Gaza is bleeding. Starving. Raising mud huts amid uncleared rubble.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirms that adequate food, medicine and construction material is not being allowed in. Monitoring of mainstream North American media confirms that the news of a five-alarm humanitarian crisis isn’t getting out.
Even given the routine airbrushing of Israeli atrocities, the disparity between the scale of devastation in Gaza and the sparseness of media attention is particularly grotesque. It was only last winter that TV viewers around the world were watching white phosphorous trails crisscross Gaza skies and listening to credibly sourced reports about the targeting of schools and United Nations facilities. But these images and reports have been allowed to fade.
Israel continues to enjoy immunity-through-invisibility. It is allowed to bar doctors and journalists from the scene of possible war crimes, a practice that would trigger outraged denunciation anywhere else. It is not compelled to answer questions before an international commission. It is, however, free to lob long distance creampuffs of “rebranding”, like the truckloads of Tel Aviv beach sand dumped in Manhattan’s Central Park.
Operation Cast Lead is being routed to the same memory hole as the 1948 ethnic cleansing known as the Nakba (catastrophe) –” a term which has just been banned from textbooks by Israel’s Education Ministry. The forcible displacement (punctuated by massacres) of three-quarters of a million Palestinians added 200,000 refugees from southern Palestine to Gaza’s original population of 80,000. (Today, registered refugees make up three-quarters of Gaza’s million and a half inhabitants.)
But Gaza will not go quietly into that memory hole. Gaza will stand as a hologram of Israeli destructiveness. It will serve as an ongoing standard of reference, a permanent denominator in Israel’s credibility quotient. Memory traces of white skytrails will backlight the public arena wherever Israel parades its latest facts-on-the-ground. Last winter’s blitzkrieg cast a longstanding strategy into sharp relief: provoke a retaliatory outburst (e.g., break a ceasefire by shooting putative trouble-makers), then use it as a pretext to unleash massive force. Civilians may be killed with abandon and medical care denied to survivors. Schools, mosques and UN facilities may be targeted for attack.
Of course, whatever the scenario, Israel’s enablers and defenders can be counted on to assume the role of defamed innocent and churn out a non-stop stream of sanctimonious denial. Thus, while Israel basked in the flickering dimness of media attention to its rampage, Executive Director Howard Kohr stood before AIPAC’s policy conference in May to bemoan “the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel” that had invaded “mainstream discourse”. But solipsism is a slippery slope. Israel’s defenders have been slow to realize that the conspicuously faint coverage only spreads the perception that a deeply rooted Zionist slant prevails in the mainstream press and broadcast media.
Gaza spotlights the hypocrisy of Israel’s (and America’s) hosannas to democratic process. The crippling embargo put in place after Hamas’ triumph at the polls in 2006 demonstrates that you invite enforced malnutrition and economic collapse if you vote the wrong way in a free election. Thanks to the blockade, the amount of goods entering Gaza is only one quarter of what it used to be. The anemia rate stands at 65 percent among children less than a year old, and 35 percent among pregnant women.
Gaza will retain casebook status as a laboratory for testing the limits of bare-knuckled management of a captive population by an occupying power. The currently comatose Ariel Sharon stretched the parameters in the early seventies while heading the IDF’s Southern Command. In a single month (August 1971) he was responsible for the destruction of 2,000 homes and the consequent homelessness of 16,000 Gazans. Under his “pacification” regimen, if a refugee camp child had the chutzpah to throw a rock, his parents or relatives were expelled into the desert, equipped with a canteen of water and some pita bread.
Ultimately, Gaza will prevail through sheer survival. It has endured sustained efforts at population-thinning, not to mention exclusion from its own beaches. With atrocities and outrages creeping closer to public recognition, Israel’s immunity will not endure. The evidence is at hand waiting to be examined, and the gatekeeper/defendant is losing its license to cloak and conceal, as well as its monopoly on shaping public narrative.
Another immunity that will not endure is that shielding Jews outside Israel from direct reprisal for atrocities committed by the state that claims to speak in their name. Zionists are already circling the wagons. The rest of us, absent widespread muscular rejection of Israel, will be left twitching reactively to outbreaks of anti-Jewish aggression. The period for discretionary initiative has almost run out.
So external as well as internal (conscience) pressures may contribute to a final Gaza legacy: drastic Jewish self-examination culminating in accelerated withdrawal from Zionism, the notion that Israel is the center of gravity for every Jew. A prototype for disavowal was rolled out in the wake of the first Intifada, when hundreds of Jewish Americans signed a magazine advertisement (placed in the Congressional Record for February 29, 1988) entitled “Time to dissociate from Israel”.
Today, with the stakes rising every day, the time is ripe for a full-fledged declaration of independence.