- Written by Gilbert Schramm Gilbert Schramm
- Published: 06 November 2023 06 November 2023
It is hard for many people to get their heads around what is happening in Gaza today. Whatever “side” you are on, the sheer brutality is hard to bear. Israel seems bent on amplifying a strategy that has never worked before. There are certain points on which reference to history really sheds a clear light on this ongoing carnage (and on why it will probably fail to bring peace).
In 2006, Hezbollah in Lebanon staged a raid on an Israeli patrol across its immediate border with Israel. Israel responded with overwhelming, disproportionate force (as they are doing in Gaza today). They claimed they would eliminate the threat of Hezbollah once and for all (like they are claiming about Hamas in Gaza today). Their attack killed many hundreds of Lebanese civilians and wreaked havoc on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. There were immediate calls for a ceasefire (just like today), but the US resisted them for a long time, falsely believing they could give Israel time and cover to ‘finish the job’ (just like today). Both the US and Israel ended in an embarrassed retreat. In fact, Hezbollah inflicted enormous pain on Israeli forces and emerged stronger than before. This was basically the formula for every one of the repeated attacks Israel has launched against Hamas in the years since then.
In a 2014 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Henry Siegman, a very reputable Jewish-American leader, spoke out about Palestinian resistance (https://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/13/henry_siegman_leading_us_jewish_voice). He basically said that the Palestinians had never done anything that the extreme Zionists who now lead Israel had not tried before. My own research bears this out. I think he was thinking in particular about Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto in the 1940s.
Siegman grew up with a father who was a noted Zionist. Guests at the family dinner table included Yitzhak Rabin, later to become the Israeli PM who, when he moved towards peace, was assassinated by a Jewish terrorist. Siegman later became convinced that Zionism had taken a tragic turn and spoke out against it. Of all the many horrors of the last century, the episode of the Warsaw Ghetto is surely the best scenario to compare with the slaughter in Gaza today.
In the early 1940s the Nazi regime, which had invaded and occupied Poland, forced about 400,000 to 500,000 Jewish citizens of Poland into an area of about two square miles. Most of the people were fairly passive, but a small group, led by Zionists, decided to resist. They used the sewers of Warsaw as their tunnel system, and they hid their operations behind schools and humanitarian aid agencies. Who could blame them? They were fighting back from a densely populated urban environment, and short of simply giving up and accepting the fate of extermination, there was little else they could do. They used the sewers to launch attacks on Germans outside the boundaries that hemmed them in. This provoked savage retaliations from Nazi authorities. Even children were used to smuggle dynamite and guns. Naturally, the civilian population of the ghetto bore the brunt of Nazi retribution. They even assassinated fellow Jews who cooperated with German authorities. Nevertheless, this episode is generally presented as a gallant and noble example of legitimate resistance. Rightly so. I have never read any historical account of the events in Warsaw that accuses the Jewish resistance of using their own people as “human shields.”
In the end, the German forces moved into the ghetto with thousands of troops, tanks and flamethrowers and basically destroyed it. That seems very much like what Israel is doing in Gaza today. Many people seem to believe that people who suffer so much will be more compassionate to others. The sad truth is that many people who were abused grow up to become abusers themselves. That seems to be what we are seeing in Gaza today. Under Netanyahu, Israel now seems bent on writing a truly infamous new page in their history.
Naturally, those who support Israel detest any comparison of their own actions in Gaza today with the actions of the Nazis in regard to their treatment of the Warsaw ghetto. Perhaps that is simply because the comparison is so apt. In the end, the vast majority of ghetto residents were exterminated in the rest of the holocaust. I seriously believe that the residents of Palestine see their own fate as coming in the same way. The current Israeli action is just the same ethnic “cleansing” and “purification” of the “homeland” that the Nazis craved. Why shouldn’t the Palestinians fight back like the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto did? They have little to lose if they are not offered some kind of humane future.
All of this is bitterly tragic. I am especially surprised that people still accept the Israeli excuse that they can kill dozens of innocent civilians because they are targeting “a high-level Hamas commander.” The commanders are immediately replaced. So what? In Lebanon years ago, Israel killed the leader of Hezbollah. He was replaced immediately by the current leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrullah, who has proved to be a much more effective opponent. So it goes, and it always seems to go downhill. It will continue to do so until we collectively come up with a new approach. It is overtime for a ceasefire now and the creation of a free, sovereign Palestinian state.
One of the biggest problems for the US now is that they really can’t reign Netanyahu in. It is embarrassing. Much like Donald Trump, he has been able to get away with too much for far too long. He is simply running amok. He is dragging Israel into a very long war and occupation for which they have no exit strategy. Given its current approach, the US would inevitably be seen as complicit in that project. The Netanyahu problem stems from our original sin- since the US stepped into the picture in 1945, we have let Israel take a leading role in “solving the problem” and let them dictate who we talked to and what we said. Israel simply wanted the problem solved in their own favor. The bankruptcy of their approach has been made painfully clear by recent events. The abject failure of their much-vaunted intelligence agencies to see the Hamas attack coming shows how dangerous it is for the US to depend on them. It is time to leave them aside.
Just today I read that an Israeli cabinet minister had been “disciplined” for mentioning that Israel might have a ‘nuclear option’ in Gaza. Maybe the total extermination of the civilian population there isn’t as far-fetched as we would like to believe… I guess what we need to know now is if that would be a “targeted” and “precision” nuclear strike. As if the endless IDF euphemisms could insulate us from reality.