An attempt to understand what is happening in Israel/Palestine without condoning the violence
‘You see my calamity and are afraid’
By Herbert Rothschild
In 2019, when I was still writing Relocations for the Daily Tidings, I wrote a piece in which I compared Gaza with the Warsaw ghetto. Here is the history I recalled for my readers:
After conquering Poland in 1939, the Nazis packed Poland’s three million Jews into city ghettos. Warsaw was the largest — between 300,000 and 400,000 in 3.3 square kilometers. Thousands died of disease and starvation before the first deportations to the death camps in 1942. Only at the end of that year did those who remained learn what “resettlement to the East” really meant. They began to build bunkers and smuggle weapons into the ghetto. Two combat organizations formed and trained.
When a second round of deportations began, they took up what arms they had. The uprising was doomed. 13,000 Jews were killed; of the surviving 50,000 Jews, most were captured and shipped to the camps. Yitzhak Zuckerman, one of the surviving ghetto warriors, moved to Israel. In an interview on the 25th anniversary of the uprising, he said, “If there’s a school to study the human spirit, there [the uprising] should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.”
Today, about 2 million Palestinians, perhaps half of them minors, are packed into a 141-square-mile ghetto called Gaza. Many are descendants of those driven off their ancestral lands in 1948. Gaza has been slowly dying. For years the United Nations Relief Works Agency has been monitoring the deteriorating situation. In 2012 it predicted that life there would become “unlivable” by 2020. By 2014, U.N. relief was feeding 800,000 people each day. In 2017 it reported that the conditions were deteriorating “further and faster” than was predicted in 2012. A major focus was the aquifer on which the population relies. Other concerns were restricted access to electricity and a dearth of building materials to repair damages from past conflicts.
In the 2017 report the U.N. called upon Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the international community to take action toward more sustainable development investments, reinvigoration of Gaza’s productive sectors, improvement of freedom of movement for both people and goods, as well as respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. “The alternative will be a Gaza that is more isolated and more desperate.”
Israeli violence against Palestinians became normalized long ago. To the extent U.S. media ever was interested in reporting it, the everydayness of it removed its news value. Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel also became normalized and unnewsworthy except on those occasions when Israel decided to strike back with a terrible vengeance. What wasn’t normal was fighters from Gaza breaking through the walls of their open-air prison and killing people, including Americans, face-to-face. That’s big news here.
President Joe Biden’s National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated: “The United States unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians. There is never any justification for terrorism.” That is true about terrorism. But “unprovoked”? In what world has she been living? And who gets to say which side in a conflict are the terrorists? Perhaps if your side has the full weight of a national military at its disposal, you can’t be called terrorists. Only those with smuggled weapons qualify.
The attacks from Gaza were orchestrated by Hamas. Hamas has been an implacable enemy to a Jewish state. Similarly, despite earlier protestations to the contrary, Israel has been an implacable enemy to a Palestinian state. In a Relocations column published in January 2020, I provided my readers with statements from Zionist leaders dating back to Zionist co-founder Theodore Herzl and including David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, and subsequent prime ministers Golda Meir and Ariel Sharon, expressing their intent to cleanse the land of Palestinians. That position essentially was codified in a Basic Law passed in 2018 declaring that only Jews have a right to self-determination in the Land of Israel, and that the “State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
It’s likely that this latest armed uprising from Gaza will seal its doom. On Monday, Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, announced, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything will be closed.” In his view this policy is justified because “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”
It’s impossible to know whether the majority of Gazans preferred, “after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose.” And there is a difference between the Warsaw uprising and the Gazan uprising in that the Hamas fighters inflicted harm on civilians, not just on their uniformed oppressors. What they did was ghastly. To understand it, as I have been trying to do in this column, is not to justify it, so please don’t send irate letters saying that I condoned the attacks. The world is full of violence, and I condone none of it.
There would be far less of it, however, if we didn’t regard some of our fellow human beings as animals. The dehumanization of the other is always a prelude to horror, whether it be in Nazi Germany or in Israel/Palestine. I keep saying in this column that every life is precious. The needless expenditure of it weighs on my heart like a stone.
Herbert Rothschild is an unpaid Ashland.news board member. Opinions expressed in columns represent the author’s views and may or may not reflect those of Ashland.news. Email Rothschild at firstname.lastname@example.org.