Slaughter from the sky
Upon the launching of the attack on Gaza, Ehud Barak struck the pose of Julius Caesar, who announced with his crossing of the Rubicon that “the die is cast”, and declared “combat has begun”. The question begged is, which combat exactly? Two sides are needed in order for there to be a war, as we all know; but here in Gaza, are there two sides to the bombing of Gaza from the air? On one side is there not an air force equipped with the best aircraft provided by its “friend”, the USA, while on the other side are completely defenceless people facing heavy bombardment that rains down on them from the heavens? Is there such a thing as a war in which only one side is fighting?
Therefore the combat that Israeli Defence Minister Barak announced is not a war but a hunt! A hunt for humans who lack the minimal means to resist and who are slaughtered from the air. A hunt for sitting ducks. I recall the romantic films that we used to watch back in the day, in which two adversaries would fight with swords. When to one of them, even the evil one, lost his sword, his adversary would return his sword to him so as to avoid killing a defenceless man. That’s how it was in the movies. In the reality of today, one side stands without a sword in the face of an enemy armed from head to toe and they call it “war”. The war in Gaza in our day looks a lot more like a massacre.
The first air attack began on 27 December. It lasted 4 minutes over the course of which 200 people were killed. The second wave of attacks came a few minutes later. Until the ground invasion about 400 Palestinians were killed and 4 Israelis were killed by qassam missiles. The sum total so far indicates more than 500 killed Palestinians as against 5 Israelis killed. The number of Palestinian wounded is about 2,500, whereas on the Israeli side the number of wounded is estimated to be 50. These numbers tell the story of the unequal “Gaza war”.
The colonial background
There is a background and a history to this killing, this slaughter that is taking place in Gaza: the colonial relations between Jews and Palestinians in Israel that began many years before the creation of the State of Israel. Particularly astonishing is the ratio of killed over the years and especially in the Gaza war, which stands at about 1 (Israeli) to 100 (Palestinians). That ratio is not coincidental, but well describes the balance that is considered normal in colonial wars.
The writer and scholar Sven Lindqvist discussed that subject in his book “Exterminate All The Brutes”, which was published 15 years ago in English. Lindqvist set out to research European colonialism in Africa at the end of the 19th century. If we wish better to understand colonial oppression and the methods it employs these days against the Palestinian people in Gaza, then we would do well to consult this book.
By way of example, Lindqvist describes the battle between the English army and the army of the Dervishes in Omdurman (Sudan). That war was waged by the British empire in order to re-conquer Sudan. Lindqvist borrowed some of his descriptions from Winston Churchill, who was then a young military correspondent for an English newspaper. In that battle a large native army (the “Derwvishes”) was destroyed by a colonial army that was small but equipped with the best military technology of the day. The English had Maxim guns, which had a much longer range than that of the antiquated rifles that the Dervishes carried and therefore they could snipe at the native army before the latter even perceived their presence.
The mounted Dervishes, according to Churchill’s description, were courageous and furiously charged against the English army, but nearly all of them were killed before they made direct contact with the English soldiers. In the course of the battles the British army sustained hardly any losses. The British press at the time published pictures of hand-to-hand fighting between the Darwishes and the English, but they were forgeries - no such battles took place.
Lindqvist concludes: “In the Omdurman battle the entire Sudanese army was destroyed without even reaching shooting-range of their enemy. The arts of killing from a distance had turned become a European ’specialty’ ”. The British cannons were particularly efficacious against defenceless villages. Lindqvist also writes: the Europeans became the “gods of the cannons”, who felled victims long before their adversaries could get to them. The European expansion into Asia and Africa, writes Lindqvist, opened a new period of imperialism. “Military superiority was perceived among too many Europeans as intellectual and even biological superiority as well”.
The English colonialist campaign of that time resembles the air campaign against Gaza in another important respect as well: the Israeli admiration for the “extraordinary achievement” of the slaughter in Gaza. Back then, too, England received the reports about the victory with great euphoria. The commander of the campaign Lord Kitchener was received by the Queen and all Britain cheered.
The colonial powers mostly fought against the natives from a position of absolute military advantage. In view of that, they could not understand how the natives dared to resist at all. Europeans ascribed the natives’ resistance to stupidity and the natural primitiveness of their race. The real motivation of the locals - the strong desire to be free of their oppressors - the colonialists were never able to understand.
The colonial format in our region has its source in the continuing Zionist colonial war that has been going on for over a hundred years, but intensified after the conquests of 1967.
Tom Segev, a nearly isolated voice among the clamour of the patriotic chorus, chose recently (Haaretz, 19 December 2008) to present some old truths about of the Jewish-Arab conflict and he was not afraid to mention the Zionist ideology as the source of our incorrect assumptions about the Palestinians:
“Israel struck at the Palestinians in order to ‘teach them a lesson’”. This is the premise that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise from its inception: we represent progress and enlightenment, rational sophistication and morality; the Arabs are a primitive and tempestuous rabble, ignorant youths who must be educated and taught to understand. All this, of course, through the system of ‘the carrot and the stick’”.
Segev continues: “The bombing of Gaza is supposed to eliminate the ‘Hamas regime’; that too is in accordance with assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement from its inception, according to which it is possible to place a ‘moderate’ leadership in control of the Palestinians, that will make concessions on their national aspirations. We are just defending ourselves here”.
Segev subsequently emphasizes:
“The struggle, however, is not against a terrorist organization that took the residents of Gaza hostage, but a national religious movement that has many followers. From the dawn of the Zionist presence in Eretz Israel [Palestine] there has not yet been a military action that has advanced negotiations with the Palestinians”.
In addition to military actions, Segev also recalls programmes for settling Arab families from Gaza in the West Bank after the Six Day War. (I remember that version: as soon as the battles ended Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol investigated whether it would be possible to “transfer” the Arabs of Gaza to Iraq and in their place to settle Jews in Gaza).
The ground action: how will it end?
Recently the second stage of the “Gaza war” began. The press reports that army representatives told the political echelon that they had already run out of targets and therefore it was necessary to proceed to a military invasion deep into the Strip. Combat conditions will now be a little different from what they were in the first stage of the conflict, because it is expected that there will be tangible contact between the sides. Still, even under those conditions - as was also the case in the second Lebanon war - the balance of force will still be such that it will be far from an equal battle between the combatant sides. Most of the losses that the Palestinian fighters are sustaining have been caused as a result of remote-control war: from the air, the sea, and the land (artillery). In the ground stage the battle is also not between equal sides. The colonial format that Israel has imposed on the Gazan resistance fighters continues to exist: on one side a large modern army with elaborate technological equipment and on the other side lightly-equipped guerrilla groups.
Mountains of texts have already piled up about the history of Israel’s war in Gaza: who started the story? Did the Arabs come to settle in Jewish Gaza or the opposite? Who was a settler within a crowded area and took 20% of its land and a substantial part of its water reserves? Who prevented the creation of an industrial infrastructure and even electricity generating stations and afterwards complains that “we” are providing electricity even though the Gazans are shooting at us? And who left Gaza “without paying” and still complains that they have not thanked us for it? So far those question marks also remain hanging over subjects like the debate over how each side acquires its military equipment: through tunnels (smuggling! Contraband!), or through the seaports and airports in Israel (legitimate and respectable), or who violated the lull (“tahdiya”) and afterwards played the robbed Cossack when they started to fire missiles at him.
We shall pass over many additional questions without discussion: who kills peaceable civilians with premeditation and who killed three or four times as many civilians, and now a hundred times as many, but does it “unintentionally”? Here for example, are some facts from a “Betselem” report: In seven years from the launching of the first qassam up to the beginning of the present attack on Gaza 13 Israelis have been killed. In the same period Israel killed 2,990 Palestinians, including 634 children. In total during that period Israel killed 4,781 people in Gaza and the West Bank. A large proportion of the killed were civilians, including women and children. Those facts should be taken into account when we grapple with the question of who are the terrorists here or what is the extent of “Hamas terror” compared to the “state terror” of Israel.
In all these issues, for all their importance, the root of the problem is not to be found. The root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was and remains to this day the relations between the conqueror and the conquered, the oppressor and the oppressed, the besieger and the besieged, colonialist and native.
In the Occupied Territories, the State of Israel would like to see only subjugated Palestinians, who will not dare to raise their heads in the face of its ongoing control over their lives. Those who desire true and sustainable peace between the peoples should know, that the end of the Palestinian resistance and the contracting of peace will come only after the elimination of colonialism in all its forms.
From the Hebrew by George Malent.