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Gaza

As Gaza burns

As Gaza burns – once again – an important essay turns up in the New York Book Review. It happens with this conflict: a piece of writing that penetrates the hopeless evil. Last time it was Rachel Corrie’s emails; this time its Nathan Thrall’s One man’s quest to find his son.

Nathan Thrall is a journalist who has been based with a human rights organisation in Jerusalem and who has gradually realised the hopelessness of monitoring abuses in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead he has written this long essay, based around the death of a kindergarten-aged boy on a school bus which suffered a head on collision with a settler-driven vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road. When the news of the accident reaches his father, Abed, a tortuous journey begins involving detours, checkpoints, confusion as to possible hospitals the boy may have been taken to, ID problems of access, until he eventually discovers the charred corpse of his son.

The author uses the incident to unpack the dense bureaucracy of the apartheid regime that Israel has imposed on Palestinians. We can forget that (as in South Africa) the running of an apartheid state requires bureaucracy at every level of society: ID cards, residence permits, travel permits, work permits, building permits, school systems, health systems, policing, tax, roads, walls and borders, checkpoints, judicial and prison systems… it becomes immensely complex, absurd  and oppressive.

But as well as revealing this, the essay articulates the history of the desire behind the system: the desire to rid the land now called Israel of Palestinian Arabs, a desire, in fact, for ethnic cleansing. In 1948, four out of five Palestinian inhabitants were made refugees. In 1967 one in four of those remaining were expelled. Nevertheless, the higher Palestinian birth rate means half the population are Arab. The Israeli dilemma becomes then, ‘ On one hand the inability to erase the Palestinians; on the other, the unwillingness to give them political and civil rights.’ The compromise solution to this dilemma has been  the building of Jewish settlements, walls and roads, in order to fragment the Palestinian population, so that it lives in scattered pieces and cannot organise as a collective. And then to impose various decrees, laws and restrictions onto these Bantustans. And the contrast of wealth and infrastructure between the settlements and the Palestinian fragments is huge. Anger and despair builds. In a final irony, the task of administrating daily life in these areas of extreme oppression is given to a local Palestinian ‘authority’.

But the traditional task remains: Jews must take over the land and while that task is being achieved, international efforts to resolve the conflict must be ‘parried and delayed’. As Thrall relates, there is now a historical narrative to the attempts to realise this desire, expressed by the 19th century Zionists as follows: To take possession in due course of Palestine and to restore to the Jews the political independence of which they have been deprived for two thousand years.  This entailed firstly an infiltration of settlers and then the lobbying for a state. But how to justify a small number of Jews, mainly from the Russian Empire, taking over Palestine against the will of the majority?  Jews may have deserved a safe haven , but that does not give a right to dispossess, and even so, the original Zionist agenda was not a response to persecution but rather a resisting of the assimilation of Jewish identity.

Partition was accepted as a step toward obtaining the whole of Palestine and after the establishing of Israel the project of colonisation really began. Land and houses were confiscated, curfews imposed, political parties banned and Palestinians constantly humiliated. Because it had become an absurd contradiction, there was a change from a secular, semi- socialist vision of ‘Jewish redemption within the salvation of humanity’, to a religious nationalism based on the bible.  And this vision had to be fundamentalist for it would be undermined by any acceptance of a Palestinian right to self determination, which would also mean the acceptance of the refugees’ right to return and that a minority has not the right to impose on a majority.

The basically fantastic claim that the bible constitutes a land deed and that a group has the right to reclaim a territory after a two thousand year absence has to be maintained at all costs. All the secular ethical arguments have to be rejected. Accordingly, the state of Israel has never recognised the existence of an Israeli nationality. Israel is, instead, the state of the Jewish people, viewed as a single nation and spread throughout the world. The children of a non Jewish mother and a Jewish father are not Jewish, are not citizens, and whoever disconnects Jewish nationality from its religious foundations is a traitor. Israel cannot therefore entertain a liberal, secular, democratic agenda. It is necessarily an apartheid state, financed by the US government

And Abed mourns for his son.

The essay can be read at: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2021/03/19/a-day-in-the-life-of-abed-salama/

Gaza

Gaza bites, Gaza hurts. It’s everywhere and nowhere, in the air, in the land, yell it, shout it: No, Stop, Please, Stop.

So the supermarkets have got facial recognition. It’ll never be quite the same going in there. Aware. Bloody hell. Aware. The sniper’s scope with a cross in it. They don’t need a wooden cross on a hill today. A sniper will do.

Two million imprisoned, kept alive by aid and at the mercy of the jailers – for whom they are animals. I remember while researching a film on madness in the 1970s, spending time at the old Kingseat Hospital in South Auckland. One day, hearing strange cries from the back of the large grounds and investigating, I came across a unit devoted to elderly ‘handicapped’ – the mongoloid, the brain damaged… They were literally confined in a cage. I was told that they were people who had never been socialised, could scarcely feed themselves. It was a shocking image,

Who are the unsocialised ones in Gaza? The Trump ‘mob?’ ‘clan’ – neither of those words will do – mafioso is better. They assume more and more the model of the Hunger Games (perhaps the most political book in a decade). Netanyahu and his henchmen? It is one of those appalling situations to which we assume indifference, forget about for months. The US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, an axis of evil to which we bow for reasons of trade. No, best forget it, focus on rugby or the garden, or local shenanigans. There are no drones dispensing tear gas or rockets in the middle of the night, no sniper towers, no occupying army, no border crossings to negotiate. We’re okay, All we have to put up with are some homeless, some kids in poverty and facial recognition cameras in the supermarket. We’re sweet. Except for a conscience that won’t quieten. In frustration. In despair.

What was it like for the townspeople near the death camps? Did they know? Were they aware? Or were they simply minding their own business and watching the grass grow?

Isn’t it time to boycott the US. I’m tired of paying attention to the dysfunctional empire. We are overwhelmed by its culture, its ridiculous foreign policy, its inane leadership, its control of knowledge and information and pharmaceuticals, its media… Time to divest. Time to boycott. Time to seek other friends. We’ll be poorer but we’ll be able to confront the mirror.

Incoherence

On the one hand I want to write about spring, the transformation as the willow trees clothe their branches, as daffodils push into the light, as new growth appears on seemingly dead sticks of blackberry, as myriad blossoms decorate the apple tree, as ducklings play in the pond, bopping one another like unruly kids, as lambs appear and grow ridiculously fast, as people load their cars with plants at the garden shop, as each day brings confusion as to what to wear.

But on the other side of the planet, a hurricane drops three feet of rain on Haiti overnight, before swatting the coast of Cuba before heading for the southern US state. As I ponder the Ministry of Business and Innovation report on economic development for the Coast, I find it alarming that climate change is not mentioned. How can educated experts write about future development without considering the greatest threat facing us, or mention precarious work, or inequality, or the region-city divide that is growing in alarming proportions… Midweek, Grant Robertson gave his talk on the future of work and its relevance to the Coast. A good talk, a nice man, but the local leaders were absent, apart from a token presence by Development West Coast – too busy beavering away at the MBI recommendations, which have immediately become Holy Grail.

In Albert Mall, I watched a group of Chinese tourists take excited photos of a Camelia bush and the Chinese restaurant. Is the tourist experience largely nonsensical? If it becomes the main driver of an economy does the sense of nonsense pervade?

Marama Davidson and some other prominent women headed across the sea to Gaza. The Israeli Defence Force seized the boat, detained the occupants temporarily before deporting them – a ritual of recent times. At least they’ve learned that it is better not to beat them or kill them. A stunt, sneered Judith Collins. Potentially embarrassing, said the PM. Climate change shouldn’t be mentioned, nor should Gaza – both unpleasant topics, like child poverty. Aaron Smith is much better news: a bit of scandal, a penitent All Black.

But it is spring. Down on the field there are now three hares cheekily tormenting the dogs. Can’t catch me.

After a passing rain storm, the drops of water falling from the willow tree create a mosaic of small eruptions in the puddle below. Mesmerising – as the starling chicks in the roof tap and scratch a new life for themselves.

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