By David Rovics
I was in Olympia, Washington driving towards Evergreen State College when I got a phone call from someone in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. An Evergreen graduate named Rachel Corrie had been killed a few days before by an Israeli soldier in an armored bulldozer, and someone with an Australian accent on my cell phone named Tom was wondering whether it was OK for the International Solidarity Movement to use the lyrics to a song I had just written about the incident on their website. Rachel’s murder was followed quickly by the murder of a British ISM activist named Tom Hurndall.
And now, almost six years to the day after the murder of Rachel Corrie, my friend and comrade Tristan Anderson has been critically injured by the IDF. He joins ISM activist Brian Avery, who was also shot in the face. Brian survived, seriously disfigured but otherwise intact. Tristan lies in a coma in a hospital near Tel Aviv and may or may not be as lucky as Brian. His brain was exposed by the tear gas canister fired at close range at his face, and as I write, large parts of his frontal lobe have had to be removed by the surgeons.
Rachel, Tom, Brian and Tristan join the ranks of the thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians killed and the tens of thousands maimed by the IDF since 2000 alone. Being privileged foreigners (at least before they were killed or maimed), they did not have the opportunity to join the ranks of the millions of Palestinians and Lebanese who have been driven into desperate poverty, malnourishment and homelessness by the Israeli invasion and occupation of their lands.
There are many other contemporary and historical examples of genocidal regimes. A few of them – contemporary Turkey, Indonesia or, chiefly among them, the United States – lay claim to the notion that they are democratic countries. Others, such as Saddam’s Iraq, apartheid South Africa, and Nazi Germany also made such claims, but nobody believed them. It’s challenging to make comparisons between them, at least in terms of trying to figure out which one should deserve the title of Most Genocidal Regime. There are issues of scale, longevity and historical circumstances that make such judgements difficult. Other types of comparisons, though, are not only easy to make, but seem as unavoidable as the elephant in the living room.
It probably didn’t help that as the Israeli military was laying siege to the Gaza Strip two months ago I was on a tour of Australia, free from my responsibilities as a father and thus with more free time than I ever have when I’m home these days. I did then what I normally do in my free time – read. The book I happened to be reading at the time was one I had been meaning to read for decades, which I had just picked up at a book store during a visit to Canada – William Shirer’s 1,200-page tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As Israel’s massive armored divisions and ultra-modern Air Force was laying waste to an already-occupied walled ghetto filled with nearly starving refugees armed with nothing more than rocks and the occasional small arms, mostly home-made, I was reading about the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto.
The comparisons are not exact. At the height of what was then widely known as the Nazi Terror, in Auschwitz the SS killed thousands of Jews and Russians every day. No such gas chambers exist or have ever existed in Israel. But for those of you reading this who have not already decided that I am a self-loathing Jew or some kind of anti-Semite, I would like to share with you some of the streams of consciousness that were passing through my head as I was attending protests in Australia against the bombing of Gaza, in between the unavoidable visits to the ubiquitous Australian war memorials and the next chapter of Shirer’s history of Nazi Germany.
There I was, bearing witness to the siege of a walled ghetto already under occupation. There have been many sieges of cities over the centuries, but sieges of already-occupied walled ghettoes are far fewer, and for any student of history the similarities are obvious, the comparisons inevitable.
When I first visited Israel in 1999 I was struck by what a nation of trauma survivors it was. I was reminded immediately of my first visit to Ireland some years before, where the great famine that wiped out half the population over a century before seemed like it had happened perhaps a generation ago. In Israel the Nazi Holocaust seemed to have happened yesterday, and in the mindset of many Israelis it seemed as if it were carried out by Palestinians rather than Germans. I encountered anti-Arab racism daily in Israel. When I sang songs about the horrors of the sanctions against Iraq (around a half million Iraqi children dead as a direct result at that point according to UNICEF) I was told by middle-class, middle-aged Israeli folk music fans that killing Iraqi children was OK because they were just going to grow up to become terrorists anyway. I was told that “the Arab mindset” was hopelessly backwards and that they just wanted to “drive us into the sea.” (I even heard Israeli Jews refer to “Latin numerals” when it was clear from the context that they meant Arabic numerals – a Freudian slip I’m sure.)
Most of the Israeli Jews I met seemed confident of the historical persecution of Jews in the Middle East. Actual history bears no resemblance to their version of it, but this did not get in the way of their fantasies. It was in Europe where the Catholic Church and the Nazi movement carried out pogroms and built death camps, not in the Muslim world, but these Jews identified culturally with their European inquisitors, not with their historical Muslim and Christian friends with whom their Arab and Persian Jewish brethren had lived in peace for thousands of years.
And now after decades of the so-called “peace process” Israel’s new Foreign Minister openly advocates for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, for the driving out of the million or so Palestinians living within Israel’s 1948 borders. In this nation of survivors of the Nazi Terror, race laws reign supreme. There is one set of laws for Jews, and another set of laws for everyone else. As in Nazi Germany, “everyone else” is then divided into groups with relative privileges in comparison with each other (for example, “Israeli Arabs” vs. West Bank Palestinians vs. those condemned to live in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison and the most densely-populated place on Earth).
Like the Zionists, the Nazis also came to power on the backs of trauma and claims of victimhood. For decades, history has been written by the victors, so it is hard to imagine how well Hitler was able to sell the case to the German people (and to many others around the world) that Germany was a nation oppressed by their neighbors as well as by “the enemy within,” the Jews.
Millions of Germans had been slaughtered — along with millions of Russians, French, Brits, Australians, etc. — in the War to End All Wars (WWI). German Jews were disproportionately of a leftwing persuasion, and many of the leaders of the social democrats who signed the Treaty of Versailles were, in fact, Jewish. Thus the Jews could be blamed for Germany’s defeat (never mind the Kaiser’s imperial ambitions) and could also somehow be blamed for the devastating economic depression that followed it (never mind the fact that much of the rest of the world was also in the throes of a similarly devastating depression). The Nazi solution to the “Jewish problem” was to create a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Jews, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military or doing any number of other jobs, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Nazis built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Jewish refugees had fled, laid siege to the ghettoes, starving and ultimately killing most of the residents.
Fast forward a few years to 1948, to Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel’s father and others in the Zionist movement. The propaganda to try to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine was that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land,” but the Zionist movement actually on the ground in Palestine knew better. For them, the Palestinian people were all too real, and were an obstacle, a problem to be fixed through systematic, brutal ethnic cleansing. The Zionist movement in Palestine, followed by the State of Israel, dealt with the Palestinian problem (that is, the problem of the existence of Palestinians), by creating a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Palestinians, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Jews built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Palestinian refugees had fled, laying siege to their cities, ghettoes and refugee camps, starving and killing thousands upon thousands of the residents, oftentimes in the form of wholesale slaughter that in some instances rivalled the intensity of the Nazi genocide.
The Irgun and other groups whom the British administrators of Palestine referred to as terrorists blew up buses full of Palestinian civilians, attacked Palestinian towns and cities with naval bombardment, laid siege to towns with tanks and automatic weapons on three sides in order to force the residents to flee. This is how the Zionist movement formed their state, this was the Israeli “war of independence.”
The Zionists who were flooding into Palestine and quickly changing the demographics of Palestinian society claimed they were being persecuted. There were many isolated incidents that could be called persecution, and many more incidents of Zionist settlers in pre-1948 Palestine persecuting the residents with whom they were sharing a country. By the same token, the Nazis made mostly baseless claims that German-speaking citizens of Poland and Czechoslovakia were being persecuted – the Germans were being persecuted and had to defend themselves by invading their neighbors. By the time the Nazis invaded and occupied France, and Britain finally decided to make good on its treaty obligations and fight fascism, the Nazis could – quite rightly – claim that they had been attacked by Britain. The Germans were the victims of Britain was the Nazi line.
Fast forward again to 1948. The Arab countries neighboring Palestine belatedly sent in a force to defend their fellow Arabs from the Zionists – a force that was numerically and militarily no match for the Zionist army and was quickly defeated. But in the annals of Zionist propaganda this was not Arabs coming to the defense of their brethren who were being slaughtered and driven from their land, it was an “unprovoked attack,” like the British assault on poor Germany. Like the Germans surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on keeping the Germans down, “the Arabs” wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.”
One of Hitler’s favorite methods of managing, at least in the Nazi-run press, of appearing to be the voice of reason in the face of his “war-mongering” European neighbors was to make a pretense of “peace negotiations” which were generally last-minute ultimatums that could be accepted or not without any actual negotiating at all. For example, Czechoslovakia (and its ostensible allies, Britain and France) was told it could give up the Sudetenland and other Czech territories and thus avert destruction at the hands of the German military. It actually acquiesced to all German demands (with the encouragement of Britain and France) and was annexed by Germany anyway, on the grounds that the Czechs were being unreasonable, that Czechs were terrorizing ethnic Germans within its borders, etc.
Similarly, the Israeli government regularly asserts that if countries like Syria and Lebanon and political movements like Hamas would only “recognize Israel’s right to exist” then there could be peace. The Arab states are consistently portrayed by Israel as the unreasonable parties, and any efforts on the parts of Arab countries to obey the will of the majority of their people and stand up to Israel’s daily theft of Palestinian land and slaughter of Palestinian people is portrayed by Israeli leaders as proof that they want to “wipe Israel off the map.” Yet when the Israeli government is asked the very simple question, where are your borders, no answer is forthcoming. Like Nazi Germany, the neighboring countries are expected to acquiesce to all Israeli demands or be portrayed as the aggressors. But how can any reasonable country be expected to recognize a nation that will not itself recognize its own borders? What is Israel, and where does it end and its neighbors’ lands begin? Also, on what grounds should Israel be recognized, when it is daily involved in violating all sorts of international laws, daily involved in theft and murder, daily involved with the subjugation of the Palestinian people, and refuses to give back land it took by force of arms from Lebanon and Syria?
Resistance to Nazi tyranny within Germany or in occupied countries was dealt with through incredible brutality. Entire families of dissidents would routinely be sent to concentration camps and often killed. If an occupation soldier was killed, collective punishment was the modus operandi of the Nazi regime. Oftentimes a hundred people in a village would be killed in retribution for the murder of one German soldier.
Similarly, whereas the families of partisans would be sent to the camps, the houses of the families of resistance fighters from the West Bank and Gaza are routinely destroyed. An attack on Israeli territory is routinely responded to (even when the attack itself was generally a response) with massively disproportionate collective punishment, including attacks by helicopter gunships on densely-populated areas where multiple families are killed in order to take out one Hamas or other political leader. Border closures resulting in loss of employment for hundreds of thousands are another routine Israeli response to any resistance to their occupation. Thousands of children and adults are routinely arrested and held indefinitely in Israeli prisons without ever being charged (in courts that are themselves illegitimate anyway). As in Nazi-occupied Europe, no Palestinian man or boy can ever be confident that he will not be dragged out of bed on any given night, taken from his home and arrested.
We are told by the Israeli government not to pay attention to the numbers, that proportionality doesn’t matter. There often seems to be a clear effort on the part of the IDF and its political leaders to kill a hundred Palestinians for every Israeli killed, as was the case in the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. If proportionality is irrelevant and morality has no numerical measure, then presumably it would be morally justifiable from the Israeli government perspective if a hundred Israelis were killed for every Palestinian the IDF shoots, but if such a thing were to happen we could be sure to hear from the Israelis all about Palestinian monstrousness, no doubt. This, however, is extremely unlikely ever to happen, since there is no Palestinian military, no Palestinian tanks, no Palestinian Air Force, etc. It’s jet fighters versus home-made bombs and ineffective “rocklets” that rarely hit any target.
The Nazis became famous for, among other things, developing methods of torture that make the Spanish Inquisition look humane. Israel has also excelled at developing new ways to cause horrible physical and emotional suffering to human beings. During the most recent Israeli “war” against Lebanon, among the many buildings demolished from the air was the old Khiam Prison in southern Lebanon. When I visited Lebanon in 2005 I toured the Khiam Prison, which was in an area abandoned by the Israelis in 2000 after years of fighting between the IDF, their Lebanese collaborators, and Hezbollah. In Khiam Prison one could see where the US military got its ideas for torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. There were specially-designed boxes just big enough for a man to kneel, far too small to stand up or lie down, in which men would be held for weeks at a time and subjected day and night to loud music, regularly taken out of their boxes to be beaten.
We are told by the Israelis that the massive civilian death toll among Palestinians is unavoidable, since Palestinian “terrorists” hide among the civilian population when they carry out their attacks on occupation soldiers. We are also told that the Palestinians are targeting civilians in the (now almost nonexistent) suicide attacks inside Israel. It’s an interesting form of two-faced logic, since the main form of transportation used by Israeli soldiers are public buses. This is abundantly obvious to anyone who takes a public bus in Israel. In this highly militarized society where most men and women over the age of eighteen are either active-duty soldiers or reservists, you can hardly find a public bus that is not transporting at least one uniformed soldier with a machine gun hanging off of his shoulder.
It’s also an interesting form of dual logic, since the ghetto fighters of Warsaw so justifiably revered by Israeli society were fighting entirely from civilian areas, since they were themselves civilians, fighting from and for their homes, armed with home-made or occasionally smuggled weapons, just like the Palestinian fighters today.
The Nazis found collaborators within the Jews of Warsaw, who became their Jewish Police, or Judenrat. Prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it was the Judenrat who arrested or rounded up Jews wanted by the Nazis, and brought them to the border of the ghetto, to be safely (for the Nazis) handed over, and generally sent to their deaths. Taking a page from this history, the Oslo “peace process” involved a dividing up of Palestinian territory into areas A, B and C. Area A is the downtown, or the area within the ghetto walls that now surround so many of the bombed-out shells that were once thriving Palestinian towns and cities. Area A is the part that Israelis have generously allowed to be policed by Fatah, which has increasingly become, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Israeli collaborators. Israel regularly invades Area A parts of the West Bank whenever it wants to, but otherwise it tries to get the Fatah police to do their policing for them.
Hamas, which refuses to go along with the program, is then painted as a terrorist group that simply must be wiped out, because they doggedly refuse to be collaborators. Like the Jewish Fighting Organization (the ZOB was their Polish acronym) in Warsaw, Hamas does not deal gently with collaborators or with the Israeli occupation forces. Facing impossible, overwhelming odds and essentially certain death, Hamas does what they can to mount some kind of a resistance to the Israeli Terror. ZOB fighters referred to themselves as the “walking dead.” Like the ZOB and other valiant resistance groups throughout the history of every continent, Hamas also embraces martyrdom. Embracing martyrdom is often painted by Israelis and others as some kind of peculiar trait of “Islamic fundamentalists,” which is ridiculous and completely ahistorical, as well as an insult to the memory of the very ghetto fighters in Warsaw who helped inspire the Zionist state in the first place.
Hitler loved to portray his “Aryan” soldiers as icons of morality and good behavior, which of course was nonsense. Like the IDF, the German soldiers fought very well and bravely, especially from the inside of a tank. And like the IDF, who are also widely viewed within Israel as the world’s most moral army, the German soldiers consistently engaged in acts of sadism against civilians throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. And like the IDF, they were almost never punished for such acts.
Reminders of the sadism that permeates the Israeli military are never far away, and are often described most eloquently by former occupation soldiers who turned against their commanders in the Knesset. (Thankfully, there are many such soldiers. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough of them to make a difference.) The tendency of IDF soldiers to shoot children in the head with live ammunition is well-known and well-documented.
I vividly recall the outrage of many of my Jewish Israeli fans when Ariel Sharon “visited” the Al-Aqsa Mosque, along with hundreds of soldiers, prompting some stone-throwing from local Palestinian youths, to which the soldiers responded with live ammunition, killing many, leading to the Al-Aqsa Intifada and thousands more deaths, overwhelmingly of Palestinian children.
My fans weren’t outraged at Sharon, however, they were outraged at me for writing my first of a series of songs about the Israeli occupation, “Children of Jerusalem.” What many people took particular offense to was the line about the general (Sharon) grinning. They told me this couldn’t be accurate, because IDF soldiers carried out their duties with a grim sense of necessity, never enjoying the killing of the kids who were always shot because they were in the way of the ubiquitous “Palestinian gunmen” who were always firing first, at the poor defenseless tanks which for some reason were in the middle of their cities. For my outrageous accusations they called me a fascist and all sorts of other things.
But unfortunately they’re wrong. The soldiers often are grinning. Like the smirking soldier who was standing in the ambulance that was trying to transport Tristan Anderson to the hospital just a few days ago, refusing to move to allow the medics to close the door. Tristan was only one of a multitude of victims of the Israeli Terror, and this sadistic soldier was only one of many other sadistic Israeli soldiers obeying the whims of a government run by sadistic, racist men and women.
Israel bears many of the hallmarks of a fascist regime. What’s more, it is, like Nazi Germany, a very popular regime among its people. Like Nazi Germany, it is justly reviled by people around the world, but actively supported by so many of its people. Like Nazi Germany, governments and corporations around the world prefer to profit from trading with it rather than standing up to it and isolating it. Like Nazi Germany, it is dependent on the outside world for food, fuel and other basic necessities of life.
Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons. Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel is not going to be defeated militarily. But it can be defeated if the people of the world – especially in the US — pressure their governments to recognize Israel for the aggressive, racist state that it fundamentally is and has been since 1948, cut off the aid and impose trade sanctions of the sort that were imposed on South Africa under apartheid. The beginning of the process of isolating this small country from the world community that allows it to prosper is to educate people about the true nature of Zionism.
The Middle East has been and must be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews as it was since long before the Zionist armies expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948. Nothing, including the Nazi Holocaust, justifies what has been done and, most importantly, continues to be done to the Palestinians. The time is long since past to call the Jewish state out for the fundamentally racist regime that it is. In the name of the ghetto fighters of Warsaw, let us strive to see a world where no one needs to die with a stone in their hand trying to defend a starved, walled ghetto against an army of tanks and planes, where people like Tristan don’t need to have their brains blown out for trying to prevent a wall from being built around yet another ghetto.
– David Rovics is a singer/songwriter, father, and occasional essayist based in Portland, Oregon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: www.davidrovics.com.