Exile and the Prophetic: Gaza City is right around the corner from the Warsaw Ghetto

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The irony of it all, Gaza becomes a trial run, as a disposable, superfluous population on the other side of Jewish power. Well, it has been this way for years. Did I miss the afterthoughts of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead or just bury them in my subconscious?

That the Palestinians are highly symbolic on all sides and candidates for collateral damage whenever the need arises is another supreme irony when looked at through the lens of Jewish history.

Perhaps I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the post-Gaza reflections in 2009. Or perhaps I was too caught up in flurry of ‘This is the end of Israel’s transgressions. The international community won’t allow it,’ missives to notice the rational calculation behind the emotion. I never believed it was the end and took a hit for saying so.

I’ve also noticed there isn’t much of ‘this is the end’ right now. Is that because many feel Iran is right around the corner?

On the analysts theme that Israel lost the latest Gaza go-round, what with Mohamed Morsi emerging as the go-to man, I’m an agnostic. The recent flare-up regarding Morsi’s assumptions of power is already dominating the news cycle. Momentum is important but is often interrupted.

It’s so interesting how the politically savvy don’t seem to get the Israel/Palestine situation. They’re constantly thinking Israel’s collapse is imminent or the international community is riding to the rescue or a leader of another country is in the ascendancy. There are endless scenarios, the latest being the Arab Spring. None of these have panned out over the long run.

The reality is that Israel isn’t collapsing, isn’t being disciplined and won’t give one more inch than it is forced to.

Meanwhile, the distance traveled from Eastern Europe to Palestine seems a lot longer to outsiders than to Palestinians who experience it. Though the actually distance is almost 1600 miles and soon to be seventy years, I’m beginning to think Gaza City is right around the corner from the Warsaw Ghetto.

For Gaza City to be right around the corner from the Warsaw Ghetto is to travel down memory lane. As we travel, it might dawn on Jews that when we observe Palestinian history we’re also viewing our own.

Rather than a comparison, I can’t shake this image. Call it a time machine inversion, but it’s scary when you think about it. A vulnerable population surrounded by others who force you to stay put – under their control. Periodically the same population can be used as symbolic fodder for whatever you want to achieve for yourself. Tell me, in historical terms what populations fit that bill?

You see, the Jews of Europe were considered superfluous by the countries they lived in. They could be herded together in ghettos and later expelled. Jews could be forced into certain occupations during certain time periods and denied that same occupation at another time. Jews could be protected by the powers that be. In turn, that power could be withdrawn.

In general the wellbeing of Jews was dependent on others. The state could bring Jews to their country and, at times, protect them. The same state could render Jews stateless and thus expose them to the violence of the mob. Again it is interesting to think of Palestinians in this regard.

The last time Jews were rendered stateless was during the Nazi period. Jews were systematically deprived of every right and protection of the German state. This was done legally and bureaucratically. The other side of this coin was terror. Jews were hassled on the streets and ultimately disappeared into vast prison camps we know as concentration camps. Some of these concentration camps morphed into death camps.

As with all occupations, Israel uses advanced social organization, bureaucracy and terror to keep the Palestinian population under control. Israel has rendered Palestinians stateless. It uses the vulnerability of statelessness to keep Palestinians vulnerable.

With Palestinians vulnerable, Israel has constructed a vast prison system to house disaffected Palestinians. Over the years some estimate that over 600,000 Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons. Today almost 5,000 Palestinians are jailed by Israel.

These are official prison sites. If we count the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and periodically subject to search, seizure, military raids, targeted assassinations, bombings and closure – if we expand our understanding of prison from a specific physical location to larger geographic areas where populations are under surveillance and control – then Israel’s prison system holds millions.

How far is it between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza City? Eastern Europe and occupied Palestine?

My response: Quite far. Not far enough.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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