A History of Violence

“It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action.” So said the former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, at a commemoration last week of the sixtieth anniversary of the bombing of the King David’s Hotel in Jerusalem. The attack was carried out by a Jewish ‘resistance branch’, disguised as Arabs, and killed ninety-two people, seventeen of whom were Jewish. It made an important contribution to forcing the British out of Palestine and to the foundation of the Israeli state two years later. The group that carried it out was led by the future sixth Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin.

So when Israel insists that it has a long-standing ‘problem’ with terrorism, it has a very good point.

That propensity towards using high levels of many different varieties of violence to get others to do what you want them to is now backed up by more advanced and expensive technology than mere milk churns contaning explosives. The BBC reported last week that the current Prime Minister had ordered the use of something called ‘nocturnal sound bombs’ in order to:

“…make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza”.

On salon.com Sandy Tolan summed up the situation as it stood about two weeks ago – before the attacks on Lebanon:

Under the pretext of forcing the release of a single soldier “kidnapped by terrorists” (or, if you prefer, “captured by the resistance”), Israel has done the following: seized members of a democratically elected government; bombed its interior ministry, the prime minister’s offices, and a school; threatened another sovereign state (Syria) with a menacing overflight; dropped leaflets from the air, warning of harm to the civilian population if it does not “follow all orders of the IDF” (Israel Defense Forces); …fired missiles into residential areas, killing children; and demolished a power station that was the sole generator of electricity and running water for hundreds of thousands of Gazans.

Besieged Palestinian families, trapped in a locked-up Gaza, are in many cases down to one meal a day, eaten in candlelight. Yet their desperate conditions go largely ignored by a world accustomed to extreme Israeli measures in the name of security: nearly 10,000 Palestinians locked in Israeli jails, many without charge; 4,000 Gaza and West Bank homes demolished since 2000 and hundreds of acres of olive groves plowed under; three times as many civilians killed as in Israel, many due to “collateral damage” in operations involving the assassination of suspected militants.

What will be the consequences of Israel’s refusal to let its neighbours sleep? On a demonstration in London yesterday, the leader of the British Muslim Institute drew confused cheers from sections of the crowd when he promised that those leaders who condone and promote Israel’s right to terrorise adjoining countries will soon face ‘revenge’.

Unfortunately, unlike the Palestinians, Tony Blair and George Bush can sleep soundly in their beds. Such ‘revenge’ will not be enacted upon them, but on their citizens – namely ourselves. Given Blair’s refusal to understand the connection between the wars in Iraq and the July bombings, it is quite unlikely that he has considered this. He knows he will never be at personal risk of terrorist attacks.

(In much the same way, he will never have to rely on the National Health Service, which is presumably why he is so keen to privatise large sections of it. The rich have, for obvious reasons, never quite seen the point of the NHS. One would hope that well-educated politicians would learn such things from history, but that has been anathema to the New Labour project.)

I digress.

Even the most cursory glance at the history of the state of Israel teaches us one thing: it is not interested in living at peace within its borders. Given that history, summarised very succinctly in the artice Sandy Tolan article, and its role over the last sixty years, it would be hard to conclude that things could be otherwise:

The latest attacks by Israel in Gaza, ostensibly on behalf of a single soldier, recall the comments by extremist Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, in his eulogy for American Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 slaughtered 27 Palestinians praying in the Cave of the Patriarchs, part of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. “One million Arabs,” Perrin declared, “are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

Israelis, too (like the Palestininians expelled from their land in 1948), are a traumatized people, and Israel’s current actions are driven in part by a hard determination, born of the Holocaust, to “never again go like sheep to the slaughter.” But if “never again” drives the politics of reprisal, few seem to notice that the reprisals themselves are completely out of scale to the provocation: For every crude Qassam rocket falling usually harmlessly and far from its target, dozens, sometimes hundreds of shells rain down with far more destructive power on the Palestinians. For one missing soldier, a million and a half Gazans are made to suffer. Today, Israel’s policy is a case of “never again” gone mad.

In a review of the recent David Cronenburg film ‘A History of Violence’, the writer JG Ballard makes the following point:

The title, A History of Violence, is the key to the film, and should be read not as a tale or story of violence, but as it might appear in a social worker’s case notes: “This family has a history of violence.” The family, of course, is the human family, a primate species with an unbelievable appetite for cruelty and violence. If its behaviour in the 20th century is any guide, the human race inhabits a huge sink estate ravaged by unending feuds and civil wars…

Given its strategically impossible position and its long-standing history of violence, Israel simply cannot and will not let its neighbours sleep.