrong to anybody were put on trucks and expelled from their city to Gaza fifty five years ago, and since then they are there and Ashkelon is here. And this did not happen in wartime or as a result of hostilities, but from a cold calculation that the area must be cleansed of Arabs. There is a picture in the museum that shows the Arabs sitting and waiting in front of the of Israeli military government building. It sends shivers down my spine because it happens in the year I was born. And it is really, really hard for me to realize that at the time that my parents were happy with my birth, other people were put on trucks and expelled from their homes.[...]

(via skyredoubt, via Mondo Weiss; emphasis mine).[snip]

Also yesterday, Qassam rockets again fell on the oft-bombarded Israeli town of Sderot. Sderot was built as an Israeli town in the early 1950’s to house Jewish immigrants from the Maghreb, who were told they were coming to a land without a people for a people without a land. But they weren’t; they were coming to the ruins of the Palestinian town of Najd

A little town by the name of Sderot became home to poor immigrants in the early ’50s, only years after it had been cleared of Palestinians living in what was the village of Najd. [A] resident of Sderot told me that when he got there in 1989 he thought he was in “the safest place in the world, in the middle of nowhere.” And yet, it was not the middle of nowhere, he had moved onto what was once someone else’s land and adjacent to where that displaced person and their displaced descendants were held imprisoned. There, his displaced neighbors daily face the consequences of the past. This past is what is allowing for the hell of that very town, Sderot.

- Sderot Created The Gaza Strip by Philip Rizk; 22 May 2007.

Najd was completely destroyed, and its 719 inhabitants expelled to Gaza, by troops of the Israeli Negev Brigade, on 13 May 1948. [snip]

By 1998 there were an estimated 4,417 people living in Gaza Strip refugee camps who were either expelled from Najd, or the children/grandchildren of people expelled from Najd. Conceivably, some of them are among the people firing Qassams at Sderot right now.

Peretz would have us believe that the Palestinians are death-obsessed savages, enraged at Israel for no reason whatsoever. But the history of Gaza tells quite a different story. The Palestinian crisis is obviously complicated. But one thing is clear: if there is ever to be peace, there must first be justice.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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