Divine Violence?

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This coming December, a group of Palestinian intellectuals will join forces with a number of world renowned philosophers (including Slavoj Zizek,) for a week-long conference around the work of Walter Benjamin in Ramallah. Those who wish to read, learn and deeply understand Benjamin, are welcome to do so in the place where Benjamin belongs: side by side with the occupied who will not remain silent and with the oppressed who no longer await the angel of history, for they know he has no role in their salvation.

Concurrently, this December, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem plans a series of events in honor of Walter Benjamin. To think of Benjamin in the context of the apartheid city, where only those privileged not to live under occupation, can attend a seminar in his honor – is to feel oneself not at home. (Uncanny)

Meanwhile, here is something I wrote with Benjamin’s critique on violence in mind about the events of the hour.

The question is not whether we’re for or against violence, or whether we should encourage it as a way of resistance or condemn it. The new violence needs to be listened to, to learn what it’s saying to us. Walter Benjamin compares violence of the kind that erupts like this to what he calls “divine violence”.

It is like the uprisings in Ferguson, in Marseilles, in Baltimore, in Birmingham, in terms of what drives it – the subterranean spirit of the time that streams through the oppressed streets. But what’s different between there and here is that here it’s an uprising not of an ethnic minority that lives in ghettoes but of natives of this country who number about half of the country’s inhabitants.

For decades there has been violence here – brutal, institutionalized violence against Palestinians, uninhibited institutional terror. The aim of this violence has been to erase from our minds the fact that there are Palestinians. It is not only the Right that is responsible for this nightmare – we have all collaborated with it. From the fighters for social justice, to the tent dwellers in Rothschild Boulevard, from the new Mizrahim (Jews from Muslim countries) to the especially repulsive white Zionist Left, all of them have erased the Palestinian or written that they can wait. All of them have held leftist or spiritual festivals of apartheid in Jerusalem, all of us have behaved as if five million people don’t belong to our discourse of justice.

Suddenly a few Palestinian men and women have drawn knives and burst the bubble of the terrible lie. There is no establishment behind this new violence, and it has neither moral nor immoral justification. It is ontological to the situation. Those Jews who don’t turn racist become Mahatma Gandhis, all of them explain to the Palestinians how terrible violence is but forget to mention that when they’re not violent they don’t exist. How is it that people who speak for the blacks don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with them? How is it that people who speak for the Left line up shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish fascists? How is it that there isn’t even one percent of righteous Jews in Sodom who’ll stand with the popular Palestinian struggle for justice and equality – not to give advice but simply to be there with our bodies together with the Palestinians.

As an individual sovereign human being I oppose all violence. This is the reason why I’ve supported BDS, and I’ll never collaborate with violence, but when I think with the aid of Walter Benjamin I can say that the violence of the Israeli Jews is institutional violence that represents the Israeli will for hegemony and oppression, while the violence of the Palestinian Jerusalemites and citizens of the state is the violence of oppressed subterranean streams seeking a place to erupt and to utter a strong outcry against injustice and for justice.

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Gandhi won — or at least won as quickly as he did — because to his nonviolence was added the violence of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army and the violent resistance to British tyranny of the Quit India Movement to which Gandhi himself had given the spark. This is amply demonstrated by Yasmin Khan’s new book India At War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War. It was the mutinies in the Indian Army… Read more »

Yesterday, on Fox’s The Five, the knifing controversy was the main subject. Four of the five regular panelists blamed it on a “coordinated” attack by Palestinian youths to kill Jews, and they railed against the US government statement suggesting there was terrorism on both sides, angrily saying this was an insult to America best ally, Israel, and its leader Netanyahu. Juan Cole finally interjected that one needs to look at the context, the long occupation,… Read more »

RE: “Suddenly a few Palestinian men and women have drawn knives and burst the bubble of the terrible lie. There is no establishment behind this new violence, and it has neither moral nor immoral justification. It is ontological to the situation.” ~ Udi Aloni QUOTATION: “The settler’s work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler.” — Frantz Fanon,… Read more »

“to the especially repulsive white Zionist Left”

Can’t leave them out!

Always so great to read Udi Aloni. And what a brilliant assessment of the different kinds of violence, as described in his last paragraph–the institutional violence of the Israelis and the violence from being oppressed by the Palestinians.