- Written by Gilbert Schramm Gilbert Schramm
- Published: 23 October 2023 23 October 2023
In Palestine today, brutality seems to be the main theme. It will be my main theme as well, but in in somewhat different way.
The Hamas attacks in southern Israel were certainly brutal, abhorrent, and atrocious. The media has covered that aspect in excruciating, graphic, and almost non-stop detail. I see no point in elaborating on the physical violence. Instead, I want to state some brutal truths about the current state of affairs. Many people decry the form that Palestinian resistance (at least the now prominent Hamas version) has taken. They often plead that it should be non-violent. In this regard, it is highly relevant to refer to an expert on non-violence—Mahama Gandhi.
Gandhi rarely spoke about Ahimsa (non-violence) without mentioning his concept of Satyagraha (truth telling). To paraphrase one writer’s* take on this: ‘Truth is the most fundamental aspect in Gandhi's Philosophy of nonviolence. Ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. Satyagraha literally means devotion to truth, remaining firm on the truth and resisting untruth actively but nonviolently.’
While he promoted non-violence, Gandhi had little tolerance for mere cowardice. He felt that a failure to fight back could do more harm than physical violence. He also made a clear distinction between passive and physical violence. He argued that passive violence is a daily affair, consciously and unconsciously. It is the fuel for physical violence. I think this notion of “passive violence” would include ignoring the truth, deception, self-deception, remaining willfully ignorant, or repeating the oft discredited so-called “common wisdom” (mostly often repeated lies) about the struggle in Palestine.
The lie that does the greatest brutality to the truth is the claim that the recent Hamas attack was “unprovoked.” That is absurd. The provocation began with Zionist settlement in 1895 and continues today.
The claim is often made that the situation is ancient, complex, and insoluble. Some have criticized the Palestinians for not resisting through non-violence. As to this latter claim, the truth is that for almost 70 years, Palestinians tried to get justice through non-violent means. Even today, most resistance is still non-violent- it just doesn’t get the attention the violent outbursts do. There is a simple reason the problem shouldn’t be considered ancient: like systemic racism in the US, it continues unabated to this day.
The situation is not complex either. It is simply the story of Zionist settlers taking land from the native Palestinians, and their victims resisting. In my long study of the subject, I am not aware of Palestinians ever getting a significant amount of their land back. It has been a one-way street. As a result, five or six generations of Palestinians now live in exile.
Along the way, violence by Zionists has been aimed at taking the land: violence by Palestinians has been in defense of their land. When this situation is discussed, there is often talk of “being balanced.” There really is no way to correct this basic imbalance. If there is truth on one side and a lie on the other, splitting the difference does not get you to the truth- it just gets you to a milder
lie. By almost any standard, the Palestinians have always been greatly overmatched. There has never really been any “balance” in this struggle.
The final excuse, the notion that the problem is insoluble, is simply nonsense. The fact is, Israel could solve the problem on any given day by simply honoring their previous and long-standing commitment to treaties and UN resolutions. It is their intransigence that stands in the way. Serious US pressure is probably the only solution. The US policy of always “standing by Israel” has never led to peace. All the other problems (skyjacking and rockets, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.) that have come up along the way make the situation seem more complicated than it is. They all developed over time as the basic problem was left unresolved. Overall, things have always gotten worse- not better. The root of the problem is simply the failure to respect the basic rights of the Palestinian people.
Since its inception as a nation in 1948, Israel has constantly used a strategy of violent, disproportionate violence to respond to any sign of Palestinian resistance. This policy has never worked. Israel constantly claims that it has a right to defend itself and to ensure its own security. Longstanding Israel policy has never accomplished either. Israel has tried to destroy Hamas at fairly regular intervals over the last 20 years. They have never succeeded. In 2006, Israel tried to complete eliminate Hezbollah in Lebanon—that war was an abject failure. The recent Hamas action has totally exposed the poverty of Israel’s “security” strategy. In spite of enormous investments, the Israeli intelligence agencies failed, the security wall failed, the military failed, and even the vaunted “Iron-dome” was overwhelmed.
What Israel seem to have in mind for Gaza today is simply more of the same violence that has never worked before. As of this writing, Hamas militants have killed about 1,400 Israelis. In response, Israel has claimed to kill 1,500 Hamas fighters who conducted the recent raid. They have also killed over 5,000 residents of Gaza (mostly civilian.). A full-scale invasion of Gaza and a long occupation will create an even more horrific bloodbath. If Hamas is eliminated, something much like it will emerge from the rubble. It will be filled with an even greater rage than that which was just demonstrated by the recent Hamas attack.
One of the most distressing things is how many proponents of Israel use the words “retribution” and “redemption” almost interchangeably. They are not at all the same thing: retribution is simply revenge while redemption would mean a path towards peace. No one has ever been redeemed by revenge. Retribution measured in seas of blood is a fake, short-term fix. This is a long-term problem that demands a political solution. That means negotiation.
Before he was assassinated by an Israeli airstrike in 2004, the then leader of Hamas was asked in an interview what conditions he would need to see met in order to make peace. His answer was clear and direct; Israel should stop killing Palestinians, end the occupation and settlements, withdraw to the 1967 borders, and allow a Palestinian state. In exchange, he offered a 50-year truce, which, he added, could be extended. Those were hardly the radical requests of a terrorist. They were almost exactly what Arafat had asked for and never got. A 50-year truce would create a serious opportunity for mutual cooling off and confidence building. Hamas was fairly disciplined at the time—Yassin probably could have enforced this. Another lost opportunity in a saga littered with lost opportunities...
One reason Israel has resisted making peace is that over the years its people became insulated from the violence. That bubble has just been burst. The recent actions by Hamas are partly so striking because they were committed in a very up-close, personal way. They point to the huge reservoir of rage that Israel’s policy has created. Israeli violence is largely done by long distance. I am sure there are just as many dismembered bodies (including babies) under the rapidly accumulating rubble of Gaza. We just don’t see them or their perpetrators up close. It is worth remembering that Israel has pummeled Gaza and caused massive civilian casualties in reaction to much, much smaller provocations in the past.
My one hope is that this episode will finally reinvigorate a serious peace movement on this issue. Over the last 15 years or so, the talking head “experts” who simply mouth worn out slogans began to argue that the problem in Palestine was no longer really relevant. It was a sly way of arguing that Israel had won, end of story. Recent events show just how quickly the issue can still boil up into a full-scale regional war. I hope people of good will can pull together to avoid that.
(The reader should be aware of these basic facts I have noted and have some way to investigate further. In my view the best single volume account of the Palestinian issue is David Hirst’s The Olive Tree and the Gun. This narrative takes the reader from about 1895 to the early 1980s. A second book by Hirst is Beware of Small States, which while it has a strong focus on Lebanon, basically takes the story to the early 2000s.
*References to Gandhi’s theory of non-violence were paraphrased from: https://www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-articles/gandhi-philosophy-of-nonviolence.php, accessed 10/14/23.