To Gaza: When is self defence not self defence

rachel-corrieEveryone who saw the brutal treatment of the passengers of the freedom flotilla attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, and heard the Israeli propaganda machine claiming this was done in ‘self defence’ should understand that this self justification has a long history.

As an Israeli child, I grew up on myths of ‘self defence’ and of ‘the few against the many’, which were the building blocks of Israeli state and society from its very inception. Israeli literary scholar Nurit Gertz identifies three ‘ideological narratives’ aimed at conserving the hegemonic power relations. The first myth is the ‘few against the many’ narrative, according to which a Jewish ‘David’ was attacked by an Arab ‘Goliath’, the second is the struggle between the enlightened (Jewish) Europeans and the backwards (Arab) Orientals and the ensuing myth about Palestine being a ‘desert’ which the Zionists made ‘bloom’, and the third is the struggle between the isolated Jewish nation and an uncaring world, a narrative strengthened by the indifference of the world in face of the Nazi genocide. A fourth myth is that of Israel as European, and a fifth – perhaps the strongest myth – was the belief that all Israel’s wars and brutalities are fought in self defence.

Since the early days of the state, all Israel’s wars, including its participation in the imperialist 1956 Suez war, the invasions of Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and the recent war against blockaded Gaza, were rationalised by the argument that after all, ‘peace loving’ Israel is only acting in ‘self defence’ and that if only the Palestinians agree to its conditions, they could have their tiny state albeit criss-crossed by walls and roadblocks, but that meanwhile, Israel has ‘no partner for peace’.

The fate of the Palestinians, 750,000 of whom were forced to flee or escape their homes during the 1948 war, was never part of the equation. Nor was the fate of those Palestinians exiled a second time, to the West Bank and Gaza in what was the expansionist 1967 war part of the equation. Throughout the occupation and the settlement of hundreds of thousands Jews in occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, Israel kept perpetuating the ‘self defence’ myth.

This is despite scholarship by Israeli and Palestinian historians and sociologists, exposing the extent of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, particularly, but not exclusively, during and after the 1948 war. Scholars describe Israel as a settler colonial society and a racial state, who colonised Palestine – the biblical birthplace of the Jewish people, but also of a variety of local tribes, including the Palestinians – and then ethnically cleansed as many of its indigenous people as was possible, confining the rest to life in besieged reservations.

Yet, when the occupied subjects try to resist, they are labeled ‘terrorists’, and Israel, the coloniser, claims that its brutal violence is merely ‘self defence’. After all, Israelis say to themselves, ‘the whole world is against us’ (as it has always been), and ‘we are the only Jewish state in a sea of Arab states’ and, of course, ‘the only democracy in the Middle east’.

The mantra of ‘self defence’ is so deeply ingrained that Israeli soldiers believe that stone throwing teenagers and international demonstrators (including Irish Nobel Prize winner Mairead Maguire who was hit by Israeli rubber bullets while demonstrating in Bil’in on 20 April) are fair game. After all, Israelis tell their teenage soldiers, we are only acting in ‘self defence’. Thus the propaganda stories about MV Marmara attacking the poor Israeli commandos while they were abseiling from helicopters – so ‘vulnerable’, according to Defence Minister Ehud Barak – make perfect sense to the Israeli psyche.

The heroic Gaza flotilla passengers and their supporters deserve our admiration and support. However, I am afraid that despite the universal condemnations, Israel will only lift the Gaza blockade if told to do so by the USA, or if deprived of US billions, self defence or no self defence.