Istico Battistoni - 19/01/2010
One year ago I was in North-East Brazil, when Operation Cast Lead was initiated. The news was given to me by a former local Senator who had personally known Yasser Arafat during a Brazilian parliamentary mission. As he stood on our doorstep with a kūfiyya around his neck, it all seemed so absurd and far from reality. When I clicked onto haaretz.com, it sunk home. The best description of the reality of the situation that I have read recently was written by a journalist for that newspaper, Aluf Benn. Towards to end of the second Intifādha , he entitled an article, "Playstation Palestine" to indicate the extent to which the Palestinians were part of a scenario in which they did not count any more than the case of a video game. It is possible to say, to proclaim, to threaten and to claim everything about the future of the Palestinians, but nothing changes as when you press "reset" in a video game. One day the writer Suad Amiry told me in confidence that there is only one question that counts in this business, one that should interest whoever cares about Palestine or wishes to make a conversation or declaration about it: "How many square metres of ground have been taken from the Palestinians today?". And the next day, "How many square metres of ground have been taken from the Palestinians today?". Everyday the same question is posed. All can be understood and justified through the machine of colonial expansionism. The rest that is worth reporting are the side-effects that anybody can see in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Arab quarters of Jerusalem, and that courageous journalists and untiring human rights organisations have kept a precise account of: arrests, housing demolition, restrictive rules on family reunification, deaths and injuries, limitations on the movement of people and goods, unfair land taxes, edicts from the military administration, security barriers. And more: the stories of ordinary men and women, that are speaking about themselves; not about others, not about lobbying and negotiating, not about principles and strategies, but just about themselves. Like the eighty year old father of Abdullah, who signed an act surrendering his property to an Israeli agent posing as an envoy of the Vatican. Or Munira, who in consequence of her refusal to abandon her house on the edge of the Al Kanaa colony, was surrounded by barriers of cement and electrical cables. Like Raina, the Russian lady who in order to rejoin her husband in Gaza, was anesthetised and dropped into one of the tunnels which go underneath the Egyptian border which allow people to survive. Or Rawan, who since the year 2000 has not seen her husband, nor her three children who remained in Gaza while she was visiting family in Ramallah. Like Abu Yosef, who one year ago, when the air was full of smoke from phosphorus bombs, covered the heads of children with cloth. Or the unknown father, who stayed in a building without water surrounded by soldiers during three days with two children, quenched his thirst with his own urine(1).
In any case, nothing is worth like before. The violence of the military operations and the political legitimation of the racial disdain after the last attack in Gaza represents an extraordinary acceleration in the disintegration of the Palestinian people and of their history. It is equal in symbolic meaning to the expulsion of Palestinians from their houses on the eve of the creation of the Israeli State. It is a decisive act, the final proof of the pride of the Zionist venture which negates the existence of Palestine and of a Palestinian nation. The cycle is closed: Palestine is finally cancelled, the preservation of the memory of Nakba will become soon a criminal act legally prosecutable under Israeli justice, the prospective of the creation of a Palestinian state is reduced to a sterile argument of self-justification for western politics and Arab Umma , Egypt sells its natural gas to Israel while Gaza is running out of raw materials such as glass and cement. The cycle is closed, and those subterranean driving forces making everything possible, including the dehumanisation of the Palestinians, rise to the surface.
Three months before Gaza was attacked, I entered the Gaza Strip through the Israeli border crossing at Erez: a girl of little more than 20 years old was sitting in the control cabin, at the entrance to the complex where document and security checks take place, doing crosswords. A Palestinian woman with a babe in arms was waiting for the okay to enter. It was Ramadhān , and the girl made the fasting women wait in the sun for hours, with the new-born close to her breast: without reason. Eleven months after the attack in Gaza, during a pre-military training course yeshiva , the head Rabbi of the Israeli army Avichai Rontzki, quoting a passage from the Book of Jeremiah(2), warned that he who shows mercy towards the enemy will be damned. Are these not signs confirming a climate of an open identity conflict? A climate that has extended to a large part of the Euro-Mediterranean sphere, that is fed by the cancer of unresolved conflicts, in primus the Israeli-Palestinian one; a climate that redefines the Zionist ideology in totalitarian terms, and inspires a new form of Anti-Semitism. The victims are the "new Jews", I mean the Arabs, in particular the Arab Muslims, and by extension Muslims in the wider sense. They, the Palestinians, manage to include all the elements of a new culture that sees the foreigner as a social problem, a destabilising element for a prosperous society: and while it is true that the Palestinians inspire sympathy for the tragic history that they carry with them, it is also true that they are Arabs, in majority Muslims, and they have used terrorist violence to assert their right to self-determination; therefore, as "new Jews", "non-Whites", they will never have the West concretely and convinced standing at their side. How could we imagine Europe supporting an investigation for presumed war crimes by the Israeli high command during the last attack on Gaza, in a context that seems to redraw borders between the regions, both in anthropological and cultural terms, and where the signs of identification (the minaret, the ethnic origin, the crucifix) would mark the frontier between the modern and barbarian worlds? It is unimaginable, a vain battle.
The cycle has reached its peak, and afterwards all will be possible, such as cancelling the Palestinian question, deportations of one in the name of the other, and overcoming conflicts of a political and economic nature, not through their solution, rather by an identity conflict that redefines our fundamental values. Try to ask your neighbours which is more important: god or democracy, traditions or justice, consumer spending or the freedom of speech? I would not be surprised if that for many of us in the western world, the answer would not be that clear; and I would not be surprised to hear voices in Gaza itself who defend the second term in the three questions I have just raised, despite siege and internal repression.
The circle has reached its point of suture, and afterwards all will be possible, even the impossible. The worse proven enemy of the State of Israel are the Israelis themselves, who at this rhythm will take their country towards international isolation, a steadily increasing regional instability, internal repression and an irreversible degradation in the cohesion between different groups of the Israeli society; thereby converting themselves into the case of another video game, Playstation Israel . The Israeli objectors of conscious, or Another Voice for Sderot , who raised their voices in protest during the last bombing of Gaza, have paid the price with a military tribunal and public contempt. For this, some of them, with extraordinary civic and political courage which the Brussels diplomats have not yet shown, have asked publically for a dialogue with Hamas(3). For this reason, others such as Ta'āyush or Combatants for Peace have united young Israelis and Palestinians, fighting together against the violence of the Israeli military and civil machine towards the Palestinians, proved to be stronger than those who wish to break any relationship between the two communities. For this reason, others such as Alternative Information Center defend from Jerusalem a campaign to boycott their own country, defying accusations of being unpatriotic.
If it is still possible to express desires for the year ahead, I would like to ask for the following things:
- the Western leaders that have made the most eloquent speeches to defend Operation Cast Lead are investigated for instigating violence and crime;
- the Palestinians of the West Bank are able to put their feet in the Mediterranean Sea held under Israeli jurisdiction;
- the Palestinians form a government of national unity, announcing unilaterally the institution of the Palestinian State and granting citizenship to the Israeli settlers who wish to keep their residence in the Occupied Territories;
- Palestine requests adhesion to the United States of America and make a free-trade agreement with China;
- U2 come to sing in Gaza and Emir Kusturica makes a film on the tunnels under the border at Rafah;
- the Mayor of Tel Aviv proposes the candidature of the citizens of Gaza for the Nobel Peace Prize;
- the Yad Vashem museum opens a section on the 1948 ethnic cleansing of the Arab villages of historic Palestine and on the Palestinian Diaspora;
- the school programme for Israeli and Palestinian students foresees bilingualism;
- Gaza Airport is dedicated to Mahmud Darwish.
Please excuse the length of the list, but the Playstations , at least this one, allows it.
1) I have recounted personal experiences of people who I personally met, except the last one, which was reported to me by an eye witness during my latest visit to Gaza.
2) "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord with a slack hand, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood" (cfr. Anshel Pfeffer, "IDF Chief Rabbi: Troops who show mercy to enemy will be damned", Haaretz, 15 November 2009)
3) "Talk to Hamās" is an initiative launched during the month of November 2009 by the founders of Courage to Refuse , the movement of soldiers who refused to serve in the Palestinian territories occupied during the second Intifādha .
Translation: Jonathan Parker