Dec 312008

As the crisis in Gaza continues, as always when it comes to discussing war and conflict, the voices most silenced are those of women.  One of the wise female  voices that we should be listening to in trying to forge a path of peace is Starhawk who, in the analysis below excerpted from an essay received via e-mail, accurately and eloquently explains the horrific consequences of invisibilizing that is done with state sanction in the name of religious imperative :

“I just don’t get it.  I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right.  Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.

Is it a distance thing?  Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect?  Or is it a matter of scale?  Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this.  Or rather, I do get it.  I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel.  The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis.  But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story.  There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out.  It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.

The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned.  If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you.  It’s like you can’t really focus on them.  Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they?  They don’t exist.”  We hear, “There is no partner for peace,”  “There is no one to talk to.”

And so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void.  I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact.  But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they?  They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either.  At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.

When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers.  Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—parents, grandparents, kids and all.  I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room.  (I got out of that one—but that’s another story.)

It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at.  Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap?  And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.

Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales.  The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank.  And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room.  Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.

“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says.  “All we want is peace.”

One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you.  In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.

But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people.  The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with—because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.

The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive.  If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

It’s this—instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow.  Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them.  Make alliances.  Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.

Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy.  If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”

And you must be willing to give something up.  No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.”  You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.

To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story.  They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals.

But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes.  Oh, how painfully it changes!  For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:

“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”

Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out.  Say it three times.  It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.

And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.

Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone.  To atone is to be at one—to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.

How do we atone? Open your eyes.  Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious.  Stop killing.  Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.

Act.  Cross the line.  There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace.  Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.

There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.

There are internationals who have put themselves on the line—like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world.  When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.



Postscript 12/29/08:

As of this writing, a third consecutive day of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed an estimated 315 Palestinians and injured more than 1,400.  According to the UN, at least 51 of the victims were civilians and 8 were children.  Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has vowed ominously “a war to the bitter end.”

Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip are being carried out with F16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and naval gunboats all given to Israel by the United States with our tax dollars.

From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16’s and more than $100 million worth of helicopter spare parts for its fleet of Apaches. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel and signed a contract to transfer an addition $1.9 billion worth of littoral combat ships to the Israeli navy. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles.

Make no mistake about it-Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip would not be possible without the jets, helicopters, ships, missiles, and fuel provided by the United States.

 December 31, 2008  Posted by on December 31, 2008

  7 Responses to “Starhawk on Gaza: “I Just Don’t Get It…Or Rather, I Do.””

  1. Thank you for sharing Starhawks comments.
    Of course she is a “self hating Jew” according to those who support anything Israel does.

    I will admit to always being against war, but the war’s of today are the most immoral of all wars.

    What is occuring in Gaza and theWest Bank of the Palestinian territories is unbelieveable.

    I was totally ignorant of what is occuring there until 2004 when I followed the voice of God in my head that told me I needed to go to the Palestinian territories.

    Seeing first hand what is occuring and experiencing it opened my eyes!

    Talking with Jewish people who are opposed to what their government is doing along with Palestinians taught me a great deal.

    When Israel moved the Settlers out of Gaza I was certain they planned to attack and invade Gaza in an unrelenting way under the guise of “protecting” Israel.

    I believe the plan is to totally destroy Gaza now that only those “dirty, Terrorits Palestinians” live there. That way Israel can appropriate Gaza.

    The world is asleep or too frightened of being called anti-semetic if they condemn the actions of Israel. Too bad the world forgets that Palestinians are also a Semetic people.

  2. Nice posting, though I disagree with you. Two questions for you: one, do you hold Jews to a higher standard (I do) and two, does Hamas have any responsibility in this matter?

  3. Will no intelligent comment on the Israeli actions toward the Palestinians ever pass without someone saying; But but but Hamas or whomever? The answer is No, because so many see the horror and wrongness of what Israel is doing, in fact treating another people exactly as they have been treated and can only justify it in their minds by blaming those actions on someone else. It’s a very human way of ducking blame.

    Its very similar to our war with Iraq. Bring up the fact that tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, or Iraqi civilians have died and someone invaritably brings up 911, as if that makes it all okay.

    Really this is a very sick responce.

  4. An excellent article. Thank you for sharing it. I am a little bit curious about Steve’s comment. If he does hold Jews to higher standard would that not mean that the Jewish state should be the great shining beacon of human rights? That Israeli peacekeepers would be dispatched to the furthest reaches of the globe to ensure that genocide and ethnic cleansing would never be repeated? In Darfur? Kosovo? At the very least in their own backyard? But that’s not the sense I get. When Israelis (not all… but unfortunately, most) say “Never again” they should add “… to us. But screw everyone else”. The cause and effect cycle laid out by Starhawk seems painfully obvious to me but apparently is missed by folks like Steve. Just as the realization that perhaps the apartheid policies of the Israeli government have created an environment rich for the breeding of hate and the continuing growth in popularity of hate-groups like Hammas? Sorry for the rambling post… I’m just trying to wrap my head around what “a higher standard” would actually look like.

  5. Great article it seems that the objective here, is to kill all the palistainians that israel can. then take over this smaal plot of land (gaza strip)and call it part of israel. the only problem is how will the world react to this. when we know what they are up to.

  6. This Starhawk apparent does NOT know the history of the region very well…Jews have ALWAYS lived there…90 percent of Jewiish immigrants into Israel in the late 18th century and 19th were legal and encouraged. Jews PURCHASED property…then the Arabs attacked them…

    Hamas has decided to attack Israel unprovoked, Israel responds

  7. Sorry, John, that’s not quite right. This is part of the story we all believed, but in fact we did not just purchase property from the “stupid” Arabs who didn’t know anything about farming, and then they attacked us because of envy. There is some evidence that the Jews have been acting not always in a very friendly way, even before they have been attacked – please read for example Tom Segev.

    I experienced exactly the same painful change that Starhawk describes: We all believed in the pureness and moral and – how shameful – the ‘higher standard’ of our Jewish peolpe and the young Israeli state. But we have to face reality: We have made mistakes – which doesn’t mean that Hamas is out of responsibility. But we are occupiers since more than 41 years and we have to find solutions, now. If we don’t, we’ll come to the lowest standard a people can reach.

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