Tragedy, Here We Come!

by Guy Walker

On May 21st, 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with incredible economic devastation still to come, the Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill to give Israel a minimum of $38 billion over the next ten years, about $10 million per day, shuffled out of our coffers like piñata confetti. Most of us were still hiding behind drawn curtains, mixing antidepressants with wine, holding Lysol cans with both hands, ready to spray anything that came near us. It didn’t matter though, there was a conflict to fund. In the 1948 expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs — about half their population at the time — and the destruction of between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages, their Nakba (“disaster” or “catastrophe” in Arabaic) was solidified and ensured. So, when news came out that the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million of precision-guided weapons to Israel, and Netanyahu has continued this bombing campaign that’s killed more than 200 Palestinians this current round, more than a quarter of which have been children, trying to take control of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, it was no wonder people lost their minds.

The broad conversation about the conflict has come a long way. Even the most recent major escalation, in 2014, didn’t garner nearly this much public support for the Palestinian people. People have taken to the streets, marching in solidarity, in numbers never before seen. A hundred thousand marched in London; twenty thousand marched in Chicago; ten thousand in D.C. They’re doing it all over the world, with obvious cultural parallels to the George Floyd protests, and it might just help nudge the tone and tenor of international diplomacy, perhaps even how much military aid the US is willing to give Israel in the future. But you can almost hear the stammering replies wherever you go. But what about the rockets? Are you willing to condemn Hamas? Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself? Some iterations of these have been repeated into the echoing eternity, with vast cauldrons of dead Palestinian children all stamped and numbered and categorized that they were killed in self-defense. Excusing an apartheid state in the shoal depths of disbelief. If you hear someone explain why it’s both sides that are fault, why both sides need to come to the table for peace, why both sides have attacked and killed innocent civilians, be wary of what they’re trying to accomplish. Of course we don’t support Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately at centers of large civilian populations. Of course we don’t support the deafening nescience of antisemitism that has materialized. Even having to say this is the fault of political speak, an obligatory platitude that produces squeamishness in all who are around to hear it. Of course both sides have committed unconscionable acts of horror, and dismantled families forever. But the clean and convenient determination of both sides, as if you can now dust your hands clean of the confrontation, and not have to pick a side, as if you were perfectly balancing horror on one of those antique brass balance scales, looked at it through your pince-nez glasses, and determined yes, yes, both sides are indeed at fault. It just isn’t that kind of scale.

As Jeremy Scahill notes in his piece in The Intercept, this is an “asymmetric campaign of terror waged by a nuclear power against a people who have no state, no army, no air force, no navy, and an almost nonexistent civilian infrastructure.” They live in what amounts to an open air prison, as Scahill notes, continuously bombarded and encroached upon, in an eight decade long Nabka. Stories have been published about families in Gaza coming together under the same roof, simply so they can die together. Ethno-nationalist mobs are storming through the streets of Israel, terrorizing and beating Arab civilians, organizing themselves in over a hundred WhatsApp groups. So, when Hamas fires rockets, it is a desperate ditch effort of bringing a stone to a gunfight. In addition, Hamas’ rockets are virtually ineffective. The Iron Dome air defense system intercepts almost all rocket attempts from Hamas. During the Operation Pillar of Defense, in November of 2012, Iron Dome determined two-thirds of the rockets fired were not a threat, and intercepted ninety percent of the remaining 300. Only three Israelis were killed in this attack, due to what was determined a malfunction in the Iron Dome system. So, this is not a balancing-act-of-blame when one side is backed by a blank check military apparatus from the United States, a policy that has long been the status quo by both Democrats and Republicans. From 1995 to 2005, for example, Israel and the United States developed the Nautilus laser defense system, spending $600 million, only to scrap it altogether, concluding it wasn’t feasible after all. This is what the people of Palestine are up against, trapped in their claustrophobic cage of death and sodden misery as a nuclear power is funded from the other end. So while Hamas is far from a gleaming, functioning democracy, it’s unfortunately the only armed resistance that’s willing to fight back. The shimmering horrors of desperation breeds madness, and madness breeds more desperation, like an entropic feedback loop that only produces more misery.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capitol. Israel took control of the eastern end of the city in 1967, after the Six Day War, formally annexing it in the 80’s. In the Old City of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount, a holy site to both Muslims and Jews. Known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, it’s one of three of the holiest sites, the third holiest amongst Sunni Muslims, as the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven. According to Jewish theology, the third and final Temple will be built when the Messiah comes. The first was built by King Solomon in 957 BCE, and destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire nearly four hundred years later. Zerubbabel, governor of the Achaemenid Empire’s province Yehud Medinata, built the second, which was then destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. And so they’re waiting around for the Messiah to come and build the final one. So, if it’s the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf who controls it, the Israeli police or military, or some combination of the two, banning one another access or open prayer at the site, the clashing will continue into its disarray. The Israeli settlements are about ensuring dominance in the area, and therefore exclusivity to their holy site.

In one sense, the absurdity of these ancient cartoon horrors seem like just another footnote in our never-ending lineage of tribal and religious wars. Different broods of antiquated beliefs throwing war-bloated tantrums over who control the shiny dome. There’s an impulse to scoff the whole thing away, the way Christopher Hitchens did in his later years, and say if religions want to bomb each other for having such stupid beliefs, let them do what they want. But Hitchens became insipid and callous in his later years. It’s too important and heart-wrenching to follow that impulse, to lose our empathy across nations, to lose that a priori understanding of ourselves as a product of one another. Too many innocent people are dying and losing their homes, and everything they know. I grew up religious, in a pious and reserved Christian Science family. I went to a Christian Science liberal arts college, and read enough Nietzsche and Baudrillard, Foucault and Derrida, Dawkins and Sagan, to quickly turn me into a predictably pompous, intellectually-entitled atheist. I don’t know what I am now, but I do know there is a danger in monocultures of vast secularism — it breeds religious ignorance, and therefore historical ignorance. And civilizations that don’t know their history are doomed. There’s probably never going to be a happy medium, never going to be a common plateau of scientific literacy that just replaces the void where the stories of religion once dominated. I sense that Dawkins and other famous atheists believed it would. But we do what we can, to be tolerable of the truths that tend to waver.

Or, maybe Hobbes was correct, in that this is the hell we’ve created for ourselves by realizing the truth all too late. The oppressed become the oppressors. All too often this is the cyclical pattern of our bilious hellscape. Torch and torture the Other, corral them into bitter opprobriums, tighten the paddocks of rubble and chewed rebar, see how pathetic and barbarous they’ll become, what profanities they’ll stoop to. Why do we do this? Are we not less brutes than when we crawled from the muck of sulphuric pits? Has our wealth and modernity only succeeded in distancing ourselves from the scorched perdition we send elsewhere? Years ago, I would just quote something by Schopenhauer or someone, who said religions are like fireflies because they need darkness to shine. But it’s not satisfying to blame religion anymore. If you blame the banners of strange belief, you again dust your hands clean of anything further; you say, it’s tribal warfare way over there, and you move on. Chomsky has spent the better part of his life criticizing American foreign policy not because it’s a voguish contrarian thing to do; but because we are, in effect, partly responsible for it, and have the obligation to try to change it in whatever infinitesimally small way we can. So you stand on the streets with others, in solidarity protests, you donate to the causes you see fit, because it’s adding in some way to the collective psyche that our legacy of death and colonization needs to end.

And things are changing in some ways. It’s daunting to imagine a collective response from our ill-equipped peasantry against a $38 billion siphon into a rightwing colonial apartheid state, and then an additional $735 million military bonus like is was a casual gift basket; but mass movements operate like an immune system within our defective species, pushing like pleading armies for things to autocorrect. Will things get worse before they get better? Almost certainly. But I feel like people have been saying that for centuries. I do believe we’re caught in a cyclone of self-made entropy, our ejaculatory ennui smearing the whole world with an unraveling foment like it was a slug trail of despair, most of our wealth going to more advanced ways of killing ourselves and the planet. But we still try to nudge our quaint and adorable hopes forward. Because maybe, against all odds, we’ll win once or twice. And those will start to add up.

Israel Hates Fireworks

(Originally published on http://www.paradiseofstorm.tumblr.com on July 16, 2014)

by Guy Walker

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The little boy was running down the narrow alleyway, past all that torn sad rubble, past the fresh market with the thousand shouting vendors and their thousand scents, and the call to prayer summoned all the holy merchants to their knees, and the evening pushed its better light upon the walls of all the buildings. The boy knew he would be late for supper if he didn’t run, and he had promised his mother he wouldn’t be late. But it was just a little further now.

At the same time, an Israeli warplane was lifting off from the tortured dusty grounds of a military base. It headed towards Gaza. The sky between Israel and Gaza just a thick traffic of clouds from planes and rockets.

Minutes passed. The boy arrived home just on time, just as the evening sun warmed his family’s blue front door. Then the stray sad dogs looked up and started barking madly, yelling at the sky. A flock of pigeons burst from their perch. Then everything was bright and horrific and deafening. The building to the family had been blown to bits. The streets were filled with running screaming mothers, children everywhere, a cathedral of rubble and agony behind them emerging from the ashen air.

Another attack aimed at the Islamic militant group Hamas struck a Palestinian family instead. The Islamic militants have so far fired more than 1,200 rockets towards Israel, fueled by a several-decade feud over land occupation. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has intercepted at least 150 of the missiles fired, resulting in its first Israeli death. As of July 15, after eight days of Israeli retaliation, at least 220 Palestinians have been killed. No major reports could be immediately confirmed about exactly who was killed, but the Los Angeles Times offered that about half of those deaths were women and children. The reports couldn’t be confirmed because the attacks were on civilians, not the Islamic militants themselves. In other words, a bunch of praying families in their homes. Israeli supporters call the innocents that have been killed ‘collateral damage,” meaning a mother or child or shopkeeper that may have been killed was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But collateral damage doesn’t exist in the storm of war. On July 16, an Israeli naval ship bombed and killed four Palestinian children playing on the beach in the Gaza harbor. When the remaining surviving children ran for cover, a second shell was reportedly aimed at them.

The rockets being fired from Gaza are more like very banal forms of firework shows. Kids with sparklers could hurt more Israelis than Hamas militants. A 2012 analysis revealed that roughly 12,000 rockets fired over twelve years resulted in twenty-two Jewish deaths. That is, a kill rate of 0.175%. In 2013, of all the proud sparkling skies in the United States, an estimated 11,400 injuries were reported from fireworks. That is, when it comes to rockets, a drunken howling patriotism is possibly more threatening than the Hamas militants.

President Obama has offered to moderate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, calling for a peaceful resolution. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israel’s Prime Minister Netanayhu directly by phone, telling the Prime Minister he thought it was a good idea if everyone stopped killing each other, and that the United States could actually broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. But Netanyahu said before a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, “We don’t know when the operation will end. It could take much longer.” He assured that Israel would only continue to act “in a patient and levelheaded manner,” as it always has, in places like the Gaza harbor, restoring peace and security to its country. Egypt also proposed a ceasefire plan. Israel accepted, while Hamas said the proposal, “was not worth the ink it was written with.”

As President Obama imposes new sanctions on Russia for their attacks on Ukraine, he ignores the significant threat of enduring war in the Middle East—US money and weapons. Since the Israeli state was formed in 1948, the United States has contributed more than $234 billion towards the stability and security of the state. Moshe Arens, former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington, puts it another way: “As a democratic country, the U.S. has good relations with other democratic countries, which have economic and military importance. In the past, during the Cold War period, Israel sided with the United States and today Israel is the best partner America has in the war on terror.” The best partner in the war on terror doesn’t just mean killing children playing on the beach, or killing eighteen members from the same family—it also means the Israeli children longing to “return to their ancient homeland,” something that the few remaining Native Americans surely empathize with the Israeli-dependent defense system. That is, $234 billion dollars to kill Palestinian families, to further divide the Middle East into a lawless arenaceous dystopia of broken gods in misery. That’s close to $6.5 million a week, every week, for six and a half decades. But the United States is not foolish with its money—it has already made some of that money back. In 2001 alone, the U.S. sold a hundred F16s to Israel for close to $3 billion. In 2013, it sold $10 billion worth of arms to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, “provid[ing] missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help them counter any future threat from Iran,” says the New York Times. In other words, the U.S. is giving Israel huge amounts of money so they can spend a little bit of that money buying an American military arsenal. The “threat from Iran” means the threat from some volatile Arab nuclear state. Nobody wants a nuclear war, except maybe Ann Coulter, who wants to corral all the Arabs and all the soccer balls together, and kill them or turn them Christian. But Israel might actually be worse than Ann Coulter. In May of 2010, the Guardian reported, “Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.” Pretty much everyone wants the escalation of misery—it makes people happy.

Israel is the American military’s ‘A’ student, as its sordid escalation of death is almost as good as death itself. Israel’s reaction against Hamas-dominated Gaza is something strikingly similar to the U.S. military’s Battle of Fallujah in March of 2004. Iraqi insurgents had ambushed a convoy of Blackwater USA, the private mercenary company now known as Academi, under the umbrella company Contellis Holdings, killing four American private mercenaries. The U.S. military responded by invading the city of Fallujah, under the name Operation Vigilant Resolve. It didn’t resolve much. It killed at least 600 Fallujahns, at least half of which of non-combatants. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the Marines closed both of the city’s main hospitals, positioning U.S. snipers atop one of the hospital’s water tower. It was a very patriotic moment for the military and for its taxpayers, as Sgt. Maj. William Skiles described it, “may the dogs of Fallujah eat hardy off our dead enemy.” And a few days later, when Paul Bremer announced a ceasefire, wanting to facilitate negotiations itself. And the stray dogs roamed the streets and chewed on all that enduring fatless misery.

Israel is modern romance compared to Iraq. No American troops deployed. No bad press. A potentially endless war, requiring an endless arsenal of death, bought from the United States itself. But even the Iraq war was mature and thoughtful in its own right. By attacking a country preemptively, and wrongly predicting they had weapons of mass destruction pointed at the Americans, the United States would have made Niccolo Machiavelli like a proud young father staring down at his firstborn. Still bloody and screaming and blind, our umbilical cord has finally been cut. Now we can scream freely into all that florescent light above. After 500 years of our gallant heights of Western misery, the United States has turned Machiavelli’s prime written wisdom into the real thing. No matter how immoral, Machiavelli argued, the ends always justified the means for preserving and restoring political authority. By this philosophy, the four children playing on the beach really were collateral damage—they were in the way of the machine. And the family of eighteen really was not a decent enough substance against U.S.-made and sold F16s.

Just as nobody knows why we really went to Iraq, and killed an estimated 500,000 of their men, women, and children, nobody really knows why the United States gives Israel so much money and so many weapons. “As for Israel,” says Obama, “our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.” This kind of vague sardonic torment of the human capacity for clear communication is something only Machiavelli could teach. Never reveal your true intentions, he wrote, and “act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion, in order to preserve the state.” And so another missile strikes. And the mothers scream.

When New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond was asked what book he would require President Obama to read, Diamond answered with Machiavelli’s The Prince, because it illustrates that “we are not helpless in the hands of bad luck.” No we are not. The children playing on the beach are. The family of eighteen is. As are the rest of the 220 Palestinians killed so far.

But across the desert there is a river running smooth and slow. And a little boy has run all the way from school to sit and watch the fish roam and sometimes look up at him. And he drops little pebbles in to see the fish turn their heads again. And the sun goes down near the horizon and turns the trees many colors, and the boy thinks to himself that he is very lucky to see all these pretty things. And then the sky turns completely white.