Saturday, January 17, 2009

Juan the Abolitionist

Yaacov Lozowick recently noted Juan Cole's reaction to rumors of an impending unilateral cease-fire. "They had better," Cole rumbled, "Because if they ruin the Obama inauguration by splashing the bloody bodies of dead Palestinian children all over the press during the next few days, no Americans, even the most pro-Israeli, are going to forgive them." A few days previously, Cole achieved new repulsiveness, discovering that the Gazans are actually analogous to slaves:
I would argue that Israel is keeping the Gazans in a state akin to slavery. Here are some similarities between the condition of the people of Gaza and classical slavery:

# They were deprived of their basic rights as a result of a military conquest. (Peoples and individuals have often been enslaved as a result of being vanquished.)

# They are stateless. In fact, US slaves at the time the constitution was written in the eighteenth century were at least counted as 3/5s of a citizen. Gazans are not counted as citizens at all by any existing state.

# They have suffered what Orlando Patterson called "social death." Most Gazans are refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and used to live in what is now Israel, but had their property stolen by the European Jewish settlers. They are now trapped in Gaza, and are cut off from many other members of their clan. Social death occurs when the enslaved is removed from his or her original social and geographical context. The Gazans are certainly for the most part cut off in this way.

# Gazans lack mobility, being trapped in the Gaza Strip. Israel controls their borders and their air and coastline. There is also a checkpoint on the short border with Egypt, but it is strictly policed. It is typical of the condition of slaves that they are deprived fo the liberty of movement.

# They do not control their own property. Thus, Gazans cannot own a medical clinic [or a Qassam launcher--YG], e.g., and be sure of it not being bombed by the Israelis. They can never know from day to day what the Israelis will do to their property. They cannot export their goods via their harbor on the Mediterranean because Israel does not allow it. They cannot have a functioning airport. Likewise slaves do not actually own property, since the slavemaster actually owns it and can dispose of it as he likes.

# Innocent Gazans may be killed or maimed with impunity by Israeli bombs and shells. Likewise, slavemasters in most societies can kill or beat their slaves with few repercussions.

# Gazans can be deprived of enough nutrition to be healthy at will. A free person lacking nutrition can make arrangements to get more. A slave, because of lack of freedom of movement, is forced to simply go hungry.

It may be objected that Israelis do not make Gazans work for them for free. But forced labor is only one element of slavery. The essential characteristics of any slave system have more to do with the denial of liberty than with the precise economic form of exploitation practiced on the slave. That there has been Israeli economic exploitation of Gazans and their resources is in any case undeniable.

Unless and until the Gazans are freed by the Israeli Pharoah from their debilitating bondage, the violence will go on. And the Gazans, having been deprived of their liberty as Samson was deprived of his sight, are perfectly capable of bringing down the whole structure of Levantine security if this unhealthy and outrageous denial to them of the elements of basic human dignity does not cease once and for all.
Israel as Pharoah! (Did Juan write this for Parshas Shemos?) That Israelis "do not make Gazans work for them for free" is not the only objection one might make to this little exercise in comparison. I don't think that worrying about how to neutralize the slaves' missile arsenal without causing a humanitarian crisis is part of the classical master-slave relationship. Palestinian autonomy and freedom of movement is actually one of the central issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Cole avoids analysis in favor of elaborately belaboring the obvious point that Israeli security measures limit Palestinian freedom of movement. Of course they do. Unfortunately, freedom of movement can be used to get on with life or to get on with war, and the Gazans have mostly been doing the latter.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was a great increase in freedom and autonomy for the Gazans. Hamas quickly acted to show that it regarded Gaza, not as an opportunity to get on with life, but as a newly acquired military asset. What we now think of as the Israeli blockade followed the coup that brought Hamas to the position of sole authority in Gaza. Does anyone remember that the now-broken "calm" was supposed to have later stages? Time reported last June:
In the next phase, Israel and Hamas will start indirect talks, through the Egyptians, to trade captured Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Once Shalit is freed, says Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad, Israel will then agree to allow the reopening of Rafah, the main crossing between Gaza and Egypt, as long as it is manned by European Union monitors. Egypt will also undertake the near-impossible task of stopping arms from being smuggled into Gaza; Israelis are worried, with good reason, that Hamas will use the truce to rearm itself with longer-range and more accurate missiles.
Stepped-up terror is the worry that has come with any of Israel's many attempts to relax its security measures for the sake of "confidence-building." And the feared outcome (rather than the hoped-for one) always materializes.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

No comments: