Authorised atrocities

Mar 23, 2024
March on Washington for Gaza The White House, Washington, DC Taken on January 13, 2024

Israel’s lawlessness has a history that those in the West share with the apartheid state.

It is remarked often enough, including in this space, that Israel’s savagery in its determination to exterminate the Palestinians of Gaza — and we had better brace for what is next on the West Bank of the Jordan — marks a turn for all of humanity.

In its descent into depravity the Zionist state drags the West altogether down with it.

This is true, certainly, but we must put Israel’s criminal conduct, which warrants another Nuremberg trial at this point, in its proper context.

When we do, we find that Israel’s lawlessness has a history, an etymology, and if there is a road to Western salvation it must start with a recognition of a past that those in the West share with the apartheid state.

We can say Israel’s crimes against Gaza’s 2.3 million children, women, and men are unspeakable, in other words, but this would not be right. They are altogether speakable, and it behooves us now to speak of them if we are to grasp where responsibility for this stain upon the human story truly lies.

Pankaj Mishra has just published a thorough and thoroughly remarkable piece on these matters in the London Review of Books.

The Indian author, essayist, and columnist takes up many things in “The Shoah After Gaza,” chiefly the extent to which Zionists have exhausted “the culture of conspicuous Holocaust consumption” — excellent phrase — in defence of a nation that, to quote Primo Levi, “was a mistake in historical terms.”

Here is a passage in Mishra’s piece that is to our present point:

“Israel today is dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945, which has been tottering since the catastrophic and still unpunished war on terror and Vladimir Putin’s revanchist war in Ukraine. The profound rupture we feel today between the past and the present is a rupture in the moral history of the world since the ground zero of 1945 — the history in which the Shoah has been for many years the central event and universal reference.”

I am not with Mishra on everything he writes in the LRB piece. Vladimir Putin’s revanchist war in Ukraine? Absolutely not. Unless you are into the demonisation ploy to which propagandists commonly resort, it is the Russian Federation’s war, not the Russian president’s.

Revanchist? Simply wrong, a very poor take on a purposely provoked proxy war that left Moscow little choice but to intervene.

But “dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945,” and “a rupture in the moral history of the world since the ground zero of 1945”: It does not get much pithier in the essay genre.

At the same time, we must not take from these phrases the thought that the edifice was sound before Israel lit the fuses, or that the moral rupture we can now see plainly has come upon us suddenly or as a surgical cut.

I saw some pictures just this morning of Israeli soldiers photographing themselves while playing with lingerie Palestinian women left behind when the Israel Defense Forces displaced them.

“It was the tongue that stopped me cold,” Nina Berman writes in her commentary. “The tongue and the savage, shit-eating grin on the soldier’s face as he and his buddy mug for the camera.” Mondoweiss published the pictures and the piece.

IDF grunts have done vastly worse things in Gaza, but these “selfies” got me to thinking. As Berman says of them, “They join a long line of conquest images, from Abu Ghraib images to the spectacle of Jim Crow-era lynchings.”

Who we are condemning

But exactly, Nina. You trip us into just the historical context we need before we, setting ourselves on some Doric pedestal, cavalierly condemn the conduct of IDF troops as they storm through Gaza in the manner of a blitzkrieg.

Condemnable, yes. We had better take care to understand just who we are condemning.

In the decade before the American defeat in Indochina, the U.S. and its allies dropped more than 7.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

If we want to go further back in postwar history we can think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then we can think about Israel in Gaza: As of the start of this year — leaving us more than three months to count — it had dropped more than 70,000 tons of ordnance on a territory the size of Manhattan.

Torture of Palestinian prisoners — the beatings, the maiming, the waterboarding, the forced confessions: Is this so different from how the U.S. conducted the “war on terror?”

Long-term detentions in dungeons with no charges and no recourse to attorneys: There is no echo in this of what goes on at Guantánamo as we speak?

Those IDF soldiers in the photographs are nothing more than punks with guns, vulgarians with no shred of humanity in them. Can we rightfully describe the U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib any differently?

Israel ignores the International Court of Justice? Where might this impudence come from?

There is more, much more, that we can add to this list. Afghanistan merits a place on it. There is the West’s “back-to-the-Stone–Age” destruction of Libya in 2011. I confine myself to the postwar decades to allow us to take a good, clear look at that “edifice of global norms” of which Mishra writes.

When we do, we find the West has licensed the Israelis. They bear a pre-authorisation by way of many precedents. There is one for more or less every shameful act the Israelis perpetrate against the Palestinian population — this in the West Bank as well as Gaza.

And so we discover — or remind ourselves, depending on how attentive we have been to events — that the post–1945 edifice has looked from the start roughly as it looks now. Israel is at bottom an outcome, not the prime cause of anything.

Insidious mythology

Certainly the grotesque spectacle of mass murder and wholesale destruction we witness daily has marked a rupture, to stay with Mishra’s term. But to assert that this rupture lies in Israel’s conduct is to sustain an insidious mythology of innocence for the West.

No, the true rupture lies with those in the West who are sucked into Israel’s utter immorality and now come face-to-face with their amoral indifference or, for the best of them, discover the extent of their powerlessness despite their authentic efforts.

As to Israel, I am with Primo Levi as Mishra quotes him. “The Jewish state” had already proven a mistake when he made his much-disputed remark in 1985.

The truth of it has since been demonstrated a hundred times over. Israel has proven a failed experiment, incapable of conducting itself as a legitimate nation-state.

But whose mistake is Israel? It was the West, Britain in the lead, that created Israel by caving to the Zionists at the expense of indigenous Palestinians. This is the reality of power that should weigh most heavily on our shoulders. Israel ‘R’ us.

Britain’s abandonment of the 1920 Mandate brings us to one of the deeper characteristics of our time, our postwar edifice. This is the ever more complete disregard of those in power for the principles, standards and broadly accepted ethics that give form and coherence to a stable civilisation and keep its public space clean and well lit.

In our crumbling edifice, everything is done according to its value as an expedient to a desired outcome. This, too, is a kind of depravity. And it is this depravity that produces the depravity we watch as we watch Israel’s effort to destroy an entire people.


Republished from Consortium News, March 20, 2024

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