Gaza burning: Less ?than human

2014-07-21 07:00

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In Palestine, the 19th century never ended

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1, we can better understand the conditions then by following closely events in Palestine this week.

Israel’s behaviour provides the best window we have into the mind-set of Western colonial powers a century ago, when foreigners with superior military equipment and an exaggerated sense of their own national superiority killed, occupied, jailed, confined, defined, slaughtered, exiled, gassed and generally manhandled local Arabs at will, treating them more like animals than human beings.

Today, Israel treats Palestinians as the French, British and Italian colonial powers treated Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, Algerians and Libyans a century ago.

Israel’s colonisation of Arab lands and its disproportionate military savagery against Palestinian civilians are a living history lesson on how colonial powers treated the natives, who they saw either as servants or subversives who had no rights.

They dealt with them mainly through repeated shows of force.

Every few years, Israel unleashes the power of its advanced military machines against an essentially helpless civilian population that has neither escape routes nor shelters from the nonstop bombings from the air.

Without the explanatory lens of colonial history, I see only two ways to understand Israel’s actions.

One explanation would be that Israelis are incredibly stupid people who do not grasp the futility of repeated attacks that never achieve the acquiescence, passivity and servility they seek from the Palestinians.

Another could be that they are pathological killers who relish the sight of bombed Palestinian homes, weeping mothers and the burnt and dismembered bodies of babies and children.

A Palestinian mother grieves on Wednesday outside the morgue in Gaza City after her four children were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat. Picture: Reuters

I know that Israelis are neither of these things. So why do they keep doing what they are doing now – things like dropping 400 tons of explosives on defenceless Gazan families in 36 hours? Why do they do this and then do the same thing a few years later?

A more troubling question is why about 90% of the Israeli people support their government’s war policy. Is this a mass feature of Zionism in Zion, rather than the freak aberration of a few extremists in power?

In my view, they do this because they are locked in perhaps the world’s longest continuous colonial confrontation, between Jewish nationalism and Palestinian Arab nationalism.

They behave exactly like all colonial powers acted towards the locals they conquered between the 18th and the 20th centuries.

Jewish Zionism and Palestinian Arabism have clashed for 120 years. This conflict started when the First Zionist Congress called for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine and the promotion of Zionist settlements there.

More than 90% of the land was owned and inhabited by Palestinian Arabs.

While Zionism has prevailed militarily and in many other ways, the fundamental equation of colonial domination and indigenous resistance persists.

Zionism’s conflict with the indigenous Palestinian Arabs is now entering its sixth generation, and counting.

In 1947, there were 1.5?million Palestinians; they now number around 8?million, and counting. And all of them resist the Israeli presence in their own ways — never forgetting who they are and where they came from, never accepting their dispossession and exile, never acquiescing that they must live eternally in their own Babylonian exile.

Seeing the Israel-Palestine conflict – as well as others in the wider Middle East today – through the lens of colonial history helps us to better understand the two dominant phenomena in the region today.

One is the long-term instability – with the associated continuing conflicts – sparked by colonial adventures a century or more ago across the Middle East and in other parts of the south.

The other is the lingering tension and violence in Palestine-Israel, which continue a legacy of the late 19th century.

Many anticolonial movements across the world ultimately ended white Western tutelage over vast expanses of the globe – except in Palestine. There, the descendants of indigenous Arabs today still battle the descendants of immigrant Zionists.

The small indigenous Jewish community that had lived in Palestine for centuries was always part of the local culture. It was not seen as alien or threatening because the community was indigenous and not colonial in its mind-set.

The delayed consequences of colonialism include the astounding variety of political and sectarian violence that we are presently seeing across the region – most notably in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and other lands that were colonised by European powers and then ravaged by their own incompetent and vicious military rulers.

This tumultuous context, and the savage battles in Palestine-Israel, suggest that the colonial era never really ended.

We continue to suffer the ugly consequences of white men from the North with powerful guns and fighter planes who feel they can kill thousands of darker people from the South with total impunity.

– The Nation, distributed by Agence Global

Khouri is director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

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