Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Opinion: By Choice They Make Themselves Immune - Saree Makdisi, January 6, 2009 - Any hospital would be overwhelmed under the circumstances: how then for a hospital that has already been cut off by the 19-month-old Israeli blockade of Gaza from urgently needed supplies, medicines, drugs, anesthetics, spare parts, fuel for generators? In fact, the true story of what Israel is doing to the people of Gaza is to be seen in the besieged territory's hospitals: the smashed, burned, dusty bodies of children being carried in on makeshift blankets (there aren't enough stretchers to go around); the morgue drawers full of bodies; the emergency rooms with badly hurt, crying people scattered on stretchers, on beds, on the blood-washed floors, as the doctors run from one to another trying to figure out who can be saved and who must be attended to first -- the boy with his feet blown off? The old woman with the huge gash in her head? The young man with his guts hanging out of his stomach? The anguished little girl thrashing about in pain, in fear, in agony and begging for her mother who vanished in some monstrous explosion? And outside, on the crowded sidewalks, the other side of the human suffering that Israel has chosen to inflict on an entire population: the wailing mothers, fathers and children; the weeping young men; the panicked people rushing around trying to find loved ones after each new Israeli bombing.

All this to make Israelis feel secure? What security is this kind of barbarism ever likely to gain them?

These are the scenes that every Palestinian and every Arab around the world sees every single day on the uncensored, unedited, unfiltered and relentlessly, brutally honest coverage broadcast on the Arabic Al-Jazeera channel. Unlike the US and UK networks, Al-Jazeera has correspondents and camera crews all over Gaza; they are Arabs, some of them are Palestinians, and they all live among the people whose suffering they record for the whole world to see; they can communicate with them in their own language and in the language of the audience as well. The coverage is continuous 24 hours a day.

Ordinary people around the rest of the world are seeing the version of events that gets filtered through the editing suites, the cutting rooms, the editorializing of foreign media, and that, in the case of the US, finally makes it to their living room largely (if not entirely) sanitized, and packaged to them in two-minute sound bites by correspondents posted safely outside of Gaza and inside Israel. The coverage broadcast from Israel is heavily monitored, controlled and censored. The Israeli army found in 2006 that its panicked soldiers in Lebanon were using cell phones to call home for help; this time it made sure to inspect all of its soldiers to make sure that none takes a phone with him into Gaza. The army imposes a smothering control over the flow of information; nothing that is reported from or datelined Israel can be read at face value or taken for granted.

If you get your news from an American television network, no matter how horrible you think what's happening in Gaza is, the reality that you are not seeing is much, much, much worse. (Perhaps that's why the English-language Al-Jazeera channel, widely followed in the rest of the world, is unofficially banned in the US -- not a single cable or satellite provider carries it)....

Israel's disregard for innocent human life is not motivated only by a desire to forestall the political consequences -- especially during an electoral campaign -- of Israeli military casualties. It is also a clear indicator of the contempt that Israel has for Palestinian life in general. The cold, hungry, tired, desperate, and terrified men, women and children that Israel is now sweeping away by the dozen in balls of fire and showers of shrapnel are the very same people that it had already reduced to what one UN official months ago warned was "a subhuman existence," the deliberate product of the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza for over three years, beginning in 2005, before the election of Hamas. They are the same people whose political and human rights Israel has been stifling since the occupation of 1967 -- 20 years before the creation of Hamas. They are the same people who were ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948 because, as non-Jews, they were inconveniently cluttering up the land that European Zionists wanted to turn into a Jewish state, no matter what the land's actual population had to say about it.

Israel's disregard for Palestinian life in Gaza today is, in short, a direct extension of its disregard for Palestinian life since 1948, and what is happening in Gaza today is the continuation of what happened six decades ago. Eighty percent of the people crammed into Gaza's hovels and shanties are refugees or the descendants of refugees that armed Zionist gangs, which eventually coalesced into the infant Israeli army, terrorized from their homes elsewhere in southwestern Palestine in 1948. They have been herded, penned, and slaughtered by a remorseless power that clearly regards them as subhuman.

If you think I'm stretching the point, I'm not. Listen to the words of Professor Arnon Sofer, the government consultant who did so much to help plan the isolation and imprisonment of Gaza, in a interview with the Jerusalem Post in 2004: "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe," Sofer predicted. "Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure on the border is going to be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day." Sofer admitted only one worry with all the killing, which will, he says, be the necessary outcome of a policy that he himself helped to invent. "The only thing that concerns me," he says, "is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings."

Meticulously and clinically thought through even before the first rocket from Gaza claimed a life inside Israel, the slaughter in Gaza today has nothing to do with rockets or with Hamas. As Sofer himself explains, it is the purest and most distilled expression of Zionist ideology. "Unilateral separation doesn't guarantee 'peace,'" Sofer says in that same interview; "it guarantees a Zionist-Jewish state with an overwhelming majority of Jews."

And that -- taken right from the horse's mouth -- is what the slaughter of innocents in Gaza is fundamentally about: the people being killed today are the ones for whom there is no room in the Zionist vision of the state. They are regarded as an excess population. Not even Malthus thought that a redundant population should just be lined up and shot, or bombed into the ground. But, clearly, times have changed since 1798.

This inhuman madness will end only with the end of the violent ideology that spawned it -- when those who are committed to the project of creating and maintaining a religiously and ethnically exclusivist state in what has always been a culturally and religiously heterogeneous land finally relent and accept the inevitable: that they have failed.

Saree Makdisi is professor of English literature at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation."

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