When I was a kid, my big brother was always “picking on me.” He was stronger and smarter and to him, I was a pest, always messing up his things, embarrassing him in front of his friends and getting in his way. To keep me under control, he would pinch, push and yell at me. When all that failed, he would hit me. Every now and then, I would screw up my courage and hit him back. Invariably, he would run to mother announcing, “Tommy hit me! You see, no body can live with him,” and invariably, I would be the one to get punished. We both knew that the only way for him to get away with it was to leave out the first round about who hit who first. That’s called second chapter payback. Not one time… never, did he admit that he had hit me first.
What Israel is into today is not security, but pulling off “second chapter paybacks.” Israel hits the Palestinians for being Arabs and living in the land and having the water Israel claims Yahweh gave to the Jews. However, the problem with “payback” is not just that it so often begins with the second chapter but that it never ends with the last. Recently, Larry King interviewed Jimmy Carter: [i]
KING: Do you think Israel was right in retaliating when it was hit with missiles every day, to go into Gaza. (Absolutely not the first chapter.)
CARTER: Well, you have to remember something in perspective. Of Course, it’s bad to fire missiles. It’s bad to kill civilians. But the year before the cease fire went into effect last June the 19th, which I went over and helped to negotiate, there had been one – a total of one Israeli killed in an entire year. And an average of 49 Palestinians were killed every month. So, that kind of puts it into perspective.
But, I think it’s best for all of us to condemn any violence on either side. And what we need is just two things right now. One is to open up the gates going into Gaza so that people can have food and water and medicines and fuel. And on the other hand, stop all the missiles and also, all the firing of – dropping bombs and so forth -- end the violence. And I think it is possible.
KING: One of the problems is, I mean, if someone was dropping missiles into Atlanta, you would retaliate wouldn’t you? I mean it’s just human form to do that. (He ignores Carter’s points and jumps again to the second chapter)
CARTER: If I couldn’t stop it otherwise, I certainly would, yes. One way to stop it would have been to open up the supply of fuel and water and food and medicines to let 1.5 million Palestinians have a decent life.
The first chapter of Payback began years before rockets with closures, assassinations, theft of land and water. The first chapter goes back at least 60 years when Palestinians were driven from their homes into Gaza as refugees to live behind cement barrels and barbed wire fences for the rest of their lives. Another chapter includes those who were forced to join them in 1967. In all, 80 percent of the people crowded into Gaza never wanted to be there in the first place. Prior to the only chapter Larry Kings wanted to talk about is a two year closure of the only entrance into Gaza, the shutting down of the delivery of UN humanitarian aid, cutting off fuel and electricity, restricting movement of people and creating life threatening problems due to the lack of food, medicine and sanitation facilities. The first chapter includes sonic booms deliberately and frequently exploding over Gaza on a regular basis which not only jars normal living but actually causes deafness in children. The first chapter must also include Israel’s unwillingness to recognize the democratically elected government in Gaza and continuing to label Hamas as no more than a terrorist organization, even though Hamas has repeatedly offered an end to hostilities, an offer which Israel refuses to even acknowledge much less respond to or act upon. Instead, Israel chose “total war” against a defenseless people who have no air force, army or navy with which to protect themselves. In the words of Ilan Pappe, Chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter, “Israel’s policy – in the last 60 years – stems from a racist hegemonic ideology called Zionism…an ideology that endorses ethnic cleansing, occupation and now massive massacres”[ii] That’s the first chapter.
More frightening still however, is the fact that Payback refuses to see the next chapter. Can’t Israel, and the U.S. for that matter, catch on to the fact that you can’t bomb and kill innocent people without creating more hatred? David Bromwich, Professor of Literature at Yale, writes:
What prompts the fantasy that you can “kill all the terrorists” without sewing the seeds of new terrorism? Partly, the fantasy comes from the idea that any civilian deaths you cause will be forgiven, but much more, it derives from the secondary fantasy that civilian deaths will go mainly unwitnessed. They will be recorded as numbers, perhaps, but they will pass out of the awareness of the world. That is not the way things work, of course. There are people in the world – not hundreds, not thousands, but hundreds of millions – who feel more closely allied to the killed than they do to the killers.[iii]
He goes on to say, “You cannot bomb a people into a partnership. You cannot obliterate a people into a just and lasting peace.”
Israel has been humiliating, torturing and stealing from Palestinians for years and it hasn’t worked. In fact, the pain and humiliation is a bonanza for recruiting Islamic terrorists.
The Red Cross reports that 50 percent of the children in Gaza have lost their will to live.[iv] I ask, how long before one of those with no will to live straps a bomb on his or her vest and walks into Tel Aviv, or Washington? That could very well be the next chapter.
February 16, 2009
[i] Larry King Live, CNN, January 27, 2009
[ii] Ilan Pappe, Israel’s Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza, The Electronic Intifada, January 2, 2009.
[iii] David Bromwich, Self-deception and the Assault on Gaza, The Huffington Post, January 18, 2009.
[iv] This statistic and final question, slightly edited, comes from Susan Abulhawa, Palestinians Will Not Forget, Contact Community.