Above photo: Palestinians transport the injured to the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia, north of the Gaza Strip on October 9, 2023. Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages.
Diego Ramos, ScheerPost’s managing editor, forwarded me a video clip last week he thought I ought to see. Sending it under the subject line, “Disturbing trend in Israel,” my colleague must have reckoned I have not been sufficiently shocked by the events in Israel and Gaza since Hamas mounted an assault into southern Israel on October 7 and the Israeli Defense Forces began a purposely disproportionate response to the incursion—purposely disproportionate as a matter of official policy since David Ben–Gurion put it in place during his premiership in the 1950s.
Diego did his disturbing work. The video he forwarded outdoes it all so far by provoking a disgust as profound as any I have ever felt. It features a number of scenes wherein Israelis record themselves sadistically ridiculing Palestinians in the most cravenly cruel manner. They imitate Palestinian children dying or starving. They apply racially offensive makeup. They laugh and dance while switching lights on and off and while ostentatiously drinking water from taps—this last to mock Gazans as Israel deprives them of power, potable water, food and much else.
And I am describing the children in these videos, ranging in age from, maybe, six or seven to somewhere in their teens or early twenties. The mothers stand behind them, smiling with approval and delight. Here is the video as posted by Al Jazeera English last Thursday. I have since seen several others like it.
By common agreement among many lawyers, scholars of international law, special rapporteurs, and the like—including Israelis in these fields—what we witness daily now is by all acceptable definitions a genocide. Whether or not Israel is committing war crimes by the hour is not even worth debating. But I am taken up now by the spectacle of human beings who have allowed themselves to be destroyed in the name of an ideology that proves every bit as racist as it was when, in 1975, the U.N. General Assembly declared Zionism to be so. Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991; it should not have been.
I am reminded of what I learned years ago when studying the Japanese Imperial Army’s conduct in China and Korea before and during World War II and the long record of the Kempeitai, commonly known as Imperial Japan’s Thought Police. Victimizers, I came to conclude with conviction, are victims, too. This holds for the people in the videos I have recently viewed and for every Israeli wearing an IDF uniform. They have been stripped of all ordinary decency by the radical ideologues of “the Jewish state.” They can laugh or sneer or pull all the triggers they like: Their lives, too, have been destroyed. Look at the videos: The evidence of this is in every frame.
“Nothing human disgusts me” is a line I remember well from The Night of the Iguana, the 1961 play by the superbly human Tennessee Williams. I hold to this thought (even while reading the foreign pages of The New York Times). What has happened to the people in the videos must disgust us. But what they suffer as victims could happen to all but the strongest among us. They are appalling specimens of humanity, but they are human. As we find our way to some morally, intellectually defensible high ground during the atrocities we witness daily, we need to bear this in mind.
And this, too: Those videos were not shot in isolation. They reflect a culture of racism, xenophobia, hatred, and—we see this now—sadism that has taken pride in itself for many years. These sentiments are instruments of the state, carefully cultivated. You may remember the videos shot at the time of the al–Aqsa crisis two years ago. Young Israelis in sparkling school uniforms or stylish clothes leapt up and down in a sort of frenzy in the streets of Jerusalem while shouting, “Death to all Arabs.” I read those images looking back and forward: They were the flowers of the Israeli state’s century of official indoctrination and a prelude to the videos coming out now.
Arnold Toynbee, the great if no longer fashionable historian, argued in his 12–volume “A Study of History” that civilizations rise when creative elites respond to new circumstances with imagination and courage, while they decline, in turn, not in consequence of external factors but due to spiritual collapses within. This is the Israel of Bibi Netanyahu, the Israel whose plan, we know by way of an official document leaked over the weekend, is to ethnic-cleanse Gaza and incorporate it into the Jewish state. Its leaders are brutes and—as the videos I reference show—they have destroyed Israel’s human spirit.
I saw an interview Sunday with a Defense Department contractor who has visited Israel dozens of times over many years on DoD work. He recounted the steady decline in any belief in a peaceful settlement of the Israel–Palestine crisis that he has detected since 2007. For most Israelis, he observed, it is down to violence now. A headline in Monday’s editions of The Times, recording these changing desires and expectations: “I Don’t Have That Empathy. It’s Not Me Anymore.” This is the voice of a nation that has demolished itself in its attempts to destroy others.
A couple of weeks ago in this space I published a commentary asserting that the two-state solution to the Israel–Palestine question is dead, and a single, secular state is the only way forward. I had some mail afterward to the effect that a one-state solution is too far from reality to think about. I will reply here that these readers have it upside-down. A one-state solution is now the only realistic idea worth considering. Until Israelis accept that they must live in a single nation wherein Palestinians dwell as equal citizens, there is no more future for them than there is for Palestinians. They, Israelis, will be condemned to live in a walled-off garrison state that will come to look ever more like a commodious version of the “open-air prison” we speak of when we speak of Gaza.
“We are the people of the light, they are the people of darkness,” Netanyahu said in a much-remarked speech to the nation last Wednesday, “and light shall triumph over darkness.” This is the utterance of a destroyer—of people, of hope—a man who cannot find his way out of the Old Testament and nonsensically demands we live in it with him, a man who simply should not be leading anything in the 21st century.
And we, we Americans, are urged daily to support the depravity into which this man leads Israel ever more deeply. Netanyahu’s depravity, Israel’s, must be ours, too. We are urged now to openly endorse war crimes and a genocide. And so we, too, are in consequence letting an apartheid state’s intentionally terrorizing campaign against Palestinians accelerate our none-too-sturdy nation into the kind of internal collapse Toynbee described as the dynamic of decline.
Across the country you find confrontations between those who argue in behalf of their consciences and those who censure, name-call, deplatform, or otherwise attempt to ruin them for not supporting open-and-shut murder. At the University of Pennsylvania, wealthy donors threaten to withhold their support if the administration does not come out in favor of this savagery. The Writers Guild of America West is under attack for similarly refraining. Artforum, the monthly chronicler of the gallery scene, fired its editor for signing an open letter calling for a ceasefire, whereupon collectors now threaten to “deaccession” the works of artists who also signed. Let us add to this a 71–year old man’s murder of a 6–year-old Palestinian boy near Chicago two weeks ago, an incident that left his mother in critical condition.
These implicit defenses of systematic savagery must be dressed up, of course. And so America plunges into the disgracefully cynical argument that to oppose the Israeli operation in Gaza is anti–Semitic. The Chinese put their hands up to contribute to a ceasefire and talks toward an enduring settlement of one or another kind, but China is anti–Semitic because it has not condemned the Hamas assault.
A museum bureaucrat named Sarah Lehat Blumenstein is now going after artists who signed the letter that got Artforum’s editor fired. She threatens them with “a deaccession plan to dimmish the artists’ status.” Explaining herself in an interview with The Times, she said her efforts reflect “a fear that rising anti–Semitism was endangering her right to exist.”
The ADL may wish to come after me for this one, such have things come to, but this statement proposes a patently ridiculous equivalence, albeit one emblematic of the post–October 7 climate. If you oppose the Israelis’ genocide operation and merely call for a ceasefire, some museum functionary is frightened that her life is under threat? I view this as more than a vulgar misuse of history and a contemptuous use of the victim card. This reflects a nation that no longer knows how to make sense of itself.
I loved, in this connection, a piece The Times ran in last Saturday’s editions to dress up, as a matter of personal affection, what has to be the Biden regime’s worst policy failure to date. Joe Biden just loves Israel, Peter Baker, The Times’s White House correspondent, wants us to know, and we should understand this—and along the way accept his “unwavering support.” “Some confidants,” Baker then writes, “said that Mr. Biden’s Irish heritage makes him relate to the plight of historically marginalized people and that his own family tragedy connects him to the grief of those who have lost so much.”
Readers, take as much time as you wish lingering over this, among the most preposterous sentences written to explain U.S. policy since violence erupted October 7.
We propose to ban the exercise of conscience, condemnations of the out-of-control violence of an openly racist nation. No, you cannot think that. No, you cannot say that. You must think and say this. We tell ourselves stories about what good, well-intended fellows are those who support atrocities. U.S. foreign policy has not for many decades had much to do with the ideals of Western civilization as we were taught to think of them. Now we whose taxes pay for policy are urged to come right out with it: Yes, we approve of war crimes, violence against noncombatants, ethnic cleansing. What is Israel costing us? Ourselves and our self-respect, our psychological coherence, our regard of history, our culture, our humanity.
Israel, the U.S. and the rest of the West cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the grave, grave error of al–Nakba in 1948, when began the forcible removal of Palestinians from their land. See the Toynbee reference above: Nobody in power has the creativity, imagination, or confidence to confront the present as the consequence of this error and begin acting to correct it. And so Israel will continue to pull us in the wrong direction—or further in the wrong direction, I ought to say. I hope I am not around if ever Americans start in with the sadistic videos.