Unprecedented in Modern History – After Gaza, what?

Israeli forces continue to carry out massacres in Gaza. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Jeremy Salt

After Gaza, what hope can there be for any kind of peace with Israel? What did the 1990s ‘peace process’ do except leave the Palestinians far worse off than before?  

The news from Gaza, 274 people were killed in an Israeli ‘rescue’ operation, and hundreds were wounded. Bodies are torn apart, left headless, limbless, bits and pieces scattered in the streets, more infernal than anything Dante could have imagined. 

This has gone on for more than eight months. The ‘death toll’ of close to 40,000 will be much higher because of all the bodies that have not been found. In any case, the ‘death toll’ is for natural disasters, whereas these mass killings are deliberate, day after day and month after month.

Secular language has been stretched beyond its limits. There is no other word but evil for the calculated destruction of Gaza and the slaughter of tens of thousands of its people, some 17,000 of them children.

The homeless are even bombed in their tents. Famine is used as a weapon of war. The destruction of infrastructure has left the Palestinians without clean water and garbage collection. The mounds of rubbish are spreading disease. The people are left even without the dignity of toilets, one now for every 340 people, UNICEF reports.

None of this is the unforeseen consequence of war but planned from the beginning, and calculated to turn the Palestinians into the ‘human animals’ rabbis, politicians and generals over the years have always said they are. Nothing is left out in this full-frontal assault on human dignity. 

The genocide now on public display was inherent in Zionism from the beginning.  Gaza is continuity, not an aberration. Only through genocide could Palestine be seized for ‘the Jewish people’ and the Jewish people alone. The evil of what was planned and accomplished leads directly to Gaza and the hate amongst the young people massing around the Haram al-Sharif during the ‘flag march.’ They turned on lone Palestinians, kicking and cursing them, laughing and jeering while chanting “death to the Arabs” and “may your villages” burn.

The threats are not empty rhetoric because in the West Bank, these young people are murdering or beating Palestinians, burning their villages, destroying their crops, and driving them off their land.   

They are the evil flowering of the ideology that gave birth to the state. The violence and racism of the state give rise to a people indoctrinated with lies and hatred from an early age. Gaza, pogroms on the West Bank and vicious teenagers running through the laneways of Jerusalem are the inevitable outcome. 

They are not stopped but incited and protected by the state. They represent what the state is. 

Stories are spilling out of the most horrific treatment of kidnapped Palestinians, ranging from murder and the rape of men with an iron spike to humiliation.  Compare their daily torment with the four Israeli hostages just freed at the cost of 274 lives. All healthy and well looked after. 

Over months there have been mass demonstrations against Netanyahu but not over the mass murder in Gaza. Only a handful of Israelis have taken a stand against it. The rest want the war to continue, and support even more destructive tactics by the military. Their soldiers mock the Palestinians while standing in the ruins of the homes, schools and shops they have destroyed. Their social media lights up with jeering and amusement at Palestinian suffering. 

Perhaps most shocking of all is the indifference to the mass murder of children. Even though Israel is at war with Hamas, these are still innocent children. How can they be butchered like this without the Israelis themselves rising up to stop it? Can’t they see their own children in the sad eyes of the survivors of these attacks? 

Apart from the young bodies torn apart in missile strikes or tank fire, thousands of children have had their limbs torn from their bodies.  

They lie in pools of blood on hospital floors because there are no beds for them and almost no hospitals. They have to endure amputation without anesthesia because there is none. Can Israeli parents imagine this for their own children? 

Thousands more have been left without family to look after them because all the family has been killed, mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles and grandparents. 

We have never seen anything like this in modern history and there will be retribution even if there is not the final cataclysmic war that seems not far off. At some point in the future, the survivors will pay Israel back for what it has done. 

‘Western’ governments say they are concerned but they are not concerned enough to protect these children. Would they be just ‘concerned’ if these were Jewish or Christian children? The question is not why governments don’t do something but how can they not do something?   

Instead of stopping Israel, the US and other countries continue to supply it with arms so it can continue the killing. Still others manufacture the parts for Israeli weapons and maintain their ‘defense’ ties with Israeli corporations producing the weapons killing Palestinians every day. 

Australia is a prime example, its government signing a $917 million contract with Elbit Systems even though the ICJ has ruled that Israel is committing “plausible” genocide in Gaza. Elbit is a major arms corporation, producing drones and other weapons that are killing Palestinians every day. 

Like many others, Australian politicians say they support a ceasefire. They call on Israel to show restraint long after it has shown no restraint. They support a two-state solution but they don’t actually do anything to follow up the word with deeds, which could begin with something as basic as recalling the Australian ambassador. They have turned their ‘support’ for the infinitely remote im/possibility of a two-state solution into a pretext for doing nothing this year and for years to come.  

The journalist Laura Tingle recently caused outrage by describing Australia as a racist country. The focus of her remarks was not discrimination against migrants of non-European background. Against the background of Gaza, the issue also raises the racism deeply embedded in political and media support for Israel despite its massacres of tens of thousands of Palestinians. It cannot remotely be imagined that the reaction would be the same if this was not Israel and the victims had white skins and were of European background.  

Evil is a very strong word. It comes from theology and describes something beyond the capacity of secular language to describe. At root the word comes not from on high but from what human beings recognized long ago as the worst possibilities of human behavior and inscribed the word in their religious texts. We use other words – bad, shocking, wicked – but only evil is truly adequate to describe what is in the minds of those planning and carrying out the Gaza genocide. 

Where the Middle East goes from here is speculation but there is one direction it will not be taking. There will be no going back to October 6, not for the Palestinians, not for the Arab and Muslim worlds, and not for Israel. 

Gaza is a turning point – a reference point – as important as any in the past century. After Gaza, what options are left? Only one–armed resistance? After Gaza, have Hamas, Hezbollah and the Ansarallah pointed the (only?) way ahead? After Gaza, who could ever trust the US and the Europeans again? After Gaza, what hope can there be for any kind of peace with Israel? What did the 1990s ‘peace process’ do except leave the Palestinians far worse off than before?  

After Gaza, what will the US do but take charge of ‘negotiations’ and lead the Palestinians into another trap? 

The public mood across the Middle East is volatile. Rage at Israel is combined with bitter reflections on the refusal of Arab governments to rise up in defense of Palestine and its holy places. After Gaza, is there not a point at which this amalgam of rage and despair will finally boil over?

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press) and The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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