A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
The Hamas-Israel War: What Can Be Discussed?
By David Corn October 11, 2023
Rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas into Israel on October 7, 2023. Mahmoud Issa/AP
I don’t often write about the Middle East. It can be a tough subject to take on. Over decades, the pro-Israel lobby has forged in mainstream circles a hard-to-crack Israel-can-do-no-wrong posture. And criticism of Israel is often met with charges of antisemitism and, for Jews who dare proceed down this route, the libel of being a self-hating member of the tribe. But the horrendous violence of the past few days cannot be avoided. So...
There’s an old saying: Truth is the first casualty of war. In close competition is perspective. The heinous Hamas attack on Israel this weekend was a condemnable war crime. The deliberate targeting of civilians is terrorism and warrants denunciation from all quarters. Hours into the assault, I spoke with an American activist who has long been fighting for Palestinian rights, and she was in a state of anger and shock, horrified by the massacres and fearful this would create an insurmountable obstacle to the Palestinian cause. “Why would they do this?” she asked. How, she wondered, could we now have a rational discourse about the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it—even though this bloodshed demonstrated the need for a resolution.
Yes, in the immediate aftermath of an abominable and inhumane action, what were the prospects for any debate other than how best should Israel strike back—admittedly, an important and justifiable conversation, albeit narrow and unlikely a path to lasting peace? The barbarity from Hamas, an extremist group that calls for the annihilation of Israel, would drown out much else. I shared my friend’s dismay. Extreme events understandably prompt extreme reactions. Nuance and historical context—needed not to excuse this evil act but to understand it—would be suppressed by the voices of rage and retribution. (Remember 9/11?) Yet some day we will have to move beyond that.
Without drawing any moral equivalencies, we need to clearly see the issues at hand. On MSNBC, Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the ADL (which does a commendable job of tracking antisemitism), angrily complained that the world for years has “allowed the dehumanization of Israelis,” as if that was the only driving element of this conflict. But Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant, while calling for a “complete siege” of the Gaza strip that would deny all its 2 million residents food, water, electricity, and fuel, declared, “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.” He was referring to Hamas, but he did not differentiate between Hamas and the Palestinian civilians who will face a crushing humanitarian crisis under such conditions. When CNN host Jake Tapper asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) about the “innocent people of Gaza” who have been killed or harmed by the Israeli bombing strikes, Rubio remarked, “I don't think there's any way Israel can be expected to coexist or find some diplomatic offramp with these savages…You can't coexist. They have to be eradicated. And you've pointed out the very difficult challenge ahead—this is going to be incredibly painful. This is going to be incredibly difficult and it's going to be horrifying—the price to pay.” Rubio might have only had Hamas in mind, but his comments had a genocidal tone.
Each side has been dehumanized by the other. Only a nihilistic framework of dehumanization could allow Hamas terrorists to commit the mass murder of civilians—including teenagers, children, and the elderly—at a rave or a school or a family home. And—again, not to suggest a moral equivalence—the Israeli blockade of Gaza and its treatment of Palestinians is also a form of dehumanization.
That latter characterization is difficult for some of the more vociferous supporters of Israel to hear or acknowledge. But human rights groups have soundly denounced the Israeli government for the blockade that has turned Gaza into what Human Rights Watch calls an “open-air prison.” Read the reports. It’s brutal stuff. Amnesty International last year declared, “Israel’s continuing oppressive and discriminatory system of governing Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) constituted a system of apartheid, and Israeli officials committed the crime of apartheid under international law.” It released a report stating that:
Israel was imposing an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it exercised control over their rights, fragmenting and segregating Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of the OPT and Palestinian refugees denied the right of return. Through massive seizures of land and property, unlawful killings, infliction of serious injuries, forcible transfers, arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement, and denial of nationality, among other inhuman or inhumane acts, Israeli officials would be responsible for the crime against humanity of apartheid, which falls under the jurisdiction of the [International Criminal Court].
Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement:
Israel’s sweeping restrictions on…Gaza deprive its more than two million residents of opportunities to better their lives... The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.
Is it wrong to bring up such matters at this point, as Israeli missile strikes wreak devastation on Gaza and its residents and as Hamas lobs rockets at civilian targets in Israel and threatens to execute the hostages it has taken? When one expert appeared on MSNBC and talked about the “context” and noted that Israel was an occupying power that had violated international law and Palestinian rights, a Daily Caller commentator blasted the network for being antisemitic. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, some American leftists have allowed their support for Palestinian rights to blind them to Hamas’ villainy. The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed a pro-Palestinian rally held in Times Square where participants expressed support for the Hamas attack. In similar fashion, the Connecticut DSA hailed Hamas for launching “an unprecedent anti-colonial struggle” and for “standing tall against apartheid,” pledging “solidarity.” No one who professes to be a champion of peace, justice, and democracy should cheer on the slaughter of innocents.
It seems obvious that we should be able to decry the murderous actions of Hamas and criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (and US support for those policies). The either/or is what damns this conflict to seemingly infinite cycles of violence.
Such a perspective does exist in Israel. Look at two recent columns in Haaretz that raised the root cause topic, even as the attacks within Israel continued. Columnist Gideon Levy wrote:
Behind all this lies Israeli arrogance; the idea that we can do whatever we like, that we’ll never pay the price and be punished for it. We’ll carry on undisturbed.
We’ll arrest, kill, harass, dispossess and protect the settlers busy with their pogroms. We'll visit Joseph’s Tomb, Othniel’s Tomb and Joshua’s Altar in the Palestinian territories, and of course the Temple Mount – over 5,000 Jews on Sukkot alone.
We’ll fire at innocent people, take out people’s eyes and smash their faces, expel, confiscate, rob, grab people from their beds, carry out ethnic cleansing and of course continue with the unbelievable siege of the Gaza Strip, and everything will be all right…
A few hundred armed Palestinians breached the barrier and invaded Israel in a way no Israeli imagined was possible. A few hundred people proved that it’s impossible to imprison 2 million people forever without paying a cruel price.
Columnist Amira Hass, an Israeli who lived in Gaza in the 1990s and now resides in the West Bank, expressed similar sentiments:
In a few days Israelis went through what Palestinians have experienced as a matter of routine for decades, and are still experiencing—military incursions, death, cruelty, slain children, bodies piled up in the road, siege, fear, anxiety over loved ones, captivity, being targets of vengeance, indiscriminate lethal fire at both those involved in the fighting (soldiers) and the uninvolved (civilians), a position of inferiority, destruction of buildings, ruined holidays or celebrations, weakness and helplessness in the face of all-powerful armed men, and searing humiliation.
Therefore, this must be said once again—we told you so. Ongoing oppression and injustice explode at unexpected times and places. Bloodshed knows no borders.
Hass criticized the Western governments that “raced to voice support for Israel while ignoring Israel’s structural violence and cruelty, and the context of the Palestinian people’s ongoing dispossession from their land.”
If Israelis can voice such concerns, certainly we can. Hamas, which does not seek a settlement that would allow Israel to exist, acted in what it perceived as its own self-interest. Was its immediate motive to sabotage the potential normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia? To trigger an uprising? To provoke a regional war? To serve other goals? Whatever the reason for this reprehensible attack, Hamas' horrendous actions have dealt a major blow to efforts in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere to expand the conversation about the Israel-Palestinian conflict beyond reflexive support for the Israeli government. This assault will probably empower extremists on each side and indeed undermine those peacefully seeking justice for Palestinians.
It’s a simple proposition: Israelis deserve security and Palestinians deserve rights. Any conversation aimed at ending this conflict must cover both. Even during a time of bloodshed. In fact, especially during a time of bloodshed.
Got anything to say about this item—or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
The Bear. How much do you care about characters on a television show? Do you ever form an emotional bond with them? Do you really give a damn about these guys and gals? With The Bear, the comedy-drama streaming on Hulu about a band of misfits trying to keep a run-down Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago from going under, it’s impossible not to feel for everyone in this ensemble. The story starts with Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, who was a rising chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, returning to the Windy City to take over this legendary joint after his older brother Michael commits suicide and leaves him the establishment—and its mountain of debt, not-up-to-code kitchen, and less-than-disciplined staff. It’s a nightmare, and foodie Carmy strives to impose a degree of professionalism on this teetering-on-the-edge operation, while coping with the trauma of his brother’s death and its impact on his dysfunction-filled family.
The show is masterfully written, with rapid-fire and intense dialogue that matches the high-tension and claustrophobic atmosphere of the kitchen at The Original Beef of Chicagoland. And each character is wonderfully drawn. There’s Richard "Cousin Richie" Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Michael’s best friend and a quasi-screw-up who managed the restaurant before Carmy showed up. Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri), a young Black woman trained at the Culinary Institute of America, who nudges her way into The Original Beef to become Carmy’s sous chef; Tina Marrero (Liza Colón-Zayas), a veteran line cook who hates change and resists Carmy’s reforms; Marcus Brooks (Lionel Boyce), the bread baker who dreams of becoming a pastry chef; and others. Each character has a full story, loaded with personal challenges and occasional pathos. Their interactions are pitch-perfect, as are the intertwining plotlines. They come across as real people, each contending with their own crap, as they slowly and roughly merge into a team.
Carmy seems to be emotionally dead as he navigates one obstacle after another, striving to keep his brother’s place afloat. Cousin Richie knows he’s something of an asshole but can’t seem to rise above this. Sydney is recovering from a failed food business she started and seeks respect and a place at Carmy’s table. Tina is scared she won’t fit into the new scheme of things. Watching the first two seasons, I fell in love with all the characters. The stakes are high for each—in a rather regular and low-falutin way—and I yearned for their success. The direction is taut; the acting nuanced and wonderful. Each episode is an exquisitely produced short story that propels the main narrative forward. (It made me think of Sherwood Anderson.) The music—REM, Steve Earle, Sufjan Stevens, the Replacements, Wilco, the Pretenders, David Byrne—is perfect. And season 2 includes an over-the-top Christmas episode (guest-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Odenkirk, and Sarah Paulson) that you will never forget—and that will make you realize your family conflict, whatever it is, ain’t that bad.
The Bear deserves all the accolades and Emmy nominations it has garnered. The series is gripping and functions as television literature (as did Better Call Saul). If you don’t fall for these characters, go to your cardiologist and check to see if your heart is still there.
The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the work of photographer Edward S. Curtis. In 1906, robber baron J.P. Morgan seeded Curtis $75,000 for a photographic series documenting Native Americans. This project, which would run for over 30 years, resulted in a 20-volume work titled The North American Indian that contained 1,500 photographs of indigenous people. Throughout his three decades of photographing Native Americans, Curtis shot 40,000 images. He and his assistants also collected over 10,000 recordings (on wax cylinders) of music and speech. This massive undertaking yielded gripping and haunting images of the first Americans whose tribes and cultures had been decimated by genocidal conquest, with his subjects often wearing traditional costumes and positioned in heroic poses. His work was originally hailed as a masterpiece of photojournalism and ethnography, but Curtis later drew criticism for having costumed his subjects for effect, not accuracy, and for retouching and manipulating images—all to offer an overly romanticized image that fit the noble savage mythology and that did not address the harrowing, modern-day reality faced by the Native Americans he photographed.
So I sadly chuckled when I entered The Land Carries Our Ancestors, an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art featuring the works of nearly 50 Native American artists, and encountered a painting by Jim Denomie of the Ajijaak Clan called “Edward Curtis, Paparazzi: Chicken Hawks.” It depicts Curtis on a motor scooter chasing after Native Americans who are wearing war paint and on horses pursuing a covered wagon that bears the image of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Here was a rather witty tableau equating Curtis with modern sensationalists who profit off voyeurism.
Jim Denomie (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, Ajijaak Clan), Edward Curtis, Paparazzi: Chicken Hawks, 2008, oil on canvas, Loan from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, © Jim Denomie Estate. Photo courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
The painting presented a dash of dark humor that was much appreciated. The full exhibit packs a collective punch through dozens of works that address various aspects of the tragic history of the original Americans. Though this assemblage conveys a fundamental sadness, it also presents the beauty and strength of a people nearly annihilated by colonialism. “Bang, bang” by Natalie Ball captured this tension, with Native American elements fashioned in the style of the iconic E pluribus unum eagle.
Natalie Ball (Modoc/Klamath), Bang bang, 2019, elk hide, rabbit fur, oil stick, acrylic, charcoal, cotton, and pine, Rubell Museum. ©️ Natalie Ball. Photo courtesy of Rubell Museum. Photo by Chi Lam
Not every work in this tremendous exhibit, which was curated by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, one of the most notable Native American artists, has a political theme. There are aesthetically captivating images, such as “Fog Bank” by Emmi Whitehorse of the Diné tribe. But in these rooms there’s no escaping the horror of America’s other original sin. This is a powerful and moving exhibition. It will be up until January 15, 2024.
Emmi Whitehorse (Diné), Fog Bank, 2020, mixed media on paper on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, William A. Clark Fund, 2022.41.1. © Emmi Whitehorse
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Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.