War in the Middle East
I had a whole different post planned for today. I was going to recommend a couple of books I recently read and loved. I’ll do that one, too, later on. But I can’t just ignore what’s going on in Israel and in Gaza.
It’s monumentally horrific. The pundits say it’s going to get worse. They also say other things: that this was a massive failure of Israeli and US intelligence — it was — and a massive miscalculation on the part of Hamas. Was it? I’m not sure. It depends on the goal.
I don’t know what the goal was. Hamas can’t have expected to win a war against Israel. Were they flexing their muscles, showing their power, making the point they need to be included in any talks, any decision-making? Were they proving to the Iranians and maybe even Putin that they’re worth continuing to finance, if only to keep things destabilized?
I’m a writer; I can come up with dozens of scenarios. I have no idea whether any of them are true. I’m a Jew; my grandparents and parents were Zionists. I don’t question either practically or theoretically the right of Israel to exist. But the creation of the state of Israel can be seen — must be seen, I think — as an exercise in British and American guilt and privilege. Guilt, of course, for refusing to accept Jewish refugees in the 1930’s, which some argue created the Holocaust: once Hitler saw that no country would offer the Jews anywhere to go and no country seemed to care what happened to those forced to stay, he realized he could annihilate the European Jewish population with impunity. Privilege because after the war, with Jews demanding a homeland and the British conveniently occupying Palestine — occupying, ruling a land of people who were there when the British came — it was easy to give “the Holy Land” over to the Jews, who were, after all, white Europeans. Not quite as white as Christians, but whiter than the indigenous people of Palestine.
The moral high ground the founding generation of Israelis stood on has long since eroded down to a bleak plain of entitlement. Feeling entitled also makes people feel invulnerable; everything will be ours because it should be.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, were everyone’s pawns from the beginning. Whenever “peace in the middle east” was discussed, they were the afterthought. The Arab nations wouldn’t absorb them; why should they, when they could be used as a stick to beat Israel with? Israel, through all its various governments, could never find a way to extend a hand. Mostly, it didn’t look for one.
And now this is the result. A hopeless generation of Palestinian young people given a goal, given an ability to take some kind of action. What did they have to lose? Yes, killing civilians and taking hostages is horrible, it’s contrary to international law. The Israelis have done it before. The Palestinians are doing it now. And there will be retaliation, and retribution for the retaliation, and punishment for the retribution, until finally there’s an exhauted, restless peace. Then what? A recharging of energy for renewed hostility? Or a looking each other in the eye and realizing there was never any success to be had down that road?
I’m hoping for the latter. But I’m not holding my breath.
War, Part 2
I’ve been reading and hearing some things since the Hamas attack on Israel and I feel like I have to say this: The Hamas soldiers are terrorists and butchers. They’re war criminals. They’re about as low as humans can sink.
But this is what they’re not: They’re not „the Palestinians.“ They’re not „the Arabs.“ And they’re certainly not „the Muslims.“
They’re a group of angry young men deliberately stoked into a vicious, murderous mob, then turned loose on an ancient enemy. Killing Jews is the main goal of Hamas, but not their only one: repression of women and LGBTQ+ people is right up there. They deserve the condemnation of the entire world.
But if the violence in the middle east is ever going to stop, that condemnation cannot extend to the people these butchers came from. Israel’s thirst for vengeance is understandable, though one could desperately hope it doesn’t get indulged. But I’ve been hearing the same thing from here, from people who’ve lost no one, for whom it’s a matter of taking sides. Bomb Gaza back to the Stone Age? Pound the Palestinians into the dirt? Really? And from the other side: This is Israel’s fault? Israel got what it deserved? Really? Israel got nothing. Little children got slaughtered in the streets.
Are there cooler heads? Are there backstage talks going on, actions being taking, flames being quenched? I don’t know. I have to hope so. Otherwise this spiral of death and blood will go on and on until there’s no one left for anyone to hate.
These Are Not Your Heroes
When I started this Substack it was to talk about books, gardens, and whatever else intrigued me. And I’ll get back to that. But the war in the middle east has overtaken any sense of the normal routine of daily life.
Palestinians, I’ve seen the AI image of a paraglider sailing into Jerusalem. It’s heroic and stirring. But terrorists who slaughter children, who stream live video on their victims’ social media accounts, who randomly call friends and familiy from victims’ cell phones to gloat and horrify — these are not your heroes.
Israelis, I’ve seen reservists young and old racing to answer the nation’s call. It’s heroic and stirring. But a military that uses white phosphorus on civilians, that orders a million people out of their homes toward closed borders, that shells indiscriminately — these are not your heroes.
“We wouldn’t have if they hadn’t — “ “They’ve always — “ “We had to respond — “ “They won’t — “ “They will — “
Enough. Enough. ENOUGH.
There’s plenty of guilt and savagery on both sides, enough that it’ll take centuries to expiate. But that has to start because this has to end.
Here in the US a new organization of Jews, IfNotNow, is leaning on the US government to pressure the Israeli government to back down from the “Once And For All” stance — which rings a lot like the Final Solution, doesn’t it? We can only hope there are similar organizations among the Palestinians. If not they must be created. Palestinians and Israelis of good heart must throw off Hamas and its partners, and the Israeli right wing and its enablers. Everyone else everywhere else must help however we can.
We have to be each other’s heroes.
This war will end as all wars do. Israel is in the middle east to stay. Palestine must be created as a co-equal nation. These are truths, and not necessarily bitter ones. They have to be acknowledged and the work of building has to begin.
Those who do it, these are your heroes.
Casualties of War
If I’m lucky this will be my last post on war for awhile. Whatever’s happening on the surface in the Middle East, furious unseen diplomacy is happening under it, and we’ll see its result more in the things that don’t happen, I think, than in the things that do.
And I hope so many things don’t happen.
But I have to say this: complaints and outrage from both sides — all sides — about deliberate viciousness, about pogroms and barbarity and contravening the Rules of War, are naïve at best, hypocritical at worst.
Truth is the first casualty of War. Civilians are the second.
Going back to the Code of Hammurabi, such written records as we have brim with rules to keep civilian populations safe. (Including the Islamic record devised by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, so if you’re about to tell me about jihad, sit down.) These rules were written, and written, and written, because civilian populations weren’t safe.
The image of two lines of brave young soldiers in identifiable uniforms exchanging fire across a disputed boundary while their respective civilian populations wait at a safe remove to learn their fate is bullsh*t and always has been. The invasion of Israel by terrorists from Hamas was for the purpose of killing civilians. Against the Rules of War! But why were the civilians there? Because the Israeli government had built settlements in the occupied territories to create a buffer zone inhabited by their own people. As a response to the invasion the Israeli military ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza, but Hamas told people to stay. Why? Israel has never shown reluctance to shell civilian territory, so it can’t be because they thought the presence of civilians would stop retribution. No, it was so that when the civilians got killed Hamas could point at Israel as monsters willing to kill civilians. Against the Rules of War! Both governments, using their own people as chess pieces.
Outrageous? Unacceptable? Sure. But what’s a siege but an attack on a civilian population? What was the Armenian Genocide but an attack on a civilian population? What were the forcible removal of Native Americans from their lands but attacks on civilian populations? Pogroms, the Holocaust, the Torreon Massacre, the wholesale murder of Rohingya? You know why castles had big giant courtyards? So civilian populations could shelter inside when enemy soldiers came.
I wrote earlier about how we’re hardwired to hate. But we’re not hardwired to kill. You have to be inflamed to do that, to be convinced those people you hate are so terrible they deserve for you to kill them. It’s damn hard to inflame people against soldiers only. War is for the purpose of wiping out the enemy. Including the enemy’s giggling toddlers. Anyone who thinks any war can be fought cleanly is fooling themselves.
Am I saying then that we might as well accept the slaughter of civilians because that’s how war is fought? God, no. I’m saying we need to accept that that’s how war is fought and stop the slaughter of civilians by stopping our default resort to war.
SJ Rozan, a native New Yorker, is the author of 18 novels and 75+ short stories and the editor of two anthologies. Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon and the Private Eye Writers of America Life Achievement Award. She’s a progressive, a feminist; she works at being anti-racist and an ally; and she loves New York. Her new book „The Mayors of New York“, the 15th in the Bill Smith, Lydia Chin series, will be out December 5, 2023.