Published 9 January 20099 January 2009 · Main Posts Guernica, Gaza and the disappearance of shock Jeff Sparrow As everyone knows, in the wake of the bombing of a small Basque town by German and Italian planes during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso produced the painting Guernica. This astonishing three-dimensional rendition of his canvas allows us to see anew a perhaps overly familiar image: the screaming mouths, the outstretched hands, the horror and anguish of people and animals. Here’s Wikipedia‘s description of the context in which Guernica was attacked: Prior to the Condor Legion raid, the town had not been directly involved in the fighting, although Republican forces were in the area; 23 battalions of Basque army troops were at the front east of Guernica. The town also housed two Basque army battalions, although it had no static air defenses, and it is thought that no air cover could be expected due to recent losses of the Republican Air Force. Guernica had a nominal population of around five thousand and the town is thought to have housed numerous refugees who were fleeing into Republican controlled territory. The raid also took place on a Monday, ordinarily a market day in Guernica. Generally speaking a market day would have attracted people from the surrounding areas to Guernica to conduct business. There is still historical debate over whether a market was being held that particular Monday however. On the one hand, the Basque government had, prior to the bombing, ordered a general halt to markets to prevent blockage of roads and restrict large meetings. While the issuance of a directive forbidding markets is indisputable, it is commonly argued that the directive had not been received by all areas, including Guernica, at the time of the raid, and therefore a market was held. The bombing was supposed to hit roads and a bridge, a clear strategic target intended to cut off the withdrawal of Republican forces. In fact, as Wikipedia explains: The attacks destroyed the majority of Guernica. Three quarters of the city’s buildings were reported completely destroyed, and most others sustained damage. Among infrastructure spared were the arms factories Unceta and Company and Talleres de Guernica along with the Assembly House Casa de Juntas and the Oak. Richthofen [the officer in charge of the attack] recorded that the bridge was not destroyed or even hit during the raid and the mission was considered a failure as a result, although the rubble and chaos that the raid created severely restricted the movement of Republican forces. Afterwards, Republicans claimed that 1600 people had been killed. The Nationalists alleged that Republicans had themselves destroyed the town, burning it as they retreated. More recent historians estimate a death toll in the hundreds. Whatever the actual figure, reports of the attacks on Guernica caused outrage around the world, helping to convince many people of the true nature of the junta and its allies. The Nationalists might claim to be attacking only military targets while attempting to keep civilian casualties to a minimum but the piles of Basque corpses spoke for themselves. The display of Picasso’s painting at the 1937 World Fair reflected an emerging consensus about the barbarity of the fascists. Which, of course, brings us to Gaza. The Israelis are not fascists but, other than that, the analogy is spookily accurate. Think of the school that the Israelis recently destroyed, killing at least 42 civilians who had taken refuge there, despite the fact that it was clearly marked as a UN facility and the IDF had been provided with its GPS co-ordinates. Like the junta after Guernica, the IDF tried to blame the victims, alleging that Hamas had been hiding inside and firing mortars. Not surprisingly, that’s all turned out to be untrue. As Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace group, says: The desperate refugees who lost everything had hoped that hiding in a school belonging to the UN would give them at least some kind of refuge and save their children. They did not know that even there a single shell would cut off dozens of lives in a single second. They did not know that facing them is an Israeli government running amok; charging headlong into the depth of the bloody mud of Gaza. Those who sent soldiers to conduct intensive warfare in the world’s most thickly inhabited area knew well in advance that the undoubted result would be a bloodbath, the killing of civilians, children and adults, whole families buried under the ruins of their homes. The government dooms a whole generation of young Israelis to become, quite literally, war criminals except for those who are themselves killed by the artillery shells which are supposed to protect them. Have a look at the photos below and then go back to the Picasso Youtube clip. Where, though, is the outrage? In some respects, that’s the scariest aspect of the whole Gaza crisis: the way that atrocities that would have utterly scandalised the generation of the thirties have now become entirely routine. Since the attack on the school, the Israelis have now attacked other representatives of the UN: The United Nations has said it is halting its aid programme in the Gaza Strip after one of its drivers was killed by Israeli troops during a three-hour ceasefire. A spokesperson explained that the UN would not resume delivering food aid and medical supplies until it received fresh assurances Israel would stop targeting its civilian contractors. The Wikipedia entry on the bombing of Guernica also contains the following passage: A tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica is displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room. It was placed there as a reminder of the horrors of war. Jeff Sparrow Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland. More by Jeff Sparrow › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 10 November 202311 November 2023 · Subscriberthon 2023 On the final day of Subscriberthon, Overland’s most important members get to have their say Editorial Team BORIS A quick guide to another year of Overland, from your trusty feline, Boris. I liked the ginger cat story, though it made my human cry. I liked the talking cat, too, but I’m definitely in the “not wasting my time learning to talk” camp. But reading is good. And writing is fun, though it’s been challenging […] 1 First published in Overland Issue 228 9 November 20239 November 2023 · Subscriberthon 2023 On the second-last day of Subscriberthon, Overland’s co-chief editor Evelyn Araluen speaks truth to power Editorial Team To my friends and comrades, I’m not sure if there’s language to communicate how this last month has utterly changed me. This time a few weeks ago the busyness and chaos of bricolage arts and academic labour had so efficiently distracted me from my anxiety about the upcoming referendum that I forgot to prepare myself for its inevitable conclusion.