Many of us have called wars like those on Iraq and Afghanistan by the name “wars” or sometimes the name “occupation,” but the current war on Gaza by the name “genocide.” They’ve all been extremely one-sided slaughters of mostly civilians — thus far the latest violence in Gaza the least one-sided of those three. But two of them were U.S. wars and one of them an Israeli war that couldn’t happen without U.S. weapons, U.S. vetoes at the UN, etc. And those running the wars talk differently. Or at least we tend to forget the Congress Members who wanted to turn Iraq into a parking lot while we’re feeling horrified by those who now say that about Gaza. Perhaps the differences are smaller than we suppose. To find bigger differences we should look to the war in Ukraine, about which most people in power talk very differently about arming a nation invaded rather than a nation invading — even if the policy is equally to prevent peace and increase death and destruction.
During one of these wars/genocides it’s almost obscene to make any observation other than STOP IT. And one must start with the side of the war doing the worst of it, in this case the Israeli government, and the imperial monster arming and providing legal and public relations cover, namely the U.S. government, and everyone else taking part in various ways, large and small, or doing nothing at all. If there’s anything, and I’m not sure there is, but if there’s anything that Westerners have been educated not to sit by during it’s genocide. If you ask the average person who thinks little about war or peace to name a justifiable war they are almost certain to say WWII, and if asked why, virtually guaranteed to say one of two H words: Holocaust or Hitler. And in their imagination the war constituted doing something to stop the holocaust, even though the U.S. government’s public excuse for not evacuating the Jews and others threatened with murder was that the war was more important or that Hitler wouldn’t cooperate, and its private reason for not asking Hitler was that he would almost certainly agree to export the Jews as he’d been trying to do for years and then the allies would have to accept all those people whom they didn’t want — and even though the war never publicly or privately had anything to do with stopping murders and itself constituted mass-murder on a much larger scale than that of the death camps. The rare person will bring up the war they imagine should have happened in Rwanda, also supposedly as a remedy for genocide — an excuse also falsely used to start the war on Libya. And now we’re told to sit by and watch, or look away, or engage in whatever the process is — as mysterious to me as prayer — of preparing to spend ten seconds voting for Joe Biden a year from now.
Our top imperative as residents of the United States is to demand an end to the weapons shipments, an end to the legal immunity, an end to the propaganda supporting genocide. Demanding proper warnings before a house is blown up, or pauses so that people can be ethnically cleansed, or trucks of food to people who may be ripped into pieces before they digest it is grotesque. Demanding a ceasefire while shipping more weapons would be a foolish attempt at deception. We need to grasp and act on the simple truth that murdering men, women, children, and infants is evil. When a well-coached girl lied that Iraq was taking infants out of incubators it was deemed justification for mass murder and destruction. That girl is now grown up and bragging about what she did. Now actual little premature babies who actually exist are actually dying in incubators denied electricity by a government openly wanting to eliminate Gazans, and we’re supposed to shut our mouths or be labeled antisemitic? Thank goodness so many good people are not following those instructions. They’re blocking weapons shipments, questioning legislators, protesting media outlets, taking over public places, and eloquently and righteously screaming out to wake the brain-dead, the overfed, the oblivious, and the deluded.
But if we want more people to do even more and even better, and to be more persuasive to more of those we need to join in, then it does matter that we get some details right. I do not mean — if anything I mean the opposite of — what the corporate media means when it says that some Senator like Bernie Sanders is taking a subtler and more nuanced approach than a simplistic slogan. Providing cover for genocide is not nuance; it’s crime.
But I do mean that we need to be subtler than those expert commentators on war, such as the often brilliant Chris Hedges, who suggest that Hamas has a smart strategy of knowingly provoking the mass murder of Gazans because it understands asymmetric warfare. And I think we need to be subtler than the corporate media seeks to depict us as being when it reports on pro-Palestine rallies demanding freedom from the river to the sea. I’ve had conversations with a number of people who’ve told me that they wanted their rallies to be pro-Palestinian, to wave Palestinian flags, and to demand freedom for Palestinians from the river to the sea. It’s not that they don’t want their rallies to be pro-ceasefire or pro-peace or pro-humanity, but that they see no distinction between those things and the others. So, I’ve suggested to them that when genocidal Israeli politicians demand the river to the sea for Israelis it means genocide, and such people and their media servants are going to hear that same phrase as genocidal when spoken on behalf of Palestinians no matter how it’s meant, and that there is no need to help such propagandists, no need to make things easier for them, no need to be the typical peace activists opposing military spending but calling it “defense spending” without even asking for a fee from the weapons companies for doing so.
The miraculous thing here, the rarest of silver linings, is that some people recognize the evil in killing Gazans AND in killing Israelis. That’s almost unheard of. Never before in my experience or in my knowledge of history has there been a war where any significant number of people expected to be on one side have declared both sides to be in the wrong. It’s such a rarity, that it hasn’t developed the rhetorical armor to protect it from various cartoonish criticisms, like the idea that for both sides to be in the wrong they must be exactly equally in the wrong, or that for both sides to be in the wrong all the victims must be to blame and the governments be exonerated, or that for both sides to be in the wrong whichever side a particular person opposes must be in the right.
I want to quote for you an email I received recently in reply to an email from World BEYOND War about peace efforts around the world:
“I unsubscribed but am appalled at you propagating Hamas terrorists propoganda [sic] lies! The gaza [sic] Israel massacre is 100% Hamas terrorists fault! It’s beyond reprehensible that the world is so full of hate and anti Semitism that they unquestioningly support propaganda and lies of hamas/terrorists!”
You’ll notice that support for the genocide in Gaza very often takes a different form than simply supporting genocide in Gaza. Most often it takes the form of changing the conversation to the mass murder of Israelis by Hamas. It also takes the form of blaming Hamas for keeping soldiers or weapons near civilians, thereby supposedly forcing the Israeli government to kill everyone. Or it takes the form of simply denying that it’s happening because, even though there are endless reports and videos and photos, the Hamas government agrees that it’s happening and therefore it isn’t. Or it isn’t happening because the Israeli government is doing it and therefore it is antisemitic to admit it’s happening. This is a favorite accusation from some people who are actually horribly antisemitic.
The various means of excusing the genocide have one thing in common: the belief that one side is 100% right and the other 100% to blame. If you carefully observe the actual world, even locally, even in your own house, there’s almost never anything for which only one party is 100% to blame. If we can’t get rid of an absurd justice system that behaves as if a conviction (even a false one) fixes a crime and exonerates every other person on earth, we can at least stop thinking like prosecutors. Blame is not finite or simple. And mass murder is not justifiable because it’s against a population whose government you have blamed.
I’ve spoken at events in recent days at which people yelled at me that Gaza is an open-air prison, that killing Israelis isn’t killing Israelis because it’s a jailbreak. Well, of course it’s an open-air prison, but killing people can’t be made into not killing people just because it’s something else too. The people of Gaza and the people of the world who have failed to adequately support them live in a world in which nonviolent action is more successful than violent. Killing Israelis remains evil even though you know it’s going to provoke killing Gazans many times over. In fact it’s more evil because of that, even if you release an erudite statement about the long-term strategies of anticolonial asymmetric warfare.
At some of the same events I’ve had people demand to know what it is I want the Israelis to do, surrender to their enemies? But to think such a question is to utterly accept apartheid. When the United States faced the need to end Jim Crow, it was not a need to surrender to its enemies, but to integrate them, to become a nation that included more people on equal terms all as fellow people, neighbors, friends, companions. This was unthinkable to those who insisted on a white nation. In Israel it is unthinkable to those who insist on a Jewish nation. But there’s an answer to that. It’s not an easy answer, even if it’s easy to say it. The answer is to stop thinking of a Jewish nation and absurdly pretending that such a thing can be a democracy. The answer is to set about the hard work of accepting everyone as human beings in a wider and richer, and less violent and hateful state, with freedom of religion, assembly, speech, and of private and cultural behavior.
A two-state solution sounds more plausible, except that it assumes antagonistic apartheid states harboring bitter resentments, and one of them existing in isolated little hamlets dominated by the other state. We need to reconsider what’s more and what’s less plausible. Endless wars would be less plausible without the U.S. arsenal of apartheid, or with U.S. willingness to democratize the United Nations or to join the rules based order of treaties and courts.
Last weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, I debated a professor from the university there on the topic of the war in Ukraine. As expected, he favored more weapons, claimed not to be aware that the U.S. and UK had blocked peace negotiations, spoke as if the 2014 coup didn’t exist, believed Russia’s imperial tendencies erased any role played by NATO’s expansion (no matter how many NATO commentators predicted it in real-time), etc. But what struck me about his argument was that for the most part he didn’t say what he thought at all, he said what political scientists supposedly all thought en masse, and what game theory thinks, and what the supposed logic of the bargaining process that is warfare dictates. And amazingly, every single thing that these impersonal entities thought lined up exactly with what corporate television and newspaper companies think — even if it was perhaps a bit behind the very recent growing acceptance of the existence of the hopeless stalemate.
This professor was relatively smart and informed and well-spoken, yet seemingly not the least bit ashamed to effectively communicate that he was engaged in group-think. He didn’t use that term. He might respond that the wisdom of a large academic community is greater than that of an individual. But first accepting war and then relating what people trying to imitate computers think will happen next in a world accepting war is neither science nor morality. It’s a cop-out. And it plays into the notion of a proper way to think, in a moment when all sorts of improper ways to think are being banned and punished in the name of democracy. So, I thank you for allowing me to say exactly what I think and hope that you will do the same.