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Netanyahu’s war on transcendence 

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has closed the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza, the only point for commercial goods to enter and leave the Strip.  He is unhappy that Palestinian protesters have deployed incendiary kites. Rather than address the illegal blockade which gave rise to the protests, Netanyahu has decreed that Gazan Palestinians will be permitted no trade, no shops and no goods to buy, as if he bestows those things as favors.  Gazans will henceforth line up to receive only those humanitarian relief goods that Netanyahu approves on a case by case basis.

Two million Gazan Palestinians are living in his War of the Worlds fever dream.

I lived and worked in Gaza 2011 – 2015.  I do not speak for anyone there, but I do speak with a wrenching fear for the community that Netanyahu is trying to break.

I have always refused to refer to Gaza as an open-air prison.  Prisons are permanent institutions in our societies. Individuals are convicted and sentenced to prison for a time, and we debate the policies of their treatment. Gaza is a ghetto, an ethnic enclosure where babies are born into open-ended confinement.  Whole communities are condemned to carve out their family and collective lives in a ghetto.  In essence, a ghetto deems a people to be less than human, deserving of less than the rights of humans.

A ghetto is, by definition, a crime.  When we call Gaza a ghetto, we begin by acknowledging that the occupation and blockade are massive crimes, inexcusable and escalating.  To wonder at the life that Gaza built within its walls is emphatically not a way of accepting the regime that they are trying to survive.

The West Bank’s fragmentation made for constant friction with Israel’s occupying forces. Gaza was the antithesis.  The threat was pervasive.  The horizon was a concrete wall, and the sea flowed as far as the gunboats.  Drones hovered and buzzed overhead.  The occupation was all around, but not between, Gazans.  They were squeezed together in a miniature, complex world, one marathon in length.  In response, they made exceptional choices about how they would share their space.

Several elements seemed constitutive of Gaza’s collective life:  their love of education, their families, their stubborn family-owned shops, their mutual assistance, and their resistance.  None of those things could be taken for granted. Two million other people might have responded to their ghettoization differently, and Gaza might have felt like a jungle of all against all.

Instead, Gazans built universities, and observed special noise by-laws on exam days.  Strollers along the beach met every electricity cut with a defiant cheer, night after night.  Under attack in 2012 and 2014, my colleagues called and offered to drive through the bombardments, to bring me to their homes because bombs were less frightening in rooms full of family.  After each military assault, parents struggled to live with their inability to protect their children – and then it normalized into their gnawing inability to provide their children with basic human entitlements like clean water, safety and the prospect of a peaceful life.

This year, these constitutive heartbeats of Gaza have come under fire from Netanyahu, Trump, and their enablers.  Defunding UNRWA jeopardizes the education, public sector and emergency services available to the two-thirds of Gazans who are registered refugees.  There is less electricity, less liquidity, less economic activity, less of everything for more people in the same space. One hundred and thirty-seven protesters have been killed, and more Gazans have been wounded than Gaza has hospital beds.

Now Netanyahu has ended trade.  One man is emptying the shelves of two million human beings.  The royal prerogative, the terror of it: he is dismantling a community before our eyes.  In broad daylight, he is trying to bury it alive.

Whether or not he has gone clinically mad, Netanyahu must be calculating that he can get away with it in our disrupted moment.  Gaza matters disproportionately to the present disruption.  Two galloping processes meet on its field of protest.  Illiberal power is dispensing with law and the rights of humans, dismantling protections and cultivating resentments.  Grassroots resistance is weaving together despite the structure of oppression, and realizing new alliances.

Gaza is just one little vortex.  Yet the blockade’s gross power disparities and fierce resistance have also made it the proving ground for a malevolent biopolitical control.   Gaza matters for its own sake, and it matters again as a bellwether.  That which is gotten away with in Gaza, will surface again where other walls are built, where surplus people are warehoused, and where other protesters dig their heels in.   We have seen, over and over, that Gaza’s densely populated neighborhoods are the testing sites for strategies of asymmetrical urban assault.

My rage in Gazans’ place would be boundless.

I also rage as a Jew. I am incredulous that mainstream Jewish institutions are willing to use this ugly global moment to get the dirty work of nationalism done.   Too many of our temples give religious cover to racism and violence.  Public discourse is learning to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism, and it’s past time for Jews to do the same: the occupation is not a religious experience.

Netanyahu is slavering for the next pretext to throw his bombs at two million trapped people. I don’t know if he can be stopped, and neither can I imagine how to live in the world he signals.

This article was originally published by Counterpunch on July 13, 2018.

Marilyn Garson

Marilyn Garson worked with communities affected by war, including Afghanistan and Pakistan (2005 – 2010) and the Gaza Strip (2011 – 2015). She is a co-founder of the Gaza Gateway, a social enterprise creating employment in Gaza. She writes from New Zealand, and blogs at Contrapuntal: Transforming Gaza. You can follow her on Twitter @skinonbothsides.

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16 Responses

  1. smithgp on July 13, 2018, 11:41 am

    This is a very persuasive comment: “I have always refused to refer to Gaza as an open-air prison. Prisons are permanent institutions in our societies. Individuals are convicted and sentenced to prison for a time, and we debate the policies of their treatment. Gaza is a GHETTO, an ethnic enclosure where babies are born into open-ended confinement. Whole communities are condemned to carve out their family and collective lives in a ghetto. In essence, a ghetto deems a people to be less than human, deserving of less than the rights of humans.”

    The Great March of Return is the Gaza Ghetto Uprising.

  2. Ossinev on July 13, 2018, 1:05 pm

    A very powerful and incisive peace. As said Gaza is not an open air prison. Apart from anything else it presupposes a civilised legal process of trial and confinement and Zioland doesn`t do this for Untermenschen Palestinians. I prefer the use of the term”concentration camp” as being the most apt description as it illustrates clearly to what depths of depravity the majority of Israeli Jews have sunk. For those who would say unfair to compare as in no extermination process I would say simply that it is 2018 and not 1943 and even the most rabid of Zionists probably realise that this is not an option nor is full scale ethnic cleansing. What we are witnessing instead is a blatant and relentless brutality with intermittent feel good massacres on the part of the foreign colonists in an ongoing desperate but totally futile attempt to somehow make Palestinians in Gaza simply disappear.

  3. JLewisDickerson on July 13, 2018, 1:05 pm

    RE: “Netanyahu is slavering for the next pretext to throw his bombs at two million trapped people.” ~ Marilyn Garson

    slaver (2)
    Pronunciation /ˈsleɪvə//ˈslavə/
    1. Let saliva run from the mouth. – ‘the Labrador was slavering at the mouth’

    More example sentences:
    ‘They may be slavering for beer, but are they prepared to pay a fiver a pint?’
    ‘Within a manner of half seconds, the wall exploded, and out from among the debris leapt a huge creature with slavering tusked jaws and mean yellow eyes.’
    ‘I hadn’t been around ice cream trucks in a long time and I had forgotten the way they stopped whenever enough slavering children gathered round to make the wasteful idling of the engine economical.’
    ‘He started chewing the police car’s tires, biting the bumper and generally snarling and slavering, trying to get at the cops, who chose to stay put with the windows rolled up.’
    ‘It was ordered into a frontal attack as part of a botched tank offensive. As dawn broke, survivors staggered back, ‘haggard, bloodshot-eyed, slavering and rolling their bare-teethed heads’.’
    ‘And in the foreground, a gorilla and a gorilla-sized weta roar and slaver.’
    ‘Not one of them was staring at the tutor slavering and leaving long fingernail scratches down his desk.’
    ‘It hadn’t been in the script that I would have a man’s life in my hands or, worse, that he would be slavering into my fingers.’

    1.1 Show excessive admiration or desire. – ‘suburbanites slavering over drop-dead models’

    More example sentences:
    ‘So, how does it feel to have the men of New York slavering at your feet?’
    ‘I don’t even know why I’m bothering to post this; it’s hardly a secret to anyone that media organizations are slavering over the prospect of war.’
    ‘While there are those who slaver to bathe in the esteem of others, there are many who do not – especially those who have been taught that all praise and glory and blessing and honor belong to the Lamb of God alone.’
    ‘You see, she had used up more litres of saliva than a cow per day, slavering at Brad.’
    ‘Hell, they slaver over the prospect of a kid falling down a well, or a local dog getting braces.’

    slaver (1)
    1. A person who dealt in or owned slaves.
    1.1 A ship used for transporting slaves.

  4. Keith on July 13, 2018, 4:32 pm

    MARLYN GARSON- “I have always refused to refer to Gaza as an open-air prison.”

    Ghetto is a weak and inadequate term, your mangling of the definition of both prison and ghetto notwithstanding. Wikipedia’s definition of a ghetto as ” a part of a city in which members of a minority group live, typically as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure” hardly describes Gaza. Concentration Camp is more accurate but is politically unusable. Open-air prison still works for me.

    • annie on July 13, 2018, 4:45 pm

      i agree keith. plus, ghettos (unlike prisons and concentration camps) you can enter and exit. big difference.

    • Stephen Shenfield on July 13, 2018, 10:17 pm

      Wikipedia probably has in mind the black ghettoes of the contemporary USA. The classical Jewish ghetto of the Middle Ages (the first one was set up in Genoa) was locked from the outside at night and on Christian holidays. The Jewish ghettoes established by the Nazis in Warsaw and other East European cities were tightly locked at all times — starving people who were detected trying to get out were shot. So ghettoes come in three varieties: (1) open, (2) half-open or half-closed, (3) closed. The Gaza Strip is a closed ghetto like the Nazi ones, while the Palestinian ghettoes in the West Bank are half-closed like the medieval Jewish ghettoes (the inmates are, naturally, locked up on Jewish holidays instead of Christian ones).

      What does the title of this article mean?

      • annie on July 13, 2018, 11:55 pm

        (1) open, (2) half-open or half-closed, (3) closed.

        2, the middle ages. 3, holocaust. 1, common everyday usage in cities and districts all across the country and the world in 2018.

        my point, cherry picking isolated periods in history where ghettos acted as prisons doesn’t change the fundamental definition of a ghetto.

        a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups.

      • echinococcus on July 14, 2018, 2:05 am

        Smíth correctly concluded at the end of his post:

        The Great March of Return is the Gaza Ghetto Uprising.

        He is right: no matter how you define “ghetto”, this one is similar to the Warsaw ghetto 1941-42 in everyone’s mind.

      • gamal on July 14, 2018, 8:00 am

        “doesn’t change the fundamental definition of a ghetto”

        Probably best to start any foray into Ghettology with Sugar Minott

        I am not saying he is not in some way derivative but still its the fundamental text of Ghettoites

      • Stephen Shenfield on July 14, 2018, 9:40 am

        ‘Ghetto’ is an Italian word and it originally referred to the Jewish ghettoes set up in various Italian city states. It is thought to derive from ‘getto’ meaning ‘foundry’ — apparently the first ghetto was established on a site where a foundry previously stood. Like many words, its range of meaning has expanded over time to the point that for many people it no longer evokes its original meaning. So many people may not see how it can be applied to Gaza. But perhaps it is worth explaining the connection, especially as alternatives like ‘prison’ are also misleading in other ways.

        I would like to ask Marilyn Gerson again about the title of her article. It is nowhere explained in the article — the word ‘transcendence’ occurs only in the title. I suspect it may be connected to the definition of fascism as ‘resistance to transcendence’ put forward by the German philosopher Ernst Noltke.

      • Keith on July 14, 2018, 10:33 am

        ECHINOCOCCUS- “He is right: no matter how you define “ghetto”, this one is similar to the Warsaw ghetto 1941-42 in everyone’s mind.”

        Surely you jest. Gaza is similar to the Warsaw ghetto 1941-1942 in a negligible number of people’s minds. When most Americans think of “ghetto,” their thoughts never encompass the Warsaw ghetto. Open-air prison is sufficiently accurate and widely used. The need is to end the blockade not start haggling over definitions of ghetto. This is an unwelcome diversion. Period. Full stop.

      • echinococcus on July 14, 2018, 11:25 am

        I’ll defer to your evaluation re the public’s mind and its cultural references.

    • Sibiriak on July 13, 2018, 10:49 pm

      Keith: Ghetto is a weak and inadequate term […]Open-air prison still works for me.

      I agree. “Open-air prison” is much more accurate and more damning.

  5. JWalters on July 13, 2018, 6:44 pm

    Thanks for this GREAT article. It describes the moral monster that is Israel, vividly and articulately. The civilized people in Gaza make a stark contrast. Such a tragedy, for both monsters and victims.

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