Eyeless in Gaza

I had a dream: Israeli Arab students, enraged by the war in Gaza, were protesting at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A counterdemonstration by Jewish students erupted. When the head of university security, a Holocaust survivor, tried to intervene, the Arab students called him a Nazi.

Actually, I didn’t dream this. Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at the university, related the incident, which occurred in the first days after Israel began its Gaza war on December 27. But dreams cut to the quick. There’s no point denying that a line of sorts runs from the forty-three people killed by Israeli fire near a United Nations school in Gaza on January 6 back to the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 and to Berlin, 1945.

History is relentless. Sometimes its destructive gyre gets overcome: France and Germany freed themselves after 1945 from war’s cycle. So, even more remarkably, did Poland and Germany. China and Japan scarcely love each other but do business. Only in the Middle East do the dead rule. As Yehuda Amichai, the Israeli poet, once observed, the dead vote in Jerusalem. Their demand for blood is, it seems, inexhaustible. Their graves will not be quieted. Since 1948 and Israel’s creation, retribution has reigned between the Jewish and Palestinian national movements.

I have never previously felt so despondent about Israel, so shamed by its actions, so despairing of any peace that might terminate the dominion of the dead in favor of opportunity for the living.

More than dreams, I’ve been having nightmares. I cannot see a scenario in which any short-term Israeli tactical victory over Hamas is not overwhelmed by the long-term strategic cost of this war. Khaled Meshal, the political director of Hamas in Damascus, declared fifteen days into the war that it had “destroyed the last chance for negotiations.” A little over a year after the Bush administration’s much-heralded Annapolis conference, a Mideast peace has never seemed more distant. On Israel–Palestine, as much else, the outgoing president’s capacity to exit in flames is conspicuous.

But before I get to that, let me return, for a moment, to those protesting Israeli Arab students. There are about 1.3 million Arab citizens of Israel, or a little less than 20 percent of the population. Their loyalties are divided, but never before have they protested so vigorously. That’s a fair guide to the virulence of Arab sentiment, stoked by graphic around-the-clock coverage of the Gaza carnage from the al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya networks. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, resorting to the same loaded World War II lexicon, has called Gaza “a concentration camp,” a term also recently used by Cardinal Renato Martino, the head of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace.

These jackboot allusions—which include Meshal’s reference to a Gaza “holocaust”—are untenable: a Jewish minority in any Arab state of the size of the Arab minority in Israel is unimaginable. Israel remains a small island of relatively liberal democracy …

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Letters

Eyeless in Gaza’: An Exchange March 26, 2009