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The Language of Death
Posted on Jan 12, 2009
By Chris Hedges
The incursion into Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase of the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. The assault on Gaza is about creating squalid, lawless and impoverished ghettos where life for Palestinians will be barely sustainable. It is about building ringed Palestinian enclaves where Israel will always have the ability to shut off movement, food, medicine and goods to perpetuate misery. The Israeli attack on Gaza is about building a hell on earth.
This attack is the final Israeli push to extinguish a Palestinian state and crush or expel the Palestinian people. The images of dead Palestinian children, lined up as if asleep on the floor of the main hospital in Gaza, are a metaphor for the future. Israel will, from now on, speak to the Palestinians in the language of death. And the language of death is all the Palestinians will be able to speak back. The slaughter—let’s stop pretending this is a war—is empowering an array of radical Islamists inside and outside of Gaza. It is ominously demolishing the shaky foundations of the corrupt secular Arab regimes on Israel’s borders, from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. It is about creating a new Middle East, one ruled by enraged Islamic radicals.
Hamas cannot lose this conflict. Militant movements feed off martyrs, and Israel is delivering the maimed and the dead by the truckload. Hamas fighters, armed with little more than light weapons, a few rockets and small mortars, are battling one of the most sophisticated military machines on the planet. And the determined resistance by these doomed fighters exposes, throughout the Arab world, the gutlessness of dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to open Egypt’s common border with Gaza despite the slaughter. Israel, when it bombed Lebanon two years ago, sought to destroy Hezbollah. By the time it withdrew it had swelled Hezbollah’s power base and handed it heroic status throughout the Arab world. Israel is now doing the same for Hamas.
The refusal by political leaders from Barack Obama to nearly every member of the U.S. Congress to speak out in the major media in defense of the rule of law and fundamental human rights exposes our cowardice and hypocrisy. Those who openly condemn the Israeli crimes, including Israelis such as Yuri Avnery, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, as well as American stalwarts Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich, Norman Finkelstein and Richard Falk, are ignored or treated like lepers. They are denied a platform in the press. They are rendered nearly voiceless. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories and a former professor of international law at Princeton, was refused entry into Israel in December, detained for 20 hours and deported. Never mind that nearly all these voices are Jewish.
I called Avnery at his home in Israel. He is Israel’s conscience. Avnery was born in Germany. He moved to Palestine as a young boy with his parents. He left school at the age of 14 and a year later joined the underground paramilitary group known as the Irgun. Four years afterward, disgusted with its use of violence, he walked away from the clandestine organization, which carried out armed attacks on British occupation authorities and Arabs. “You can’t talk to me about terrorism, I was a terrorist,” he says when confronted with his persistent calls for peace with the Palestinians. Avnery was a fighter in the Samson’s Foxes commando unit during the 1948 war. He wrote the elite unit’s anthem. He became, after the war, a force for left-wing politics in Israel and one of the country’s most prominent journalists, running the alternative HaOlam HaZeh magazine. He served in the Israeli Knesset. During the 1982 siege of Beirut he met, in open defiance of Israeli law, with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He has joined Arab protesters in Israel the past few days and denounces what he calls Israel’s “instinct of using force” with the Palestinians and the “moral insanity” of the attack on Gaza. Avnery, now 85, was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in 1975 by an Israeli opponent, and in 2006 the right-wing activist Baruch Marzel called on the Israeli military to carry out a targeted assassination of Avnery.
“The state of Israel, like any other state,” Avnery said, “cannot tolerate having its citizens shelled, bombed or rocketed, but there has been no thought as to how to solve the problem through political means or to analyze where this phenomenon has come from, what has caused it. Israelis, as a whole, cannot put themselves in the shoes of others. We are too self-centered. We cannot stand in the shoes of Palestinians or Arabs to ask how we would react in the same situation. Sometimes, very rarely, it happens. Years ago when Ehud Barak was asked how he would behave if were a Palestinian, he said, ‘I would join a terrorist organization.’ If you do not understand Hamas, if you do not understand why Hamas does what it does, if you don’t understand Palestinians, you take recourse in brute force.”
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