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Real and surreal in occupied Palestine

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The Separation Wall

The Separation Wall

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

From a correspondent in Jerusalem:

Life is surreal. I am sitting in the educational bookstore listening to lovely Arab music answering emails with the sound of helicopters overhead and old men sauntering by coming from the Al Aqsa with prayer rugs on their heads to protect them from the sun.

That’s often the reality of occupations, incursions, invasions, wars – ordinary life and extraordinary violence. The combination is surreal.

In Israel/Palestine, it’s a way of life. Either heading toward, tapering off or beginning another round in other ways. The surreal mix is heady, dangerous and violent. The surreal is real.

We were supposed to be at the end. So John Kerry said. As many did before. But this was it, final, all claims settled, a new reality on the ground.

Meaning what? To whom?

Now we are on the brink of another wave of violence, or in the middle of a new wave. Isn’t it one long arc of violence of which this is the latest?

Thinking about settler violence, settler rampages, settler murders. The call from political authorities, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, to pipe down, show restraint, act civilized is disingenuous while the soldiers under his command invade and bomb, blow up homes and shoot children.

What type of violence is worse – mob violence or state violence?

The combination is the cruelest as we Jews know well. Now Jews are involved in a similar way. We remember, at least we should, that the quelling of mob violence was the prelude to the greater violence to come.

The lessons of history have been lost to us. Or did we learn them too well?

Here from the YWCA- Palestine that deadly combination- on the ground as events are unfolding:

Helicopters buzz overhead all day. Tear gas chokes the air around the Shu’fat Refugee camp as youth with stones clash with soldiers in response to more murders. Near Beit Hanina the roads are closed or blocked. “Death to Arabs” was the rally cry of thousands on Jaffa Street last night seeking a lynching after the funeral of the three Israeli youth who were found dead in shallow graves on June 29th. This is on top of the burning of the homes of the families of the suspected killers in Hebron and the nightly bombings in Gaza.

Two more Palestinian youth were murdered in Shu’fat Refugee camp near Jerusalem— one was burned to death. We are trying to keep up with the death toll during this state sanctified reign of terror. Whole communities are in lock down or under military control while the rest of us are reliving past traumas or memories of intifadas. Israel’s rampage is not a response to terror nor is it a military sweep or manhunt as it also includes paramilitary settlers who act and murder with impunity.

Star of David helicopter gunships and settler’s rampaging. I wonder what color shirts they’re wearing? I doubt it’s Nazi brown. Star of David blue?

You see when the mob comes and the state is there, too, it doesn’t matter what color shirts the violent wear. Or what the state is called.

It all comes down to the same thing, even in the “Jewish” state.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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6 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on July 4, 2014, 11:34 am

    Abbas has given commitments to the US/Israel that he will not approach UN institutions and presumably not to apply to formally join the ICC. this is incredible, I can imagine Abbas sitting in a refugee camp in Jordan with millions of other Palestinians and saying, I “may” think about going to the ICC, what the hell is up with the man, going to the ICC is not even an act of resistance, it is the least any self respecting leader would do for his people in the face of war crimes being committed against them on a daily basis.

    • Citizen on July 5, 2014, 5:30 am

      Abbas is hearing calls for him to end his security force’s partnership with Israel, claiming it only benefits Israel. Go to the UN, file papers there for action, then give Netanyahu the keys: “Here, pay for your own occupation.”

  2. Denis on July 4, 2014, 2:55 pm

    Marc: The surreal is real.

    Yes, and in the never-never land of Israel, revenge is justice.

    Chana Rosenfelder at Israel Hayom, speaking for all Jews, apparently, or at least the males:

    But, at the end of the day, when a Jew says, “We want revenge,” what he means is, “We ‎want justice.”

    Sure, Chana, in the upside down world of I/P, the Khdier killing was not revenge; it was justice. That’s just the way God’s Chosen People do things, according to Zionists like her. Being the Chosen People means you make your own rules — and due process isn’t one of them.

    Here’s Bibi’s due process: in a blatant middle-finger salute to America’s principles of due process and presumption of innocence, Bibi ordered the destruction of the homes of un-indicted/un-convicted Aysha and Kawasme. Why? B/c he runs the place and that’s the only reason he needs. The High Court has said as much.

    For the Aysha and Kawasme homes weren’t the only ones in Hebron destroyed by Bibi this week. The Israeli High Court said: sure, it’s fine under Israeli law to destroy the home of Ziad Awad, who was convicted of killing an Israeli cop. After all, his wife and son must have known about the killing. This is what passes for due process for the Chosen People in Zion.

    From my Constitutional classes, the impression I have of the history of the Chosen People in America is that they have been very, very sensitive to due process. For instance, they were disproportionately active in defending due process through the civil rights dust ups, and they seem to be always conspicuous in the fight for individual liberties in the US, which, I take to be the point of this entire website.

    I dunno’ what went wrong with that lot in Zion. Too many of them from Russia, maybe.

  3. Baldur on July 4, 2014, 6:16 pm

    Thank you Marc for this very deep and insightful post.

    “The lessons of history have been lost to us. Or did we learn them too well?”

    I found these sentences very chilling.

    It reminds me of how you train fighting dogs, and the similarities to the perpetuation of violence in the I-P conflict. The animals are beaten without giving them a chance to understand why, in order to increase their latent aggressiveness. Senseless violence risks creating psychopaths. This is of course also connected to how abuse in childhood can do the same.

    With regards to the present, any further pondering on the aspect of a cycle of violence is hardly necessary. It is the past and the future of this cycle we must examine, in order to see the big picture.

    From the very beginning of recorded history:

    “When Yahweh your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites…and when Yahweh your God gives them over to you…you must utterly destroy them…Show them no mercy…For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God; Yahweh your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession”

    “But as for the towns of these peoples that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as Yahweh your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against Yahweh your God”

    The Jewish people seized the promised land from the Canaanites with violence, but were enslaved by Egypt. Later, the promised land was reclaimed again with violence, but the Jewish people were enslaved by the Assyrian king, who resettled their lands with other peoples. When the Jewish people returned and built the Second Temple, it must have seemed as if the future held peace. Only things such as records on the views on intermarriage and the refusal to include the Samaritans in the construction of the Second Temple might have given particular reasons to fear for future tensions. And so later eventually the Sicarii (who were to the Roman occupation what Islamic Jihad are to the Israeli occupation today) and other Jewish zealots, fuelled by nationalist fervour (or “baseless hatred” as some would say) provoked the Roman occupiers into driving them from Jerusalem. As a side note there was one rather famous Jew who argued against the Jewish nationalism prevalent at the time in the sense that he thought that political leadership is a political, and not religious, matter.

    It is interesting to note the similarities between Hitler’s imagined Lebensraum and the Promised Land as described in the two quotes above. With 8 million dead in the war, the Germans paid the price in blood immediately. Zionism as a response of Judaism to the baseless hatred and nationalism on the European continent therefore seems very paradoxical – how can somebody ever argue for one people’s “inherent” right to land after the Holocaust? Who, and/or what system is perpetuating the violence here?

    For the future, universal judgement blind to religion or ethnicity seems like the only way to finally end this cycle of violence, which might go on indefinitely otherwise. Unfortunately, I fear even in these enlightened times it would truly take a meshiach to do this and reverse the escalation towards the next deadly cycle.

    Here are the words of MLK on the subject:

    “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
    Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
    Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
    Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
    Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
    Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  4. DaBakr on July 4, 2014, 11:09 pm

    “What type of violence is worse – mob violence or state violence?”


    “You see when the mob comes and the state is there, too, it doesn’t matter what color shirts the violent wear. Or what the state is called.

    It all comes down to the same thing, even in the “Jewish” state.”

    the first piece of ME that I find insightful and deserving of respect from all persons involved in this conflict. Nobody wants to live in a land where people are running around abducting and brutally killing children and instead of coming together to put a stop to it the sides become even more polarized and all becomes ‘strategy’ not concern for the ‘other’.

  5. on July 5, 2014, 10:57 pm

    Great article – thanks for this. Marc was recently quoted here very positively.

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