Towards the Grimmest End

The events unfolding in Israel and Gaza are a cruel but typical outcome of apartheid and must be understood as such.

To readers who feel allegiance with Israel's right wing or its military-security apparatus in particular, I have no idea how you came across this in the first place. You're wading through the scrawlings of someone who is openly pro-Kurdish and tends to have sympathy for beaten and subjugated people everywhere, whether Kurd, Armenian, or Palestinian.

But assuming you've made it this far - nothing is going to systemically change. Hamas' offense into Israel and the ensuing massacres will be rectified through reasserting the extreme asymmetry in death and suffering that has characterized this occupation along with every colonial project since time immemorial. What many see either subconsciously or openly as the rightful order of things is being reaffirmed through bombs and blockades at this very moment.

As I noted in a prior article, the increasingly brutal apartheid that has dehumanized the Palestinians at the same time it has corrupted Israeli politics - driving it into the hands of a right wing that has further ingrained the cycle of violent occupation while corroding the society forced to uphold it - will continue in all its terrible logic. And this is currently playing out in the retribution now being inflicted across Gaza, as well as in the likelihood that the occupation only increases in its cruelty.

Officials like Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who stated on October 9th that “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly”, are unleashing a toll of death and obliteration far greater than that which Hamas just inflicted on Israel, all with the stated intent of revenge, intimidation, and reminding the human beings trapped in Gaza that insurgent violence will be met with a greater scope of carnage than they could ever muster. As a technologically advanced and diplomatically integrated country that receives material and financial backing from the most powerful nation to have ever existed, Israel has the means and authority to do so, and will almost certainly continue to execute this campaign as mercilessly as possible.

Though the furor coming from the Israeli right and the Netanyahu government has been met by a different but parallel response among left-leaning commentators living outside Israel - namely criticizing others for not saying the right things on social media.

Writing for New York Magazine and The Guardian respectively, journalists Eric Levitz and Naomi Klein have penned similar pieces rebuking what they see as a tendency among the American left to favor criticizing Israeli occupation over condemning Gazan insurgents, a more articulate and sensitive version of what is a common line within U.S. political discourse. This is also an understandable and fundamentally human reaction. Klein has discussed the fears shared by friends whose loved ones are living in Israel, making it impossible for Hamas’ offensive to feel anything other than personal. It hits closer to home both metaphorically and literally, and I cannot blame her in the least for putting this in writing.

The young people who Hamas murdered at a rave near the Gaza border fence are admittedly more familiar to me than the Palestinians under occupation. I may have partied with some of their cousins and older siblings during my time as an undergraduate. I understand the more immediate sense of shock, outrage, and sympathy so many feel for them. I felt it myself. 

Less coherent is Naomi Klein’s argument that Israel’s incipient fascism - the outcome of a state having to structurally rationalize and perpetuate a dehumanizing lockdown against a population within its own territory - will be enflamed by Americans not being adequately sympathetic on social media. What random yankees post on Facebook won't have the slightest impact on the actual execution of policy, blockade, and military action. It may offend or annoy you, you may unfriend your college roommate over it, but it won't change what continues to unfold throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories. If anything, it serves little more than obscuring the bloody process being executed at this very moment.

What is especially galling is that Israeli intellectuals and former policymakers have responded with greater sobriety than many North American writers, namely in recognizing that insurgent violence is an inevitable outcome of prolonged subjugation and cannot be separated from this. For various reasons, many Americans are having a harder time grasping this than those living within the country that is enforcing the occupation itself.

Israel maintains Gaza as an open-air prison, one which has been under blockade since 2007. This has shut down Gaza's economy and made it difficult to carry on life with any dignity or even normality, further impoverishing its residents, closing down businesses, and interrupting basic services from medical care to youth education. Departing the region's densely populated confines is nearly impossible due to the ongoing military blockade, rendering over 2 million people trapped inside.

97% of Gaza’s water is contaminated, and its hospitals are deliberately starved of resources and electrical power. Nearly half the Arabs living in Gaza are less than 18 years old, and the vast majority of these kids have never even interacted with an Israeli. Their experience of Israel is less one of human engagement and more akin to feeling trapped under the gaze of some terrifying Lovecraftian god who manifests as the eerie buzzing of drones and the sudden raining of death from the sky itself. It is inhuman from every angle. It is also unavoidably obvious who has their boot on whose neck, who has the power and means to inflict suffering on who, and which population is dehumanized under the technologically advanced and harshly regimented security apparatus of the other.

Israelis wounded during the Hamas offensive will have access to state support, medical care, and a whole swath of resources that those living in Gaza will never have due to the blockade the Netanyahu administration has methodically deepened. At its essence, the criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Occupied Territories is not that those of us who see it as inhuman resent that Israelis have that level of care and support, but that we wish the Arabs living under apartheid had the same rights and protections as the Israelis across the fence. A state that is intent on locking down and displacing a second-class population is incapable of treating them with anything other than violence and cruelty by definition.

Nothing anyone says on a social media platform, or on some obscure blog like this for that matter, even matters much from a discursive perspective. Being pro-Israel is one of the few remaining bipartisan positions in the United States. It is a political reflex that is deeply normal and widespread, whether across the halls of Congress or between the Trump/Hillary voters who stopped talking to particular family members circa 2016. If anything, the American gentiles I know are pretty uniformly pro-Israel and have a less variable and nuanced view of the region than my Jewish peers. To most Americans, Israelis are sympathetic and familiar, civilized people with tech jobs and TikTok accounts. In the post-9/11 era in particular, Arabs are seen as inhuman, “terrorists”, even genetically evil.

This consensus is so overwhelming that even consciously apolitical celebrities like The Rock - someone who has gone to great lengths to render themselves as inoffensive and marketable as possible - felt obligated to make statements condemning Hamas while avoiding criticism of Israeli state policy. I'd wager that Mr. Dwayne Johnson's PR team posted this because they felt his audience would find its tone familiar and endearing. The statements coming from those who actually possess diplomatic and political authority - including from the President of the United States himself - offer carte blanche for Israel as a military actor, something that will shape current and future operations. In light of how unexpectedly jarring Hamas’ offensive was, the next U.S. Congressional budget will likely allocate significantly greater financial and material support for Israel as well.

This has already started playing out. As of October 12, 2023, the IDF has dropped over 6,000 bombs (a greater number than the U.S. deployed over its five years combating ISIS) and killed over 1,400 Gazans within less than three days while blocking all access to electrical power, food, and water in the midst of what is an abrupt period of mass injury and death, clearly intended to inflict maximum suffering and loss of life while preventing the deployment of what limited medical resources the Palestinians have at their disposal. It is, in both openly stated terms and in practice, a military action intended to remind the Palestinians that only those who have access to an air force and surveillance drones should be able to deploy collective violence.

The ongoing remarks from liberal commentators about how one's greatest obligation is to centralize Israeli fears shares an oblique kinship with complaints from Netanyahu himself about the inconvenience of "telegenically dead Palestians", or that Palestinians aren't suffering and dying quietly enough - a visibility that reveals what occupation looks like in practice. This particular response seems to be ratcheting up in part because the human beings trapped within Gaza are about to experience, even by the standards of the past forty years, an unusually horrifying period of death and suffering.

In the cold logic of history, when a more powerful faction wants to claim land upon which an outside population resides, they typically massacre or expel them wholesale and move their own people onto the bloodied soil. This is what Turkish authorities did to Anatolia's Greeks and Armenians in the early 1900s, which eliminated the long-term burdens of resistance and occupation. The early Israeli settlers had neither the means nor motivation to go that far, and so what has proceeded in the interim has been a familiar unfolding of colonial subjugation that has played out much like every prior iteration across the human timeline.

This is also why those across the Israeli right are openly talking about executing a second Nakba, or the period of expulsion and ethnic cleansing Israelis inflicted on Arab communities in 1948, that finishes the job of the first. As rendered in an October 8, 2023 Twitter statement by Knesset member Ariel Kallner:

“Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join! their Nakba, because like then in 1948, the alternative is clear.”

In an ugly sense, the Israeli right wing has a more sober understanding of the processes at hand than liberal zionists, who try to square the circle of both supporting the occupation while condemning its consequences. It is my contention that rather than being a lunatic as many liberal zionists have tried to argue, Rabbi Meir Kahane had an exceptionally sober and lucid view of where things were heading, albeit from the wrong direction. Like it or not, this was a smart and perceptive man, and he seemed to understand that his vision of an exclusive Jewish ethnostate could only exist in peace if the Arabs living under occupation were expelled wholesale.

Retaliatory violence is universal among resistance groups, whether they are a saner faction like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) or reactionary Islamists like Hamas. Or whether they are the left-wing, ardently feminist Kurdish PKK in Turkey, who have deployed suicide bombers about as frequently as Hamas. What armed Palestinians just inflicted during their invasion of Israel was typical of insurgent groups born of abusive subjugation. Horrific unto its core, but far from unprecedented. The reason why Hamas has been so successful in recruiting traumatized and angry young men is not because these militants are the reincarnation of Reinhard Heydrich, but because they feel they have nothing left to live for except inflicting violence in return after the IDF maimed and killed those close to them. They’d be taking up arms even if the Israelis were Japanese Shintoists. 

Throughout the human timeline, there have been only two outcomes of similar circumstances - either the subject people respond with enough resistance and violence that the colonial authority abdicates its occupation, or those underfoot are killed and expelled in adequate numbers so that retaliation is no longer possible. The first iteration played out in Ireland and Algeria, and the second in America's piecemeal genocide of this land's natives. (And those indigenous "noble savages" that contemporary Americans now look upon with a patronizing gaze inflicted some truly gruesome massacres against U.S. settlers, particularly during their desperate final days.)

All that matters here is the grinding logic of history, of cruelty systematized and regimented, and whether that is either overthrown or reaches its hellish endpoint. If I had to place a bet at the current moment, I'd wager the Palestinians will likely experience the second of the above outcomes, a grim drive towards languishing unto a final expulsion. The rhetoric coming from Israeli military and security officials is more openly genocidal than ever, including Yoav Gallant prefacing the bombardment of Gaza by calling the human beings trapped within “animals”. The authorities directing an incredibly powerful and well-developed military-intelligence apparatus are determined to continue executing the lockdown, brutalization, and displacement of Palestians while expanding the settler movement that drives entire communities from the West Bank at gunpoint.

The Levant is an incessantly hot and arid place. The Middle East as a whole will be at the forefront of some the world's most immediate and punishing climatic upheavals, with droughts that diminish access to water and its overall quality (encouraging the proliferation of waterborne pathogens as a result), as well as heatwaves that kill those without adequate shelter and air conditioning, increasing in frequency and severity over the coming decades. Gaza’s Arabs are already denied clean water and electricity, and are trapped behind militarized border fences, ensuring that keeping them under lockdown without access to the resources needed to survive will be a darkly straightforward means of “thinning” an unwanted population through disease, thirst, and heatstroke. An even more pitiless and right-wing future Israeli government could do so without barely lifting a finger.

The power, the policies, and the deeply ingrained institutions that have brought us to this very moment will continue driving events in predictable ways. The occupation which increasingly corrodes Israeli politics and society will not change any time in the near future, and the horrifying toll it inflicts on Palestinians will continue apace and likely accelerate. All I can do is hope for a better outcome, but I'm not sure how much hope is worth right now.