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Israel, Palestine and the collectivist binary

Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death had been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about ‘target-rich environments’ and ‘collateral damage’ – that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing – and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.
Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us’, victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents a total failure of the human spirit.” Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation.

We now can witness the world for all its horrors and beauty with instantaneous voyeuristic delight, live streams and social media accounts allow us to witness war and tragedy unfiltered, at times without narrative. That does not mean that such instant imagery is free of manipulation, we are after all seeing the world through a digital keyhole, often in flickers of seconds or minutes. Gory and desperate instances that will invoke helpless numbness or every other emotion possible. The recent Hamas terror attacks on Israel were bold, ambitious and bloody. From near and afar the sense of fear and dread. Those sympathetic to Hamas’s ideology and methods, support and perhaps inspiration. The reaction to the terror attack, a blunt hammer of Israeli military violence, blasting buildings and homes in the occupied zone of Gaza to rubble.

Witnessing civilians, families and festival goers fleeing armed gun men, seeing the dead and frightened as insurgent/terrorists invade their world of peace one part of the audience in the wider world can relate. The normality of life was savagely interrupted by men of violence. Seemingly from nowhere, like an alien invasion they attacked. To rape, torture, kidnap and murder, the imagery is apparent and many professional media outlets and meme accounts are doing their best to help convey the message that this was unprovoked and sheer savagery. For digital clout, as they did in previous wars, the disingenuous dig up older footage to be shared and associated with what is occurring. Even if the families, children and dead happen to be Palestinians and the gun men Israeli military and police, deception only needs seconds to invigorate bias. In the moments of outrage a lot of viewers can’t comprehend nuance, only the binary. Right now, Israel and it’s innocent are victims. They are relatable.

As a contrast the desperate mega prison of Gaza and other occupied zones is a dystopian misery, a population of prisoners trapped in limbo that no escape appears possible. The Israeli government immediate response has been to blow up buildings, homes, with a warning to escape made public to the wider world. Though the people in the occupied territories can’t escape, they are prisoners at the mercy of the Israeli government and it’s proxy the Palestinian authority. Water and food is controlled and limited by the Israeli government, it is a desperate population. The reprisals, as in the past the region over will kill the innocent and end with the recruitment of more insurgents. Those who support the terrorists, no matter how bloody they are, see this reality. They see the history of occupation and Israeli government tyranny.

So we are left with two narratives, one is the seemingly civilised, orderly, ‘western’ Israel. A shining example of harmony in the otherwise barbaric oriental Middle East and then there are those without a land, the victims of 1948, 1967 and each subsequent Israeli victory, Arab governments betrayal, international blindness and ‘their own authorities’ corruptions. The pride and love for ones own family, people and the sense of injustice experienced by those who would impose, take, rape and murder drives a wedge between reason and passion. Hatred and a need for revenge becomes the instinct and impulse. When mentalities are boiled into a blood lust, revenge is fixated on the collective.

It is complicated to see the killers as individuals, instead they belong to a blob or hive. A member of a unit or because they feel they are defending or representing a nation, ideal or greater body, they seem to lose individualism. This mindset allows for them to act in such a manner that they are not personally responsible, they can do horrible things, genocide, so long as a greater good or justice is being sought. The reprisal to this is that what they as individuals do then reflects upon the group that they claim to champion, those who had nothing to do with the acts of murder are also condemned as being guilty.

Twitter AKA X has become a dumpster fire of opinions, distant witnesses that cling to simplified viewpoints or even those who are excited by human peril. Supposedly anti-war voices calling for the destruction of Gaza, to turn it into a parking lot. America first conservatives, yearning for a crusade. Anti-Semites cheering for death to Jews, anti-Zionists being called anti-Semites and those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause blind to the actions of the Hamas killers. Desperation can justify many things, though it has a tendency to lead to generational hatred. We see that war brings out the worse in humanity, though our myths like to remind us that it brings forth the best. Modern technology allows us that digital window to peer in as we please, for those trapped in the violence to share it if they can. Meanwhile from a digital distance strangers watch on, speculating, picking sides, using the unfolding horror to confirm their biases, whatever they happen to be.

Now we are told that the Iranian government is responsible, somehow Hamas and Hezbollah sources leaked such information. The attacks were conjured up by or with the assistance of the Iranian state, the official narrative states. So, the swords or missiles are pointed at Tehran. History has began yesterday, as it once did in 11 September 2001. Nothing before mattered and those deciding what moments matter most, can determine the narrative for the course of action. If war does come, the facts about the deceptions and scapegoating will follow long after and by then won’t matter. The public, the cheerleaders and bobbling heads of expertise never ashamed, never complicit, ‘Baghdad did 911’, ‘they have WMD’s’, ‘Viagra for Libyan rapist militias’ the lies preceded the missiles and invasion. History rhymes and it did not start yesterday for Israel, Palestine or the wider world.

We will hear those who try to balance reason, that both sides have lost innocent and are responsible for horrible things. Perhaps seeing the situation as sides is the problem, right now inside of Gaza there are families desperately hungry and frightened. They have no power over what is being done to them or who speaks for them. Just as the fleeing victims of the Hamas para glider attack are not privy to Israeli policy on the occupied zones, they may themselves not be settlers and are innocent to the disharmony around them. To compress thousands of human beings into one side or the other defies their agency and empowers those who have taken it upon themselves to be king, to rule, to murder. Robert Fisk was once asked, whose side is he on, he responded, “the side of the innocent.”

Right now, in the midst of turmoil that is a privileged take, and for now in the heat of geopolitics and conflict binaries become fortresses. But human beings embrace one another, they make connections, to piss on the corpses of a foe is as much a step in a direction as offering a bottle of water. The great irony is that those who often cheer for war romance it, uphold the myths of the past. A period where livestreams and drone footage did not capture the terror and reckless waste without censor or Pulitzer prize winning professionals snapping moments for history. We can see the killers, their victims and conscripted alike communicating from their smartphones to the wider world, with bluster, courage, fear and helpless loss. From Armenia, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine to Gaza. The technology in the hands of the common person should allow us empathy and perspective, instead it has only empowered hatred and a sense of righteousness, even the cry for genocide.

Maybe in the many tweets, media headlines and acts of vengeance we can see how histories greatest horror shows were possible at all as the contemporary uploads flicker down our feeds. The ordinary men who could execute thousands at a time or the zealots that would crash planes into buildings, legal and illegal atrocities committed for faith or state alike. For justice, vengeance or some fantastic Utopia, the other, the out group, them, always evil, inhuman, never innocent, the unarmed or child alike forever deserving. The in group, us, the familiar always righteous and no matter how bloody the hands, reason and rationale steers the necessity for such measures, at times even genocide. And the voyeurs, are you not entertained?

October 2023

Published inAll Articles and EssaysWar, History and Foreign Policy