January 2009

Q: How can a people armed with home-made rockets be besieged, bombed, and slaughtered by a state actor — an appendix of Western civilization and one of the world’s best equipped armies — civilians be obviously targeted, UN food supplies burnt to the ground, and this have no political impact? Is it not a paradox of so-called Western civilization?

A: No. In Roman law, a homo sacer was a position conferred upon a person who could not be sacrificed according to ritual (because they were outside divine law) but may be killed by anybody (since they were outside juridical law). His/her death is, in both cases, of no value. The Italian philosopher Giorgoi Agamben picks up on the idea of homo sacer as a political category in modern times to apply it to people deemed outcasts through the operations of sovereign power. Because they fall outside the law — in modern times of the nation state — his/her biological life carries no political significance. For Agamben, political refugees as well as victims of the Holocaust fall into the category of homo sacer.

Agamben follows Hannah Arendt in her critique of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”. Arendt had two problems with the Declaration. First, that it rendered rights indistinguishable from the will of the nation-state and, following that, that it did not allow for the rights of those who fell outside this will. In other words, it did not grant any right to those who fell outside “the law.” The homo sacer. Or, what she elegantly calls, “human being in general.”

It is only through this logic that Palestinians can be turned into the objects of Israeli “techniques” for educating terrorists; that the death of more than 1300 Palestinians can be so swiftly swept off the news; that members of an elected government can fall outside the law and become (along with their families) normal targets to be eliminated, no questions asked; that even as images of dying Gazans move individuals of all religions and nationalities to tears, their deaths fail to acquire any political significance. Reducing it to racism alone is a reduction of the political position (or, “non-position”, as the case is) that the Palestinians find themselves in.

Those who compare the treatment of Palestinians today to the Nazi Holocaust err on some respects. The measure of hands-on cruelty and the numbers are not up for comparison. But on another, more instinctive level, the comparison holds. Palestinians, like the victims of the Holocaust, were subject to the same political operation that turned them into non-citizens, the rightful inhabitants of the sub-human conditions of the ghetto, objects of educational experiments. In short, Palestinians too are homo sacer.


From the same people who brought you the map of the “Israeli Assault on Lebanon”, comes the map of the “Israeli Assault on Gaza“. I have a problem with the category “Women & Children” — rather than “Civilian” — dead because it buys into the Israeli assumption that every man is a militant until proven otherwise. Perhaps, in light (rather dark) of information coming out of Gaza it is difficult to guage the latter. Anyway, the mapmakers have again done a good job graphically presenting the Israeli assault.

Yesterday, a Palestinian doctor living in Gaza lost three daughters, a brother, and three nieces when an IDF tank shelled their home. The IDF knew the family was living there and claimed that there was sniper fire from the building. Bogus. This story is nothing special, unfortunately, it has been happening every day to several families across Gaza since Israel started its belligerent campaign. Dr. Abu al-`Aysh however, is special. He is educated in Israeli hospitals, has ties in Israeli society, and speaks fluent Hebrew. So, he made it to the news as a person and not as another number and managed to transmit some of the horror on Israeli Channel 10.

Richard Silverstein has an elaborate post on this as well as a live interview with the doctor by phone right after his house was shelled.

This time by a bunch of academics:

The massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war that Israel has been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years. The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force, one capable of resisting Israel’s ongoing appropriation of their land and resources. Israel’s war against the Palestinians has turned Gaza and the West Bank into a pair of gigantic political prisons. There is nothing symmetrical about this war in terms of principles, tactics or consequences. Israel is responsible for launching and intensifying it, and for ending the most recent lull in hostilities.

Petition text and list of signatories.

We are clearly moving from the era of “Israel bombs civilians and civilian infrastructure by mistake” to the Machiavellan era of “the end justifies the means” — Israel’s “educational” methods justifies its “counterstrategy,” all very logical and Enlightened, of course. Consider Thomas Friedman’s latest Op-Ed commenting on Israel’s method against Hizballah in 2006 and against Hamas today:

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Then further down:

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

[read the whole frigging thing here if you want]

This is not news to those at the receiving end of Israel’s educational methods. What is news is Friedman’s honest assessment of these methods. Apart from the absolute stupidity of the notion that targeting civilians will restrain the “terrorists”, the reasoning is also chilling. It is a small step from justifying intentional “collateral damage” — even the paradox of “intentional collateral” is “logical”, of course, since Israel is a member of the Enlightened Western world — to justifying much more.

The bombing of schools and hospitals housing refugees? Logical. The bombing of UN’s HQ and its medicine and food supply? Logical. The bombing of Red Cross facilities? Logical. The psychological torture of imprisoning a population and insuring that they feel there is absolutely no place to hide? Perfectly logical. If “the banality of evil” ever seemed like too strange a concept, Thomas Friedman is its personification. In fact, if it were not for his “logical” justification of the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, he would be just… banal.

In other news, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr-Støre, was in Cairo today where he uttered the following sentence — illogical, no doubt:

What we see in Gaza, with disproportional use of power, with lack of distinction between civilian and military targets, with obstruction to humanitarian help to victims and civilians, are clear breaches of international humanitarian law.

As the number of Palestinian dead passes the 1000 mark, Israel’s logic behind Cast Lead sheds its ornamentation. Shimon Peres, president of Israel and Nobel peace prize winner, has let the cat out of the bag (“baqq al-bahsah”). He said many things today that are consistent with the logic of the rapist. The logic of “It is Hamas’s fault. They tempted us.” Plus a whole lot of philosophical issues. Commenting on the difficult images of Gaza on TV, for example, he said he understood that coverage cannot be balanced because the nervousness of one million Israelis cannot be shown on TV. Deep stuff. But the most relevant thing he said was this:

Our goal is to provide a strong blow to the people in Gaza so that they lose their appetite to continue to shoot at us. That’s it.

Cannot be any clearer. I first heard it on Norwegian TV, immediately followed by the reporter’s comment: “There is no doubt that the Palestinian inhabitants have received a strong blow.”

Norwegian TV is not mincing its words anymore. Oslo has already witnessed two protests that ended in violence and attempts to get at the Israeli embassy. Angry youth attacked the police with stones and fireworks and smashed shop windows in the center. Palestinian groups had to cancel all demonstrations until further notice. But more is expected at this Saturday’s demonstration, this time by the anti-racist, anarchist group Blitz. The few hundred pro-Israel supporters that turned up in front of parliament last week to wave their Israeli flags and sing romantically dare not hold another event in support of Israel.

Israel’s carte blanche with the Palestinians is so effective that the IDF need not be consistent with its lies anymore. Even Mark Regev, that paragon of civilized lies and diplomacy, seems to be losing confidence in his own utterances. Apparently, there is a recent version of the bombing on the UNRWA school in Jabalya Camp which took the lives of more than 40 of the refugees taking shelter there.

First, the IDF claimed that Hamas militants fired from within the school. When the UN disclosed that the IDF had the coordinates and knew there were civilians taking refuge there, the IDF produced a video to prove its claim. The video turned out to be from 2007.

Now there is a new, improved, and more elaborate version. The IDF claims that a mortar veered 30 meters off target, causing the carnage at the Fakhurah school. So much for “surgical strikes”.

Regev called this “a very extreme example of how Khamas operate.” The irony of this pronouncement is that it says more about how the IDF operate. But it is an interesting phenomenon when offenders, unwittingly, pronounce their own sentence.

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