Saturday, January 24, 2009

Israel and Gaza

My grandfather - whom I never knew - was Jewish, and I married into a Jewish-Israeli family, but I belong neither to the race nor the faith. I have always disliked organized religion and any form of tribalism, both of which tend to inspire their adherents with feelings of exclusivity and superiority over those who do not share the same allegiances. I see myself, romantically, as a citizen of the world; though if anyone thinks this an easy option they have not truly experienced the loneliness and isolation such a position involves. To have no tribe, to join in no faith too often leaves one standing at the periphery of human warmth, drawn in, if at all, as a guest, and looked upon as a stranger - a word whose significance Jews as much as anyone will recognize.

This sense of being an outsider, coupled with the personal baggage of being a scion of an impoverished, English working-class family has no doubt spurred my hatred of the class system, of racism and of neo-liberal capitalism - all forms of oppression against the weak and the disadvantaged.

The Holocaust stands out as one of the most extreme examples of such oppression, but I have long questioned whether it's true significance - not just to the Jewish people but to Humanity - has been adequately understood. Some time ago, I wrote an essay in reaction to Claude Lanzmann's Holocaust documentary in which I tried to grasp the meaning of that horrific event for all of us. Here is an extract:

There is a sense in which we are indeed all guilty. However much the Nazi atrocities may repel us, they were committed by people; the same people who write poetry and music, who can speak to us in language of sumptuous beauty; the same people as we ourselves are. Somehow, along the road of human development, we reached a fork and were led in a direction of unspeakable criminality, of which the Holocaust is simply a recent and terrible example. We have all been forced along that road; and the experience has left an indelible stain on our skin. No serious definition of what it means to be human can avoid that stain. Our free will, of which we are so proud, has been shown to be a freedom to create hell. The Nazis made one such hell; but they are not alone. Wherever the diseases of blind prejudice, unthinking xenophobia, or just petty racial arrogance lead us to see other men and women as essentially different from ourselves, inferior, less intelligent, alien, evil perhaps and threatening, then we offer ourselves a licence to treat them as disposable items, creatures to be coerced or, if necessary, extinguished. None of us is immune to such spiritual infections.
It would be easy and comfortable to blame circumstances, or the evil play of chance, for this state of affairs. But it is not life or circumstances that are evil, only we who make them so. And we will continue to do so so long as we believe that we alone are glorious in the sight of God; so long as we visit hatred and contempt upon the children of others; so long as we cannot see that all of us are Nazis just as much as we are Jews.

In this context, I offer here a series of images of the 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza. All but one of the collages were sent to me by a friend. The quotations accompanying each image were added by me. I don't own the copyright to any of the photographs and, in the absence of any information to the contrary, I am assuming they're in the public domain.

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