Fearful Symmetry in Israel and Palestine (Part Two)

Finding a Just Peace Somewhere in the Faultlines of Seismic Despair

The attacks by Hamas fighters on innocent Israelis on October 7 were despicable acts of wanton cruelty. I do not support Hamas. I do not consider its military wing a Palestinian liberation movement. The events of October 7 were not heroic acts of resistance. Quite the contrary, they were acts of brazen murder, more in keeping with the actions of the Einsatzgruppen during World War II. How some factions of the left cannot bring themselves to condemn such acts indicates how far the left’s capacity for critical discernment has diminished. Rant Man Scott Ritter is a case in point. Ritter denied that Hamas was a terrorist organisation and called the massacre on October 7 a military assault by a ‘resistance group’ that was carried out ‘with far more precision and far less collateral damage than what Israel’s doing.’ He claimed that many of the Israeli dead are actually the victims of Israeli Defence Forces firing indiscriminately at Hamas fighters and their Israeli hostages, killing both Hamas fighters and the hostages. Everyone reading this comment is made all the more callous for doing so. Judgement and wisdom are not Ritter’s strong points these days, only his bluster and long-windedness. Too often, his brainpan has served as a saloon spittoon rather than a protective case for a functioning organ of reason and insight.

While there may be some truth to Ritter’s claim that many Israelis don’t want a Palestinian state and that the October 7 attacks by Hamas were predictable and even welcomed in that the savage inhumanity of their attacks would all but ensure that there will never be a Palestinian state, at least not in the foreseeable future, Ritter can barely contain his enthusiasm for Hamas, praising the way they have respected the female hostages, although he said nothing of those who are already dead. Ritter sees what is going on but has no talent for observation. Palestinians are no more noncontingently violent than Israelis. But can the same be said for Hamas? Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatar to transfer millions of dollars to Hamas-run Gaza in 2018 left Israel uncharacteristically vulnerable to attack since Hamas used the funds to build tunnels, buy weapons and train its military wing. In an article that attempts to paint Hamas soldiers as respectable combatants whose atrocities on October 7 were fabricated by Israeli soldiers and settlers, Robert Inlakesh and Sharmine Narwani write, ‘Complicating matters further, on the day these rape allegations arose, Israelis would not have had access to this information. Their armed forces had not yet entered many, if not most, of the areas liberated by the resistance and were still engaged in armed clashes with them on multiple fronts.’ My response is: Liberated by the resistance? How so? How exactly is this term warranted? Israelis were liberated from their families, their friends, from their loved ones; that they were liberated from their very lives is more to the point.

As an occupying power, Israel has been extremely brutal, beginning with the Palestinian Nakba in 1948 and the inhuman and barbaric siege imposed on two million people in Gaza that continues to this day, not to mention the wanton oppression of their compatriots in different areas of historical Palestine. The history of this occupation has been chronicled by Jewish scholars Noam Chomsky, Norman Finklestein, IIlan Pappé and others. The increasing Judaisation of the West Bank carried out by the illegal settler movement has been a nightmare and must be immediately redressed. The Nachala Settlement Organisation openly assists young settlers to occupy land in the West Bank illegally. The settlers are not just innocent explorers, as we might think of settlers from reading US history textbooks about the ‘taming’ of the West (which conveniently omits the slaughter of the Indigenous populations). Many of them routinely occupy Palestinian homes, damage their property and attack their settlements. Since October 7, there have been over a hundred Palestinians murdered in the West Bank by settlers and IDF forces, and many Palestinian houses and lands have been stolen by these settlers, who are often defined by their vehemently racist and theocratic attitudes. Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been considered illegal under international law since the territory was occupied by Israel in 1967. According to the UN, over 270 settlements, housing 750,000 settlers, have been established in the West Bank over the past 50 years. The current fundamentalist messianic Israeli government of Netanyahu (which officially defines itself as a democracy, but only for Israelis) has done little to stop the settlers from stealing the lands from the Palestinians and murdering them. In fact, there is a fear that Israel’s plans are to permanently create a state of Judea in the West Bank, pushing out all the Palestinians. It is clear to many historians and critics that there will be no peace until Israel allows for the return of Palestinian refugees.

It is true that the people of Gaza are very receptive to the messages of Hamas. And the more the carnage piles up in Gaza, the more the Israeli military’s bombing campaign ( a staggering number of unguided ‘dumb’ bombs amount to half the explosives used in its flattening of half the city) disregards the lives of elderly Palestinians and innocent Palestinian children, the more receptive they will be, which is something the Israelis seem resistant to acknowledge. The IDF is not just engaged in targeted or ‘precision’ strikes because they are using carpet bombing and white phosphorus. White phosphorus melts the skin on contact, and its use is a war crime. Claiming that Israel needs to keep its momentum going by continuing to bomb Gaza relentlessly and, therefore, must refuse a humanitarian pause for a ceasefire is only going to make peace less possible, if not impossible. The challenge for the IDF is learning how to fight the enemy without building a golden calf. Piers Morgan appeared to suggest on his television show that Israel’s ‘mowing the grass’ bombing strategy is justified, citing the ‘area bombing’ campaign during World War II. Perhaps Morgan was unaware that area bombing was developed by the head of RAF Bomber Command, Arthur Harris (commonly referred to as ‘Bomber’ Harris), during the height of the Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany in World War II. There was considerable controversy after the war about Harris’s use of ‘area bombing.’ Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of Harris outside the RAF Church of St Clement Danes, London, in 1992, and was jeered at by protesters who considered Harris a war criminal. Not a single member of the cabinet attended the unveiling. The statue was often vandalised and had to be kept under 24-hour guard for months. During World War II, the US and the Nazis also area bombed (known as ‘carpet bombing’) both military and industrial sites along with schools, churches and homes. The US also used carpet bombing during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There were huge protests throughout the US against carpet bombing during the Vietnam War and during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign that opened the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The IDF may not intentionally target children, but they know full well that dozens of children will die after each airstrike. Even precision strikes will have dozens, perhaps hundreds of unintended casualties. In the end, Israel may eliminate all Hamas fighters but such a strategy may actually backfire because it will only strengthen the cause of Hamas among Palestinians and the next generation of Gazans will pick up where Hamas left off in its terror attacks. Of course, Israel has a right to defend itself, but the implacable reactionary violence of Israel, funded by US imperialist might – that has brought about such death and destruction to civilians as well as an internal and perhaps permanent displacement of hundreds of thousands of Gazans, whose traumatised and wounded are now taking refuge in shelters that are ‘reporting thousands of cases of acute respiratory disorder, skin infections, diarrhoea, and chicken pox’ – is going to lead to escalation and not elimination. I hope that the Palestinians will get their state and will, in turn, be able to live in peace. Peace requires more than just formal laws that guarantee basic human rights and freedoms, but building new human relations, new capacities for empathy, new modes of being and becoming more fully human, new strategies for constructing a global ethic and universal consciousness where life takes on meaning by living for the sake of others, by celebrating cultural pluralism, and by interaction with others in building a culture of peaceful reciprocity. Dr. Hans Küng (Prof. Emeritus of the Tübingen University, Germany), a noted scholar of world religions, stresses the creation of a global ethic. For Küng (as for revolutionaries such as Paulo Freire), the importance of creating a global ethic cannot be implemented unless there is genuine dialogue among the world’s religions. Küng writes:

No human life without a world ethic for the nations. No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. No dialogue between the religions without global ethical standards. No survival of our globe without a global ethic, supported by both religious and nonreligious people.

I want to be clear that support for the Palestinians is not equivalent to racism and antisemitism. Palestine has the right to free itself from brutal repression, but Hamas is not, in my view, the instrument for that struggle if we sincerely seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict. They are a terrorist organisation. Some have argued that a dialectical approach that is critical of both Hamas and the Israelis is tantamount to being ‘neutral’ and constitutes a self-righteous, elitist, Pharisaic, ruling-class position amounting to moral cowardice. This flagrant misuse and misunderstanding of what it means to critique both the Israeli state and Hamas and what it means to be neutral shows the immaturity of some factions of the militant, self-righteous left. To be willing to critique both the IDF and Hamas is, in effect, a call to dialogue, not a state of neutrality. It is not being neutral. To be neutral, according to some on the left, who prefer to ignore the multidimensionality and contextual specificity around the act of criticising both sides, is refusing to approvingly match the tactics of Hamas with the brutality of the oppressed peasants of the Yihetuan Movement, whose anti-imperialist and anti-Christian resistance in China during the Boxer Rebellion was equally as vicious as those of its oppressors, but for the right anti-imperialist cause.

According to this faction of the left, we should champion Hamas’ tactics because they were no more brutal than those of the rebellious slaves during slave revolts in Santo Domingo. Those who see wrongdoing on both sides are simply dismissed as moralists to be shunned because they are unprepared to identify Hamas as the heroic liberators of Palestine. To reject Hamas’s bloody attack is not to be neutral. Factions of the left tell us that the yolk of oppression must be countered with an eye-for-an-eye approach. They claim that Marx and Lenin did not complain of such tactics during important revolutionary upheavals. If Marx and Lenin didn’t criticise some of these tactics, then perhaps they should have. Are devout followers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky required to worship their idols? Did not these great figures sometimes make mistakes? Did not Trotsky in 1939 admit his mistake regarding his initial response to the Hitler-Stalin pact?

Since when does praising eye-for-an-eye tactics serve as  ‘proof’ of the legitimacy or authenticity of one’s Marxist credentials and the purity of one’s anti-imperialist pedigree? To denounce those who take a both/and dialectical approach to the conflict rather than an either/or approach brings into glaring relief the identity of the real moral cowards. Is a Marxist who may have supported Martin Luther King’s non-violence approach to Southern Jim Crow laws and the war in Vietnam any less a Marxist because they did not advocate for a violent insurrection against Southern racists, which would consist of the kidnapping and lynching of Ku Klux Klan members? Yes, King was assassinated in 1968, but he was no moral coward. In the eyes of these eye-for-an-eye jingoists, are Israeli peace activists who choose not to attempt an assassination of Netanyahu moral cowards? In these attacks on so-called pseudo-leftists by those leftists who claim the moral high ground, why is there never any mention of the 1988 Hamas Covenant or the revised charter that was issued in 2017? When these leftists pontificate against those who are not willing to follow the positions dictated by the almighty ‘campists’ that stipulate you must jump on the Hamas bandwagon or be denounced publicly, like the denunciations of the bourgeoisie during China’s Cultural Revolution, why are these proclamations by Hamas dutifully ignored? Why is there a motivated amnesia when it comes to the covenant? What are the intentions of Hamas, its explicit aims and stated objectives? Are not Hamas’s intentions to destroy Israel scripturally sanctioned? Is there also not a case to be made that statements made by Old Testament prophets give a religious imprimatur for ‘mowing the grass’ to the IDF in Gaza? Accordingly, is what happened in Israel on Saturday not completely in keeping with Hamas’s explicit aims and stated objectives, according to the document’s 36 articles? Is not the complete destruction of Israel the essential condition for the liberation of Palestine? Is this not to be carried out by unceasing holy war (jihad) to attain the above objective? Is there no comparison to be made in terms of how this sanguinary covenant functions to foster hate among Muslims towards Jews and the role played by the publication of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in radicalising Germans against the Jews? ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about,’ proclaims the document, ‘until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.’ Is the annihilation of the Jews not required to end this war finally?

For this faction of Marxists, can there not be a negotiated resolution or political settlement of Jewish and Muslim claims to the Holy Land? Or are those who criticise both the IDF and the Israeli far right and Hamas to be mocked and ridiculed not only for refusing to choose sides but for refusing to revel in Hamas’s attacks on civilians, thus failing to pass the leftist purity test? These groups protest attacks on innocent civilians by the IDF, as they should, but then caution leftists not to criticise Hamas’s bloody attack on Israeli citizens on October 7 because earlier rebellions throughout history against murderous imperialist regimes saw the victimised resort to similar tactics as their victimisers, with the apparent approval of Marx and Lenin. Do we simply ignore the ‘historical anti-Semitic tropes and calumnies married to sinister conspiracy theories’ percolating throughout this war as fighting rages in Israel and Gaza? Do we have to cheer alongside those ‘pedigree’ Marxists, who, along with Hamas, cry ‘kill the Jew’? Is there no space for negotiation between the ‘Islamic Waqf’ and those who wage war on behalf of Greater Israel? I am sure Marx would be forgiving in our turning to a Hegelian philosopher to set up the challenge ahead, one that does not require an eye-for-an-eye solution:

Hamas and Israeli hardliners are two sides of the same coin. The choice is not one hardline faction or the other; it is between fundamentalists and all those who still believe in the possibility of peaceful co-existence. There can be no compromise between Palestinian and Israeli extremists, who must be combatted with a full-throated defense of Palestinian rights that goes hand-in-hand with an unwavering commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism.

Utopian as this may sound, the two struggles are of a piece. We can and should unconditionally support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. But we also must unconditionally sympathise with the truly desperate and hopeless conditions faced by Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories. Those who think there is a ‘contradiction’ in this position are the ones who are effectively blocking a solution.

I would say to my Marxist comrades who berate those who refuse to choose among one of the hardline extremist factions of the conflict: Stop blocking the possibility of a solution to the conflict. As I will point out in what follows, both Israelis and Hamas need to put aside their religious prophetic utterances since they de facto prevent the possibility of a lasting peace. I, and many of my comrades, also grieve the desperate struggle of the Palestinian people, whose lives of structural subordination and oppression I have witnessed firsthand during visits with political activists in both Israel and Palestine. I do not conflate the military wing of Hamas with all Palestinian people, and I have been a longstanding critic of retaliatory acts of the Israel Defence Forces, who are shelling, starving, dispossessing and otherwise traumatising millions of innocent Palestinians in Gaza, and occupying Palestinian lands in the West Bank, where attacks by Israeli settlers are constant. Who can forget the massacres that were committed in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian encampments in Lebanon in 1982?

Are the acts of Hamas’ military wing justified forms of revolutionary violence against the structural violence of the Israeli occupation? Not the kind of mass slaughter that we saw on October 7 in Israel. And revolutionary violence inevitably brings forth reactionary violence, which we are now seeing enacted by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza. Brutal systems of domination breed forms of resistance that create forms of revolutionary violence, which then provoke forms of reactionary violence. Forms of revolutionary violence can sometimes be justified, but not those that organise torture, kidnapping and mass slaughter, the likes of which we saw in Israel on October 7, which did little more than make us rage against such inhumanity and our stomachs churn in anguish and despair. No matter how disheartened we may become in fathoming the calamity and terror of war and its attending antagonisms, we cannot banish from our minds the harrowing realities of terroristic violence used by Hamas fighters or fail to be attentive to our moral criteria and the moral imperatives that oblige us into taking action against all forms of oppression.

But what kind of action is it that destroys an entire city, that bombs areas known to be populated by women and children? That uses terms such as barbarism and ‘savagery’ to dehumanise Palestinians? We are obliged to treat both Israelis and Palestinians as having infinite dignity, and we appeal to our rational faculties to negate the distinction between what is just and what is supererogatory. Here, it is crucial that we affirm that all people are to be treated with infinite dignity, which entails some degree of reciprocal respect. We must, in this instance, abjure reformist palliatives because such palliatives constitute the repressive system’s best defence. Any change in Israeli-Palestinian relations is fated to be a priori inadequate if that change does not involve a radical revolution in their attitudes towards each other. And how can this be facilitated other than by dismantling the settler colonial structures of the Israeli occupation? We cannot continue to use the term ‘barbarism’ or ‘savagery’ to dehumanise the Palestinian people, a people who only want back what was stolen from them. How can we enter a new restorative-redemptive relationship with both the past and the future of the Middle East, not by some Messianic-redemptive alchemic prism that reimagines the Middle East as a pristine Garden of Paradise before every social gain was sacrificed at the altar of profit, before the birthmarks of capitalism became the Mark of the Beast, but by judging the authenticity of our lives by the criterion of meeting the needs of others, in the historical (and not simply existential) imperative of loving our neighbour.

So, what must be done now, immediately? All efforts must be made to prevent the loss of innocent lives from occurring in Gaza, including an immediate ceasefire. This caution is coming from Israeli peace activists and peace activists worldwide. The fountain from which peace emerges is dialogue, not slaughter. Peace activists in Israel understand this and are working at great risk to themselves since tensions are high in all corners of Israeli society, and the trauma of the brutal Hamas attacks is settling in. But the Israeli Defence Forces are renaming themselves by their actions of revenge as the Israeli Offence Forces, as their efforts resignify the idea of defence, unintentional or not, as mass slaughter, as shells smash through bone and gristle of children whose last image of their mother was a limbless torso crumpled in a corner of a basement. The Israeli military is piling up corpses by virtue of its power to steal the humanity of its victims before they are cast into a shallow grave.

We must get beyond the rage-baiting, gaslighting, peace-demolishing and religious reckoning of those who cite prophets in defence of their actions, whose maximalist claims render such carnage in Gaza a spiritual inevitability caused by Satanic powers, as aligned with the prophecies of Isaiah and underwritten by a literalist exegesis of Revelation 20:2. On Wednesday, October 25, during a speech to the nation by Prime Minister of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu, referred to the prophecy of Isaiah, when he uttered the words: ‘We shall realise the prophecy of Isaiah. There will no longer be stealing at your borders, and your gates will be of glory. Together we will fight, together we will win?’ This was almost surely a reference to Isaiah 60:18, which says, ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.’

This idea of a divinely-ordained war, and assurances of victory, providentially willed by God against Hamas, portending an apocalyptic High Noon showdown and unleashing anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, or anti-Palestinian sentiments, de facto prohibits peace from ever seeing the light of day in the Middle East. We must challenge apocalyptic pronouncements such as comparing the brutality of Hamas with the biblical Amalekites, and similar pronouncements by Christian Zionists, that galvanise xenophobic rage against immigrants and outsiders, that support ethno-nationalist fury, that deny Palestinians their sovereignty and self-determination in any partition of land that has been ordained as belonging to Greater Israel, and that encourages retaliatory assaults that kill thousands of innocent victims, including children.

To justify current attacks on Hamas by citing ancient prophets is to remain ensepulchred in the dank chthonic underworld of eschatological despair, where the necromancers of war trap freedom in the charnel house of ancient history, turn the joys of peace and happiness into a dirge, and where the ashes of their victims are whisked away by aberrant decrees that attempt to recode the compass of past slaughters, aiming them at the heartbeat of today.

Comparing the brutality of Hamas with the biblical Amalekites, Peter Leithart writes that the October 7 attack on Israel ‘was like something from the dark ages of antiquity. Marauders invaded Israel not to claim territory or even treasure but to slaughter innocents and take hostages. They killed young women, snatched elderly people from the streets, murdered and burned families with their children.’ In the Jewish apocalyptical narrative, Joshua defeats the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16), prompting Yahweh to take an oath: ‘Yahweh has sworn; Yahweh will have war against Amalek from generation to generation’ (Ex. 17:16). Later, the Amalekites attack David’s camp at Ziklag when he was in exile in Philistia and carry off women and children. David recovers the captives and is anointed King of Judah.

Following in the footsteps of another apocalyptic narrative, Mostafa asserts that extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood justified their contribution to the conflict in 1948 ‘as an eschatological event pertinent to the approach of the Day of Judgment. Now, terrorist Brotherhood offshoots like Hamas are calling for violence against Israel in the name of Islam, seeking to revive this apocalyptic narrative ‘and re-establish the historical Islamic Caliphate by seizing power. They consider Israel to be a “foreign object” in the continuum of a potential Islamic Caliphate, and they continue to call for the use of violence against it.’

This prophetic violence must stop. Have we not been bequeathed a gospel of love? Is the eschaton not always already imminent? The prophets of Judaism and Islam are crying out to you, O Jerusalem, a city that ‘has been attacked fifty-two times, captured and recaptured forty-four times, besieged twenty-three times and destroyed twice. The city was ruled by the Ancient Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Byzantines, the Islamic Caliphates, the Crusaders, the Ottomans and, finally, the British, before its division into Israeli and Jordanian sectors from 1948 to 1967.’ Their voices are crying out that a kingdom of peace must be built atop the ashes of hatred. Has the eschaton not arrived? Does it not say in the Book of Isiah chapter 2:

Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

As Chomsky has pointed out, young people in Israel are, more and more, embracing religious nationalism and moving away from supporting secular democracy. That has not helped the cause of peace. If we are going to rely on ancient scriptures, we need to quote from those that speak to the possibility of peace. The Bible and the Koran, as sacred and foundational texts for many faith traditions, serve as a powerful source of inspiration for promoting peace and discouraging hatred. Can we not turn to those teachings that emphasise love, compassion, and understanding, encouraging believers and non-believers alike to treat others with kindness and respect? Why can’t we emphasise the fundamental principles of forgiveness, empathy, and humility that are woven throughout the ancient texts, providing a timeless guide for individuals seeking harmony in their interactions with others, interactions that seek to overcome differences, foster reconciliation, and build bridges between diverse communities? Can we not use them to promote peace, unity, and the shared values that transcend cultural and religious boundaries? Do we fear that promoting such values will be perceived as weakness? Is it cowardice that keeps our language so bellicose and belligerent? As Noam Chomsky has noted, in the early 1970s, a United Nations resolution gave Israel a choice between expansion or security. A United Nations Security Council resolution called for a two-state solution, the right for each state to exist in peace and security within secure and recognised borders, mutually recognised borders. Israel chose to reject the UN resolution. The United States vetoed the resolution. And Israel has been expanding since, with the support of the United States. Such expansion is not the way to secure peace.

Hussein Ibish of the Gulf States Institute in Washington notes, correctly, in my view, that Israel’s right-wing government, under Ariel Sharon and now under Benjamin Netanyahu, has employed a divide-and-rule policy designed to keep Hamas and Fatah divided both physically and ideologically. The creation of ‘the small self-administered Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and most of Gaza in the 1990s’ has witnessed an attempt by Israel to divide Palestinians between secular nationalists and Islamists in the occupied territories. Hamas was organised by the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. With a Fatah presidency under Mahmoud Abbas and a Hamas-dominated legislature (currently, Fatah heads the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority, which governs about 40% of the occupied West Bank), conflict was predictable, and the Palestinian Authority was expelled from Gaza in 2007. The Palestinian nationalist movement could then be targeted by Israel as extremists, and the Fatah-led PLO could be perceived as no longer representative of the Palestinian people. This gave Israel the excuse not to engage in talks regarding a Palestinian state, a two-state solution. This divide-and-rule tactic served the Israeli hardliners well, as Israel has now announced a national policy goal of eventual additional major annexation in the West Bank.

Ibish makes sense when he writes:

Given the profound governance, security and intelligence failures revealed by the October 7 attack – which was ‘successful’ beyond Hamas’s wildest fantasies – Israelis should certainly be seeking new leadership. If and when they at last turn their backs on Netanyahu and the coterie of Jewish supremacists surrounding him, it’s essential that the next phase of Israeli strategic thinking reflects at least some understanding of the Palestinian political scene and what Israel’s real options are.

It’s not too late to choose to deal seriously, respectfully and constructively with Palestinians who are sincere about a negotiated agreement for peaceful coexistence. The alternative was on full display on October 7.

No amount of death and destruction in Gaza or elsewhere is going to provide Israel with lasting security. A negotiated agreement with the Palestinian factions who, despite everything, still want to reach a peace deal with Israel – for good or ill, currently led by Abbas – can bring that about. It’s the only thing that can bring Israelis peace and genuine security.

At this moment, hundreds of thousands risk being pushed from their land in a scorched earth campaign. They must not be allowed to languish in Egyptian refugee camps, left with nothing but memories of their loved ones crushed under the rubble of Israeli air strikes. They must not be left to die in the Sinai; Palestinians have already had their Nakba in 1948 and do not need another. If thousands of innocent Palestinians are forced to starve to death, Israelis will be remembered by history as necrophilous overlords and any hope for peace will remain hidden in the bones of the dead or blown like ashes through the catacombs of sufferance. Israeli peace activists are rightly cautioning Israelis to aspire for life, for creating a counterpower to the forces of hate, even in the darkest moments of despair. They, along with Palestinian activists, must be given a chance to continue their peacemaking efforts. Bolster insurgent passions to defend yourselves from the Hamas killers, yes, but do not fall into a bloodlust of revenge and allow armed settlers in the occupied West Bank to go on killing sprees or seize more land to create more Jewish-only colonies. Listen to the peacemakers: braid your anger with a resolve that peace can eventually be won, not on the slaughter bench of history, but at times when inevitability is countered with possibility.

The attacks by the IDF in Gaza are sickening. It seems to some observers that they are wiping out an entire population. Accusations of genocide abound. The IDF must be held accountable for war crimes. More than 8,000 children have been killed. A recent investigative report by the Israeli media outlets +972 and Local Call – one that is based on interviews with several Israeli military and intelligence sources – describes how the IDF knows precisely the number of civilians that are present in the buildings that it strikes. It has knowingly killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians to kill one single alleged top Hamas commander. The lead investigative reporter, Yuval Abraham, from +972 Magazine, publishing in Israel, in a report entitled A Mass Assassination Factory: Inside Israel’s Calculated Bombing of Gaza, describes how the Israeli military operates inside Gaza. In a story based on seven Israeli military and intelligence sources, some former, some current, who have participated in attacks against Gaza, Abraham reports that the IDF is using a system that is called Habsura, or The Gospel. The system is largely built on artificial intelligence and can ‘generate targets almost automatically at a rate that far exceeds what was previously possible.’ This AI system, as described by a former military intelligence officer, essentially facilitates a ‘mass assassination factory.’

Abraham writes:

In one case discussed by the sources, the Israeli military command knowingly approved the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to assassinate a single top Hamas military commander. ‘The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,’ said one source. ‘Nothing happens by accident,’ said another source. ‘When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.’

Abraham reports the targeting of Hamas as follows:

According to the sources who spoke to +972 and Local Call, the targets in Gaza that have been struck by Israeli aircraft can be divided roughly into four categories. The first is ‘tactical targets,’ which include standard military targets such as armed militant cells, weapon warehouses, rocket launchers, anti-tank missile launchers, launch pits, mortar bombs, military headquarters, observation posts, and so on.

The second is ‘underground targets’ — mainly tunnels that Hamas has dug under Gaza’s neighborhoods, including under civilian homes. Aerial strikes on these targets could lead to the collapse of the homes above or near the tunnels.

The third is ‘power targets,’ which includes high-rises and residential towers in the heart of cities, and public buildings such as universities, banks, and government offices. The idea behind hitting such targets, say three intelligence sources who were involved in planning or conducting strikes on power targets in the past, is that a deliberate attack on Palestinian society will exert “civil pressure” on Hamas.

The final category consists of ‘family homes’ or ‘operatives’ homes.’ The stated purpose of these attacks is to destroy private residences in order to assassinate a single resident suspected of being a Hamas or Islamic Jihad operative. However, in the current war, Palestinian testimonies assert that some of the families that were killed did not include any operatives from these organisations.

Jeremy Scahill reports that ‘[t] here’s also been video that Palestinians have taken showing unarmed Israeli drones that hover down to people’s homes, including in fairly remote locations, and then play an audio message. I don’t know if it’s live or it’s a recording, but one of the videos that I saw is basically threatening the residents of this home that if “you leave, we’re going to be watching you.” I mean, it really is Orwell-level stuff.’

How do we stop such slaughter? In the bramble of war, spaces of dialogue must be cleared so that seeds of peace can be sown not with blood but with tears of hope. Without dialogue, we cannot recognise the other; we cannot see their tears; we cannot acknowledge them as human beings. This is why people of goodwill, in Israel and elsewhere, are demanding humanitarian pauses so that food, medicine, water and fuel can be delivered to Gaza. They are demanding that Palestinians not die because there is no energy to fuel hospital generators or because there is no functioning desalination plant to provide water. They are pleading that this war not be used as an excuse to detain and arrest Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or expel them from their jobs. There is no room for factions of the left who praise a terrorist organisation such as Hamas as ‘resistance fighters.’ Their hate blinds them, and, thus, their condemnation of Israel rings hollow. Resistance fighters do not murder children and infants in front of their parents, they do not indiscriminately slaughter defenceless families with .50 calibre machine guns, and they do not throw grenades into shelters packed with innocents. Only terrorists do that. The Einsatzgruppen did that. We need to remember that Israel was attacked by an organisation bent on slaughtering as many Jews as they could, an organisation that breached the borders of Israel in a planned attack on defenceless Israelis, who murdered children in front of their parents, who raped and tortured Israelis indiscriminately. Any depiction of Hamas as freedom fighters or resistance fighters is, in my mind, to be condemned. Nothing can justify the premeditated slaughter of defenceless Israeli families.

Debates surrounding the immensity of the retaliatory strikes by Israel abound. And this is understandable and necessary. The challenge ahead to those of us who teach in the United States, from elementary school to university, is how to respond to questions about the war raised by our students, by Palestinian students, Jewish students and students from other faith communities who have been disturbed by what they have been watching in the news media and are asking difficult questions beginning with: Why? We can start by joining together in expressing our solidarity that the fighting will end, that the hostages will be returned unharmed, and that a solution will be found to bring peace to the region – one that does not necessitate a death toll that exponentially rises each day. That is just a starting point. And we can respect the complexity of the context surrounding this war when seeking solutions in our problem-posing approaches to peace. But context can be addressed without violence, and that is our first goal as peace educators. As an educator who believes in the power of dialogue, it is difficult to contemplate what steps could be taken now to stop the bloodshed of the innocents. But there are questions that educators can take up in their classes that might prove helpful in gaining clarity on what must occur for peace to prevail. There are no quick fixes, and we must enter into serious peacemaking for the long haul.

If we are going to create a space for dialogue around Israel-Palestine, we cannot avoid addressing religion. It is worth at least asking: What are the possibilities for co-constructing a civil liberation theology platform as a template for dialogue and debate, one that moves beyond the sacred precincts of denominational Christian, Jewish or Muslim theologies and speaks to the possibility of establishing a decolonial, humanistic, democratic and pluralistic society, born out of a commitment to end violence and promote civil harmony? Such a theological scaffolding would be based on a unity of conviction regarding the importance of justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different ethnic and faith communities in Palestine-Israel within a universalised human context.

For the purposes of dialogue, we desperately need a common platform – what I would refer to as a type of ‘civil liberation theology’ – in Palestine and Israel that involves indigenous and decolonising perspectives as well as civil and secular-humanist reflections on a path to peace. Can the creation of a Jewish-Palestinian religious alliance that would adhere to such a platform for the purposes of debate be able to blaze an arc through history that assists both Jews and Palestinians in recognising that the liberation of one is dependent upon the liberation of the other, and thus take a major step away from the antipathy-generating engine of tribal ethnocracy towards an affinity-generating engine of inclusivity and acceptance? The development of such a contemporary civil liberation theology platform in Palestine and Israel would need to be made relevant to secular humanists as well as Muslims, Jews and Christians and derived from the cultural diversity and experiences of Israelis and Palestinians that celebrate a multiplicity of voices and nurture humanist, progressive, creative and liberatory theologies which could, if approached in a spirit of goodwill and peacemaking, be stretched over multiple sites of liberation.

How can religious Israelis, Palestinians and Christians foster an authentically inclusive liberatory theology of justice for all people as part of the global liberation theology movement? It is also worth asking if there are possibilities for creating a non-denominational contextual theology for dialogue. Why a contextual theology? To make theology more contextual means making theology more relevant in relationship to the lived experiences of suffering peoples in the contextual specificity of their surroundings.

A central task would include transforming the daily lives of those who suffer under occupation, violence, injustice and discrimination by addressing a number of issues: the role played by the transnational capitalist class in fomenting sectarian violence; the role played by European commercial, missionary and imperialist activities in importing antisemitic ideas into the Muslim world; the root causes of Palestinian displacement and forced exile; the history of settler colonialism; examining the false narrative of Palestine as ’a land without people’ (terra nullius); the role of religion in advancing imperialism and militarism; the importance of moving away from a tribal and exclusive understanding of God to a more inclusive and universal understanding of God; the important role of partnerships between Palestinians, Jews and Christians in creating an emergent ecumenical crucible of liberation; breaking out of a religious exclusivism and embracing an ecumenist politics; dangers inherent in twisting religious texts in order to serve particular ideological and geo-political interests. The famous Bob Dylan song, With God on Our Side, captures this perfectly.

Other themes that can be addressed include the dangerous role of religious zealotry; the problems inherent in using religious doctrines and proclamations as divinely ordained models for domestic and foreign policy; stereotypes that have the potential to further violence plaguing intercultural interactions by facilitating the dehumanisation and delegitimisation of the opposing group and justifying the continued violence against the outgroup; the role of counternarratives in challenging false religious mega-narratives; the risks in bringing politics into line with theology and vice versa; confronting one’s complicity in anti-Judaism and Islamophobia; and many other themes. The idea would be to move from these general themes to more specific themes.

We need to approach addressing these issues in a pedagogical context of both reinvention and love, as set forth in Antonia Darder’s cogent writings on the work of Paulo Freire’s commitment to love. Freire advocates teaching with love since, as Fabiola Torres notes, love is a ’a necessary component for humanisation and liberation … and … is the act of courage that enables students to find their freedom to dialogue about humanisation and love.’ As Freire writes, ‘Only by abolishing the situations of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world – if I do not love life – if I do not love – I cannot enter into dialogue.’ Pursuing humanity, our ontological vocation of becoming more human, and achieving mutual autonomy, can only be achieved through dialogue guided by love, a love which is embedded in our resolve to live in the light of justice.

Yet, in the face of this battle-scarred history, with divine decrees echoing off hillsides and valleys of death through which armies continue to march on their way to crush their enemies in the name of God, I ask myself and others: Are not we, that are left to ponder the dead and dying, already half-dead since we can only reflect upon such horrors in the dark stupor of our sleep, in the rag-and-bone shop of memories lost in time? For in our wakeful imagination, we cannot think beyond our rage, surrounded by choruses of vile and vehemence from Israelis and Palestinians alike, whose avidity clamours in full-throated cries for revenge – all claiming to be fighting with just cause, all claiming to be rebuking the beast among the reeds, disarming the sword of the oppressor. War, that cruel sabre slash across the cheekbones of history, stumbles repeatedly over its pleas for justification, its cries for sanctification, all in the cause of shattering nations, of destroying kingdoms. Death by decree puts love on hold, and, whether or not it shall ever return or forever remain buried, is our never-ending challenge.

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Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.