Sunday, January 18, 2009

Self-Deception and the Assault on Gaza - David Bromwich

The Huffington Post, January 16, 2009 - What prompts the fantasy that you can "kill all the terrorists" without sowing the seeds of new terrorism? Partly, the fantasy comes from the idea that any civilian deaths you cause will be forgiven; but, much more, it derives from the secondary fantasy that civilian deaths will go mainly unwitnessed. They will be recorded as numbers, perhaps, but they will pass out of the awareness of the world. That is not the way things work, of course. There are people in the world -- not hundreds, not thousands, but hundreds of millions -- who feel more closely allied to the killed than they do to the killers.

"Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return." In every culture and every civilization, to kill the innocent is evil. Fifty civilians who live in a neighborhood where one terrorist has built a hidden sniper's nest are understood to be innocent. If you kill the fifty, you have done something worse than not killing the one.

Yet to put it like that brings up the revaluation of state terror that entered our language with the Sharon-Bush doctrine, first propounded in 2001-02. According to the Sharon-Bush doctrine, if you harbor a terrorist -- that is, if you live anywhere in the vicinity of a terrorist -- you are yourself as blamable as the terrorist and are as appropriate a target of destruction. This, no matter what the impediments on your freedom of movement, no matter how unconscious you may be of the existence of the terrorist, no matter how much your toleration of him may have been driven by fear.

On this reasoning, a one-ton bomb that kills a Hamas leader in an apartment complex and kills twelve other persons, half of them children -- that bomb is not guilty of the deaths of the other victims. If, because of that bomb and those deaths, a certain number of Arab teenagers in Palestine and elsewhere resolve to become suicide bombers, that is not the fault of the country that dropped the bomb. The new terrorists whom the destruction brought forth, like the old ones it disposed of, worked with too narrow a conception of necessity. The world itself is wrong, according to the Sharon-Bush doctrine, when it says that you can't literally kill all the terrorists without killing an unendurable number of others in the process. If that is the way the world thinks, Sharon and Bush and their followers maintain, there is nothing to be done about it. What if the world is full of raving anti-Semites and anti-Americans? We must get on with our work in spite of them. Strength lies in keeping to the plan with supreme resoluteness.

Such are the tracks in which the United States and Israel are trapped together when we think about Gaza....

The creation of a Palestinian state has been postponed now for more than 40 years while the Israeli settlements have expanded. Why should any witness of the pattern be expected to follow the Israeli reasoning from good intentions to misfired actions, when the pattern of the actions, reading backward to the intentions, so plainly seems to indicate that annexation was always the stronger motive? Read backward from result to probable purpose and the assault on Gaza looks like the last postponement, the one after which nothing further need be said or done. Yet, when it is carried off in so confused a state of fevered imagining, with a queasy mixture of paternalism, perverted compassion and baffled nostalgia for resistance and solidarity, such as are audible in the above statements by Livni, Olmert, and Barak--one realizes that nothing after all has been resolved by this war.

Is it possible to look forward without illusion? For we do know what actions like Israel's lead to; we, Americans as well as Israelis, know from our recent history. From the imposition of state terror in one generation spring the soldiers of guerrilla terror in the next generation. Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return. Just as the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza brought on the Second Intifada, and just as both of these, together with the American footprint in Saudi Arabia, were a substantial motive in the making of the September 11 attacks, so the present attacks in Gaza, enabled by America's financial and political support and America's F-16s and Apache helicopters, are nursing hatreds for a new round of terrorism to come. The assault on Gaza endangers the security of Israel, and it endangers the security of the United States.

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