The Moral and Military Meltdown of Israel

By Hamid Dabashi

Writing under circumstances when on a daily basis Palestinian women and children are slaughtered by the Israeli army in Gaza is an exceedingly difficult, for it seems utterly futile, task. But writing one must. Writing by someone who has young children and who is watching pictures of the maimed and murdered bodies of Palestinian children paraded in world media (never in the US) is doubly difficult, for you see your own children, as you have and hold and care for them, in those lifeless little bodies, wasted at the bloom of their birth. But writing one must.

The Christmas massacre of Palestinians in Gaza in 2008/2009 is a turning point in a long and arduous history of struggles against the European colonial settlement in their homeland—and the victory that they have just scored with their bare hands and with the corpse of their children against one of the deadliest military machineries in human history marks a turning point in their long and noble struggles.

The state of Israel was established in 1948 on the broken back, but defiant will, of Palestinian people, and predicated on the moral deprivation of a Europe responsible for Jewish sufferings from medieval pogroms to the genocidal Holocaust. The Christian Europe paid the price of what they had done to Jews for centuries and millennia and then more during the Jewish Holocaust by the land and liberty of Palestinians – not quite an unusual treachery for European colonial craftsmanship over the centuries.  For years, as a result, Israel took full advantage of the moral depravation of European racism that had caused so much Jewish pain and suffering. But in due course – and the more the world learned about the terror that Zionism has visited upon Palestinians – Israel lost that claim to the moral heritage of the Holocaust and relied exclusively on its military might to sustain its brutal position of power in its vicinity. By way of providing its subsidiary military services to US imperialism in the region and beyond, Israel altogether abandoned its false posture of victimhood and thrived in flagrant display of brutish force. As Israel lost any assumption of moral authority over the legacy of the Jewish Holocaust, it built massively on its military might – and it had a lot to show for it.

In successive wars from its very colonial inception in 1948 down to its territorial expansions in the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel relied on conventional colonial warfare, expanded exponentially on its might, and effectively transmuted itself into a massive military camp with a thin veneer of civilian administration – all fully aided and abetted by the US imperial interests in the region. Despite its initial military setback during the Yum Kippur War of 1973, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978 and then again 1982, and its subsequent occupation of Southern Lebanon (1984-2000) established the Jewish state as by far the most powerful military in the region. Facing corrupt, incompetent, or even collaborating Arab regimes, Israel banked on European guilt and American regional interests and became the single most brutish power in its neighborhood. 

By the mid-1980’s, Israel had lost all assumptions of any moral claim on the Jewish Holocaust, while amassing a military wherewithal unparalleled in the region and beyond.  Just to make sure this exponential military superiority remains intact, the pro-Israeli Zionist lobby in the US banked and invested heavily in infiltrating, buying, and paying for all the major and minor corridors of power, and changing the political discourse of Americans in a manner that Arab and Muslim as two surrogates for Palestinian meant terrorism and barbarity. On every Salute to Israel Parade in New York, American Zionists flaunted their power in public for the whole world to see. It was not until the publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s groundbreaking essay and then book on "the Israel Lobby" (2002/2007) that this domination of American foreign policy became a subject of public debate, as it was not until the publication of the former US president Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (2006), that the word aptly describing the Jewish apartheid state was even accepted in public domain. Israel, however, could not care less and stroke an effective alliance with American Neoconservative movement and during the eight long and troubled years of George W. Bush’s presidency spent billions of American taxpayers money on turning itself into a major military hardware in the American imperial machinery in the region.

Its presumption of moral authority exposed as a hoax, the Israeli military might was in full display until the First Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993), when a sustained course of urban uprising against the Israeli occupation of Palestine began to turn the table and showed, for the whole world to see, the utter futility of a conventional army (commanding a massive stockpile of nuclear weaponry) against the will of a defiant people who have refused to be ethnically cleansed from their own homeland. The Second "Al-Aqsa" Intifada (2000-2007) was a continuation of the selfsame manifestation of the incapacity of the Israeli military in the face of a sustained course of urban uprisings. The two successive Intifadas forever changed the face of the Palestinian national liberation movement, and diverted the course of events away from corrupt, incompetent, or collaborationist leadership of their own or of the Arab and Muslim states at large and towards grassroots civil disobedience and urban uprising.

The impotence of the Israeli army in defeating either of the two Palestinian Intifadas came to a spectacular manifestation during the summer of 2006 when it suffered a resounding defeat in Lebanon by the Lebanese Shi’i guerilla organization, the Hezbollah. What the July 2006 War more than anything else demonstrated was the ineptitude of the Isareli army to engage a guerrilla operation determined to protect its homeland.  Israel pounded Lebanon from air, land, and sea, for over a month, and gave it all it had, and borrowed more from the US to drop on the Lebanese—and it meant nothing.  Within minutes after the ceasefire, the Lebanese Shi’is were driving back to their destroyed homes in southern Lebanon to rebuild them and celebrated their victory, while the Israeli warlords went back to their drawing boards to wonder what had happened. The term "asymmetric warfare" now began to assume a renewed significance.

The July 2006 War ended with not only Hezbollah far stronger than it was, but with a solid military lesson that the asymmetric warfare, as it has been fought by Palestinians and the Lebanese Shi’is, had entered a new phase in which a simple and purposeful combination of civil disobedience, urban uprising, global solidarity with the weak and the impoverished, and lightweight guerilla operations effectively neutralized and dismantled the superior military might of their colonizer by effectively changing the nature of the resistance and altogether abandoning conventional military operations, to which they do not have access anyway. The asymmetric warfare in effect hits two targets with one shot: (1) renders the military superiority of their occupying forces effectively irrelevant and in fact even counterproductive, and (2) exposing the naked barbarism of their occupiers and thus dismantling their expensive propaganda machinery as well. One picture of a Palestinian child cold-bloodedly murdered by Israeli soldiers renders the combined obscenity of CNN and New York Times (at the helm of a whole panoply of propaganda outlets for Israel) useless in hiding the ugly truth of the side they support.

By the end of the two Intifadas and the Lebanon War of 2006 Palestinians and Lebanese appropriated the Biblical story of David (for themselves) and Goliath (for Israel).

Why would Israel, after what happened to its military might in the course of the two Intifadas and in Lebanon in the Summer of 2006 repeat its criminal folly in Gaza, with even more brazen disregard for the most common denominator of human decency? They are running out of options, and they are clueless. Just as in the Summer of 2006 against the Hezbollah, the Christmas massacre of 2008-2009 in Gaza is the final indication of the military meltdown of Israel – that it has run out of military ideas, and that it is now not just morally bankrupt but far more crucially militarily clueless. Israel has already lost the Gaza invasion. The more the massive propaganda machinery of Israel around the world tries to hide its brute barbarity against civilian targets the more it has lost credibility in the eye of the global public opinion and the more its ugly militaristic disposition becomes naked.

Everything that happened in Lebanon in 2006 advised against the Gaza operation, and yet Gaza happened. Gaza happened for I believe a very simple reason. The Israelis do not trust Barack Obama (no matter how much he catered to their whims) and Obama will be at the helm of the US domestic and foreign policies for as long as perhaps eight years, and eight years for an illegitimate colonial settlement is a very long time. More than from Obama, Israelis and their AIPAC operatives in the United States are afraid of the liberating and progressive movement that Obama has unleashed in the US – the movement of a new generation of Americans who wish to come to the fold of humanity at large and stop being the principle sponsor of warmongering around the globe. No one knows what will happen to this movement – will Obama deliver on his promises of change, will this movement dissipate, or will a new generation of young and progressive Americans wrest the destiny of their homeland from the confounding pathologies of predatory imperialism, vicious Zionism, and Christian messianism? It is impossible to tell – there is much cause for fear, and every reason for hope.

In their rush to change the facts on the ground, as they call it, before Obama took office, the Israelis forgot how colonial apartheid systems dig their own grave. The Gaza massacre of Christmas 2008/2009 is the Palestinian version of the Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) Massacre of April 1919 in India – in one exceedingly significant way. It shows not just the utter moral deprivation of Israel, but infinitely more importantly, the military cul de sac it faces with the collective uprising of a nation that refuses to be ruled by brute occupiers of their homeland. Surrounding one of Gandhi’s gatherings, the British Army under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer opened fire on the gathering of men, women and children and in an assault that is said to have lasted only ten minutes murdered hundreds of defenseless civilians. The Christmas massacre of 2008/2009 of Palestinians has lasted for more than ten days already and caused the death of hundreds with thousands more injured. This barefaced Israeli war crime marks a historic turn to a prolonged Palestinian struggle. For it shows the not just the moral depravation of an apartheid state but also the military ineptitude of a band of European colonizers whose military might has finally come back to defeat itself.

The triumph of Palestinians over the military might of Israel has a crucial lesson for their supporters around the globe – millions of ordinary people who feel frustrated and helpless in the face of this barefaced barbarity. Precisely in the same manner that Palestinians have bypassed their own and other Arab and Muslim corrupt leadership and battled against the racist supremacists who seek ethnically to cleanse them from their own country by civil disobedience and urban uprising, the ordinary people around the world can join their noble struggle by a sustained program of boycott and divestment. Not just Israeli products, but companies like Nestlé, McDonald’s, and Coca Cola that actively support the Israeli military ought to be aggressively boycotted. The divestment campaign that has been far more successful in Western Europe needs to be reinvigorated in North America – as must the boycotting of the Israeli cultural and academic institutions.

It is not just the worst of the Israelis who (according to a recent poll by Haaretz) condone and actively support the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, but so have their very best, their intellectuals, professors, journalists, filmmakers, novelists and poets, from Amos Oz to David Grossman to A. B. Yehoshua to Meir Shalev and scores of others. Naming names and denouncing individually every prominent Israeli intellectual who has publicly endorsed their elected officials’ wide-eyed barbarism, and then categorically boycotting their universities and colleges, film festivals and cultural institutions, is the single most important act of solidarity that their counterparts can do around the world. 1.5 million impoverished human beings have been choked to death in Gaza and this obscenity that calls itself "Israeli intellectuals" does not even blink and says it is the Hamas’ fault that they are being slaughtered in their hundreds by the Israeli military. 

Hamas is the poor and impoverished representative of a poor and impoverished people. The obscenity of first demonizing Hamas and then blaming it for the vicious war crimes that Israel is perpetrating against Palestinians has now passed any measure of common decency. Hamas is the legitimate and democratically elected representative of Palestinian people – a grassroots organization deeply embedded in and integral to the Palestinian national liberation movement. It is impossible to separate – either physically or ideologically – Hamas from the people who have willed it into existence and made it integral to the Palestinian national liberation. Hamas is neither the only nor event the paramount but certainly a crucial aspect of the wish and the will of Palestinian people – and no amount of murderous bombing of their women and children is going to change that. Precisely the opposite: more young and defiant Palestinians will join the noble cause of defending their homeland against this militant band of European colonizers who have stolen their land and liberty in the broad daylight of history.

As they are slaughtered in their hundreds by a vicious military machinery called "Israel," Palestinians are teaching humanity at large how to join their noble cause and safeguard the dignity of the human soul – that of the Jewish people first and foremost. 

– Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, is the founder of Dreams of a Nation: A Palestinian Film Project, committed to the preservation and promotion of Palestinian cinema. For more information on the project visit He contributed this article to

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