The Language of Death

The incursion into Gaza is not about
destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It
is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and
destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern
battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final
phase of the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.
The assault on Gaza is about creating squalid, lawless and impoverished
ghettos where life for Palestinians will be barely sustainable. It is
about building ringed Palestinian enclaves where Israel will always
have the ability to shut off movement, food, medicine and goods to
perpetuate misery. The Israeli attack on Gaza is about building a hell
on earth.

This attack is the final Israeli push to
extinguish a Palestinian state and crush or expel the Palestinian
people. The images of dead Palestinian children, lined up as if asleep
on the floor of the main hospital in Gaza, are a metaphor for the
future. Israel will, from now on, speak to the Palestinians in the
language of death. And the language of death is all the Palestinians
will be able to speak back. The slaughter-let's stop pretending this is
a war-is empowering an array of radical Islamists inside and outside of
Gaza. It is ominously demolishing the shaky foundations of the corrupt
secular Arab regimes on Israel's borders, from Egypt to Jordan to Syria
to Lebanon. It is about creating a new Middle East, one ruled by
enraged Islamic radicals.

Hamas cannot lose this conflict. Militant
movements feed off martyrs, and Israel is delivering the maimed and the
dead by the truckload. Hamas fighters, armed with little more than
light weapons, a few rockets and small mortars, are battling one of the
most sophisticated military machines on the planet. And the determined
resistance by these doomed fighters exposes, throughout the Arab world,
the gutlessness of dictators like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to
open Egypt's common border with Gaza despite the slaughter. Israel,
when it bombed Lebanon two years ago, sought to destroy Hezbollah. By
the time it withdrew it had swelled Hezbollah's power base and handed
it heroic status throughout the Arab world. Israel is now doing the
same for Hamas.

The refusal by political leaders from
Barack Obama to nearly every member of the U.S. Congress to speak out
in the major media in defense of the rule of law and fundamental human
rights exposes our cowardice and hypocrisy. Those who openly condemn
the Israeli crimes, including Israelis such as Yuri Avnery,
Tom Segev, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, as well as American
stalwarts Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich, Norman Finkelstein and Richard
Falk, are ignored or treated like lepers. They are denied a platform in
the press. They are rendered nearly voiceless. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur
for human rights in the occupied territories and a former professor of
international law at Princeton, was refused entry into Israel in
December, detained for 20 hours and deported. Never mind that nearly
all these voices are Jewish.

I called Avnery at his home in Israel. He
is Israel's conscience. Avnery was born in Germany. He moved to
Palestine as a young boy with his parents. He left school at the age of
14 and a year later joined the underground paramilitary group known as
the Irgun.
Four years afterward, disgusted with its use of violence, he walked
away from the clandestine organization, which carried out armed attacks
on British occupation authorities and Arabs. "You can't talk to me
about terrorism, I was a terrorist," he says when confronted with his
persistent calls for peace with the Palestinians. Avnery was a fighter
in the Samson's Foxes commando unit during the 1948 war. He wrote the
elite unit's anthem. He became, after the war, a force for left-wing

politics in Israel and one of the country's most prominent journalists,
running the alternative HaOlam HaZeh magazine. He served in the Israeli
Knesset. During the 1982 siege of Beirut he met, in open defiance of
Israeli law, with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He has joined Arab
protesters in Israel the past few days and denounces what he calls
Israel's "instinct of using force" with the Palestinians and the "moral
insanity" of the attack on Gaza. Avnery, now 85, was seriously wounded
in an assassination attempt in 1975 by an Israeli opponent, and in 2006
the right-wing activist Baruch Marzel called on the Israeli military to carry out a targeted assassination of Avnery.

"The state of Israel, like any other
state," Avnery said, "cannot tolerate having its citizens shelled,
bombed or rocketed, but there has been no thought as to how to solve
the problem through political means or to analyze where this phenomenon
has come from, what has caused it. Israelis, as a whole, cannot put
themselves in the shoes of others. We are too self-centered. We cannot
stand in the shoes of Palestinians or Arabs to ask how we would react
in the same situation. Sometimes, very rarely, it happens. Years ago
when Ehud Barak
was asked how he would behave if were a Palestinian, he said 'I would
join a terrorist organization.' If you do not understand Hamas, if you
do not understand why Hamas does what it does, if you don't understand
Palestinians, you take recourse in brute force."

The public debate about the Gaza attack
engages in the absurd pretense that it is Israel, not the Palestinians,
whose security and dignity are being threatened. This blind defense of
Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians betrays the memory of those
killed in other genocides, from the Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to
Bosnia. The lesson of the Holocaust is not that Jews are special. It is
not that Jews are unique. It is not that Jews are eternal victims. The
lesson of the Holocaust is that when you have the capacity to halt
genocide, and you do not-no matter who carries out that genocide or who
it is directed against-you are culpable. And we are very culpable. The
F-16 jet fighters, the Apache attack helicopters, the 250-pound "smart"
GBU-39 bombs are all part of the annual $2.4 billion in military aid
the U.S. gives to Israel. Palestinians are being slaughtered with
American-made weapons. They are being slaughtered by an Israeli
military we lavishly bankroll. But perhaps our callous indifference to
human suffering is to be expected. We, after all, kill women and
children on an even vaster scale in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bloody
hands of Israel mirror our own.

There will be more dead Palestinian
children. There will be more cases like that of the U.N. school, used
as a sanctuary by terrified families, that was blown to bits
by Israeli shells, with more than 40 killed, half of them women and
children. There will be more emaciated, orphaned children. There will
be more screaming or comatose wounded in the corridors of Gaza's
glutted hospital corridors. And there will be more absurd news reports,
like the one on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, titled "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery."
In this story, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials gave us a spin on
the war worthy of the White House fabrications made on the eve of the
Iraq war. We learned about the perfidious and dirty tactics of Hamas
fighters. Foreign journalists, barred from Gaza and unable to check the
veracity of the Israeli version of the war, have abandoned their trade
as reporters to become stenographers. The cynicism of conveying
propaganda as truth, as long as it is well sourced, is the poison of
American journalism. If this is all journalism has become, if moral
outrage, the courage to defy the powerful, the commitment to tell the
truth and to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice,
no longer matters, our journalism schools should focus exclusively on
shorthand. It seems to be the skill most ardently coveted by most
senior editors and news producers.

There have always been powerful Israeli
leaders, since the inception of the state in 1948, who have called for
the total physical removal of the Palestinians. The ethnic cleansing of
some 800,000 Palestinians by Jewish militias in 1948 was, for them,
only the start. But there were also a few Israeli leaders, including
the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,
who argued that Israel could not pick itself up and move to another
geographical spot on the globe. Israel, Rabin believed, would have to
make peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors to survive.
Rabin's vision of two states, however, appears to have died with him.
The embrace of wholesale ethnic cleansing by the Israeli leadership and
military now appears to be unquestioned.

"It seems," the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe
wrote recently, "that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the
genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to
anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology
or system. ... Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the
oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology-in
its most consensual and simplistic variety-has allowed all the Israeli
governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians
wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from
period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative
covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of
genocide]. ..."

Gaza has descended into chaos. Hamas,
which despite Israeli propaganda has never mustered the sustained
resistance Hezbollah carried out during the Israeli incursion into
southern Lebanon, will be ruled in the future by antagonistic bands of
warlords, clans and mafias. Gaza will resemble Somalia. And out of that
power vacuum will rise a new generation of angry jihadists, many of
whom may spurn Hamas for more radical organizations. Al-Qaida, which
has been working to gain a foothold in Gaza, may now have found its

"Hamas will win the war, no matter what
happens," Avnery said. "They will be considered by hundreds of millions
of Arabs heroes who have recovered the dignity and pride of Arab
nations. If at the end of the war they are still standing in Gaza this
will be a huge victory for them, to hold out against this huge Israeli
army and firepower will be an incredible achievement. They will gain
even more than Hezbollah did during the last war."

Israel operates under the illusion that it
can crush Hamas and install a quisling Palestinian government in Gaza
and the West Bank. This puppet government will be led, Israel believes,
by the discredited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, now
cowering in the West Bank after being driven out of Gaza. Abbas, like
most of the corrupt Fatah leadership, is a detested figure. He is
dismissed as the Marshal Petain of the Palestinian people, or perhaps
the Hamid Karzai or the Nouri al-Maliki. He is as loathed as he is

Israel's destruction of Hamas and
reoccupation of Gaza will not bring peace or security to Israel. It
will merely obliterate the only internal organization with enough
stature and authority in Gaza to maintain order. The Israeli assault,
by destroying Hamas as a governing force, has opened a Pandora's box of
ills. Life will become a nightmare for most Palestinians and, in the
years ahead, for most Israelis.

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