It was November 2012 when missiles last rained down over Gaza to the extent that they do, once again, today. It was those bombings that prompted me to start this blog and looking back to my first post makes me shiver now, not because I focused on the present destruction before my eyes but because my first though then was to reflect on the preceding assault on Gaza that came in 2008:
It was in 2008, when Israel was last attacking Gaza, that I first began to think seriously and write about Israeli violence. I began with so called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ (the Palestinians and the overwhelming majority of the international community had many alternative names for it) and worked back through the histories to – inevitably – 1948. And so history repeats itself today, albeit with crucial differences. The parallels between 2008 and now are instructive: Israel has launched a multi-faceted war that includes not only the deadly air strikes but a carefully orchestrated PR campaign (proving itself fully literate in social media), a calculated psychological war (designed to terrify Gazans into submission) and a legal offensive (calibrated to provide the illusion of legality to win legitimacy). All of this will likely be followed by a devastating ground offensive. It is important to remember, therefore, that when we see Israeli violence what we are witnessing is not just an extreme form of technologically-advanced aggressive militarism, it is also the ‘cutting-edge’ of a series of other much more subtle technologies of war.
Mark Twain once wrote that “History never repeats itself, but the kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends”. Or, in short: “History never repeats itself, but it sometimes rhymes.”* The terms ‘asymmetry’ and ‘disproportionality’ do not rhyme but if I had to summarise my response to the events of the past few weeks in one or two words, these are what I would choose. In fact, these terms have much broader resonance and capture what I think are some of the most essential structuring principles of the ongoing Occupation and conflict between Palestine and Israel.
In the 2008-2009 operation, which lasted 21 days, Israel killed 1398 Palestinians, at least 764 of these were civilians. These are slightly conservative statistics – from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem – and likely under-represent the percentage of victims who were civilians. The same group put the total Israeli casualties at 9.
In the 2012 operation, which lasted a week, Palestinians suffered 160 fatalities, including 105 civilians, 34 of whom were children. These statistics are according to PCHR but Gaza Under Attack put the total figure higher at 170. In a previous post at the time I reported that the number of Israeli deaths shocked me because they were so low relative to Palestinian losses. Today, I can’t honestly think why it surprised me that 5 Israelis died, 3 of whom were civilians. One death is too many on either side of course, but the numbers are suggestive of a wider asymmetry of death that has become the hallmark not only of the Palestine-Israel conflict, but of what Martin Shaw has called ‘risk transfer war’.
It is too early to count the dead because hourly the death-toll continues to rise. The Guardian is reporting that the death toll has reached 80; Al Jazeera puts it at 88. (Isn’t it telling that I don’t need to write on which side these casualties fall?). Earlier this week Germany demolished Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup but as the other semi-final was taking place, an Israeli missile exploded at Fun Time Beach cafe in the southern Gaza Strip and as Ma’an news reported:
The cafe’s multicolored sign is still standing, somewhat crookedly, as colorful bunting and canvas windbreakers lay strewn on the floor, torn down by the force of the blast. The Israeli missile scattered the dead and wounded across the beach, and made a hole so deep that seawater filled it up from underground after impact. “It was a normal social occasion,” said Wael Soboh, a local policeman who is employed by the Palestinian Authority.”The boys ate their Ramadan iftar meal here, and then began watching the match. It is not a military area.”
Most of the dead were in their early 20s. Ahmed al-Aqad, who survived the blast captures some of what I am trying to get here: “And the result from this match here? The Jews won 9-0″**
One commentator couldn’t tell which side were which on ABC news last night. In a surreal video sequence reporter Diane Sawyer confused a scene from destroyed Gaza and a second scene of a Palestinian woman in a landscape of fallen buildings for Israel and Israeli’s. For a few seconds, as Zizek would surely argue, the Real was rendered visible, and the phantasmagoric suddenly hit home: what if downtown Tel Aviv looked like that? What if whole city blocks of West Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble? Today ABC published an apology for the mis-hap.
But there are many more important asymmetries at play here and in the coming days I’ll be drawing attention to some of them. In the next post I will return to the questions I just posed and also the question of ‘balanced reporting’ and the current state of affairs in Israel and in Israeli cities. Following that I’ll turn to Israeli ‘mistakes’ and the killing of whole families that seems to have become a trademark of Israeli Air Force bombing (for a tragic foretaste of which see here)
*The quote is from Gerry Kearns (2011) ‘Echoes of Carl Schmitt among the idologists of the new American Empire’ in Steven Legg’s indispensible ‘Spatiality, sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the nomos’, London: Routledge.
**As an outsider to the conflict I try to avoid using the pronouns ‘Jew’ and ‘Arab’ in this context and prefer to talk about Israeli (or Palestinian) violence because it more accurately captures who is doing what. After all, not all Jewish people support Israel and the ‘Arab’ label reduces several peoples into one homogenous category. These are, however, terms that many Palestinians and Israeli’s use about one another and frequently also about themselves.