Gaza 2012 (with B. Holleran)

The first person voice in this narrative is mine. It arises from a conversation developed over years with a friend who also provided factual information regarding the recent ‘war’ waged by Israel against the inhabitants of Gaza. I question the appropriateness of this term since it suggests a fundamental parity of intent between antagonists. This doesn’t apply in the case of Gaza, whose inhabitants lack the resources to offer significant opposition to Israeli military power or any wish to provoke it after a series of devastating incursions in recent years.

Gaza is a tiny enclave about 25 miles long and 6 wide. Home to approximately 1.7 million people, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It is also one of the poorest, with widespread unemployment and deprivation. It is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, who were democratically elected in 2006. The election was overseen by Israeli and UN observers and deemed legitimate. However, Israel and the US did not like the outcome and have boycotted Hamas ever since.

As a young child I used to have terrifying dreams. I would be confined, in hiding, afraid even to breathe for fear of detection. Later, after I read my father’s Leon Uris books, I found some relief by acting out. I would picture myself as a youthful member of a dwindling group of survivors in a besieged ghetto. When it came time for the soldiers to bash down our door I would hide behind it, breathless, clutching my mother’s sharpest knife. As the first intruder entered I would take him from behind, grabbing his chin while drawing the blade across his throat, possessed by a terror of annihilation should I fail. If he had companions I would shoot them with his gun, using his body as a shield. Captured weapons would then be turned on others who were raiding adjacent apartments. I armed myself and imaginary comrades in this way. We never failed to drive the soldiers off. I sustained this drama for several years, even when heavy bombardments forced us to take refuge in the sewers.

Israel controls the airspace, ports and territorial waters of Gaza. It imposed a relentless siege, depriving an already suffering people of essential medicines, foodstuffs and building materials. The siege has now been relaxed and more ordinary products are allowed in but Gaza is still like a vast prison with the movement of people in or out completely at the whim of Israeli officials. Even travel for medical reasons can be delayed or refused. Many people have died as a result.

When I read ‘Exodus’ and ‘Mila 18’ I had no sense that the Benefactors who compensated survivors of the Holocaust with the gift of other people’s land were acting not only to appease their mortified consciences but also to destabilise the Arab world. I had great admiration for pioneers of the fledgling state and dreamed of joining them one day. I had no idea what it meant to be Other. I thought that all Nazis had been slain except in my dreams and imagined the Homeland as a limitless expanse where young kibbutzniks made miracles, transforming desert wilderness where no-one had thought to envisage paradise before. I had never heard of Gaza.

At the turn of the 20th century, Jews represented approximately 7% of the population of Palestine. By 1947, after intense Zionist activity, that percentage was 32%. Most of these immigrants came from Russia and other parts of Europe. Under the UN partitioning of Palestine in November 1947, Jews were given 56% of the land, even though they represented only 32% of the people and owned only 8% of the land. The indigenous Arabs were given 44% of the land, although they made up more than two thirds of the population and owned 92% of the land. Civil war erupted. Massacres, expulsion orders and fear resulted in a mass exodus of Arabs. Between November 1947 and May 1948, 300,000 were driven from their homes. Israel declared it’s “independence”. By then, Jews owned 78% of the land. Over 500 towns and villages had been obliterated. A new map was drawn in which every city, river and hill received a new Hebrew name. All vestiges of Palestinian culture were to be erased. The existence of a displaced indigenous population was denied.

I trained as a psychologist and devoted much effort to the unravelling of my dreams. The spectres of my ghetto nightmares were finally laid to rest after a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2005. They re-surfaced temporarily through December-January 2008-09, during Israel’s invasion of Gaza. I prayed that the shameful debacle this produced might finally lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. It did not.

Gaza as it is today did not come about through a normal process of organic growth, where people migrate in search of economic opportunity. About 70% of its inhabitants are refugees or descended from refugees. For many, the homes where their families lived for generations are only a short distance away in what is now called Israel. Most of the refugees were driven out of their homes in other parts of Palestine in 1947-49 when Israel was founded and again in 1967 when the remainder of Palestine was occupied by Israel.

Palestinians are desperate to secure their own independent state. Most Israelis are opposed but their governments must seem open to the possibility for reasons of international diplomacy. The Palestinians, without power, have no leverage in negotiations except that attributed to their ‘terrorism’. Despite this they persist, having no alternative. Progress was apparently being made in 2012 until mid-November when Israel’s Prime Minister ordered the assassination of Hamas’ military leader, who was actually working to broker a cease-fire. Predictably this led to outrage and retaliation in Gaza, which provoked an answering wave of outrage in Israel. In the event, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership was strong. Two months before an election, he ordered a vastly disproportionate mobilisation of Israeli military power. Air strikes and naval bombardments were deployed against densely populated areas. Reservists were called up ahead of a likely ground invasion. It was said that attacks would be precisely directed against specified targets. Leaflets were dropped, notifying civilians (but not specified targets?) that their homes would soon be pulverised and that it was advisable to leave. They didn’t say where fleeing people should flee to. The result was that out of 150 plus casualties inflicted in a week, two thirds were civilians and one third children. Negotiations then led to a cease-fire. The firing of rockets into Israel had again been stemmed, proving that its security was in safe hands.

President Obama recently declared his support for Israel’s (indeed any nation’s) right to defend itself against external aggression, apparently without considering that the same consideration might be extended to Gaza itself. Knowing that after its last major assault there (December 2008 – January 2009), Israel was found guilty of crimes against humanity for targeting civilians in the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report, he might have expressed concern for non-combatants that would be endangered by Israel’s use of advanced military aircraft, tanks and naval artillery in areas that are mostly residential and heavily populated.

I watch in numbed disbelief footage of Israeli planes and heavy artillery pounding a city full of people whom the attackers won’t allow to leave, dumbstruck that such a thing could happen. (It is said that Hamas shamefully launches its rockets from heavily populated areas. This may be hard to avoid in an area less than a quarter the size of London). In that moment I see Gaza as an extended ghetto whose occupants have refused over generations to succumb to despair. Hamas, as its democratically elected ruling party, lacks the military capacity to challenge Israel proactively and the political motive to provoke a continued unleashing of mercilessly disproportionate bombardments on its relatively defenceless people. In terms of Biblical precedent, the roles of David and Goliath have been reversed.

Israel’s policy of ‘deterrence’ means it is prepared to use extreme levels of violence to intimidate Palestinians into submission in order to create peace and quiet for a sustained period in Southern Israel. Its Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishai, said of the ‘war’ recently waged on the Gaza Strip: “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.”

Visiting ‘reprisals’ on Hamas has become for Israel like shooting fish in a barrel while the question of who fired first is like the act-react cycle described by family therapists (‘You nag so I withdraw.’ ‘No! You withdraw and I have to chase you.’), subject to considerations of perspective. Nevertheless, a hundred years ago there was no Israel and only a small minority of Jews in Palestine. The land on which reservists now muster belonged to the families of ghetto dwellers. The Israelis’ position is therefore complicated. They can’t eliminate the ghetto with a whole world watching and when they mount ground attacks to root out core offenders, the civilian population identifies with those who defend rather than attack them. Hamas attracts new recruits as a result and hostility escalates beyond apparent reason.

Gilad Sharon, the son of Ariel Sharon (who orchestrated Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005) has an idea for ending the conflict: “We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a cease-fire.”

‘Beyond apparent reason’ is an important phrase to have stumbled on. It evokes an aspect of Realpolitik that exceeds the mannered world of press releases and diplomatic posturing. It also engages a discourse that prevents Israel from allowing a Palestinian state on grounds that Palestinians – who are widely held to have an innate disposition towards ‘terrorism’ – would be free to indulge their inbred tendency to fire rockets into Israel, notwithstanding devastating consequences that they would thereby draw upon themselves. Is Israeli policy then just a case of cynical manipulation, whereby successive regimes chastise a manageable enemy to prove their muscle in times of electoral uncertainty? Not just: Israel’s paranoia is beyond apparent reason. Armed to the teeth, it has the power to take out even Iran, its most credible opponent. Like the ghetto enactments of my childhood, Gaza serves another purpose. It offers not only a constant foe that is predestined for defeat but also an Other that can never be finally ‘solved’. Such an Other is necessary for a person or group whose self-identity is anchored in a wound that s/he or it is unready to move past. Un-integrated aspects are then projected and acted out via antagonistic relations with those on whom they are projected. The vehemence associated with this, especially when issues of survival are involved, establishes a false front on which ‘wars’ can be waged to divert attention away from core wounds that we fail to address; that we are electing to live from rather than beyond. Our real issues only surface when we run out of Others to execute or blame. This was true of Hitler’s Reich and is also true of Netanyahu’s Israel. It is true of all humans and it doesn’t stop being true because we assemble armies, lead countries or appear often on TV.

“They stole my land, burnt my olive trees, destroyed my house, took my water, imprisoned my father, killed my mother, starved and humiliated us all. But I am to blame: I shot back.” These words are from a placard carried by a demonstrator outside the Israeli embassy in London and serve to balance the selective amnesia of President Obama’s usually even-handed rhetoric.

Let me be clear: I am not equating Jews with Nazis but I am saying that all people act out of hurt that we haven’t taken pains to transcend. This perpetuates the hurting of others as well as ourselves. It is the un-clarified, irrational root of chronic human violence that goes back millennia and it encompasses the relentless stop-start cycles of cease-fire and atrocity that we have witnessed repeatedly in Gaza. We have the insight and the need to be greater than our wounds, both more than ever before. The wound carried by the Jewish people is grave, needs healing and warrants universal support. This is not the same as self-interested collusion.

David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, once asked why the Arabs should make peace? “If I were an Arab leader,” he continued, “I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”

An injustice has been imposed on the Palestinian people. Until a solution is found to rectify it, there will be no peace. Meanwhile Israelis continue to colonize Palestinian land, building settlements and whittling away the prospect of a two-state solution. The eclipsing of Ben-Gurion’s admirable ability to take the Other’s point of view by his prior commitment to an exclusive in-group identity represents the greatest danger that we now face as a species. It is an expression of arrested ego development, is understandable and can be overcome by raising awareness into Heart. This shouldn’t be dismissed as New Age woo-woo because it departs from the aggressive mindset of institutionalised sectarian politics.

Most Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, have been soldiers, some serving in elite units. They are trained to fight and immersed in survival consciousness. There is a Celtic proverb that says ‘Never give a man a sword before you teach him how to dance’. I had to learn this lesson backwards and have enjoyed sharing it joyously with others since. There is no reason why government leaders should be immune from effects of liberation it bestows. Even if they have embattled egos and value the power of control, these are only details of the conditioned identities in which all humans get ensnared. They are limiting illusions from which we can learn to step out.

The Sharon quote cited earlier is the expression of an embattled ego, which represents a microcosmic analogue of the security state. It plays over damaged templates regarding our basic Passion for Life and Relationship, fixating Power Over (its lack/wound projected as Other) rather than Power Of and Power To. If our commitment to this deadlock could be transcended in the Middle East, it might save a world entire. Here is a dream I had the night after my visit to Auschwitz, when I stepped out from the bunker of my wound. I think it holds the key to a broader stepping out and have been nurturing the Gift behind it ever since:

I am on the edge of Birkenau, alone. All barbed wire has been removed and it is winter. I stand before a vast expanse of snow. My gaze is drawn to a clearing between two groups of trees. My soul urges me to move towards this but part of me stays rooted, fearful of being shot if I dare to move outside camp boundaries. I know I must step out and do so tentatively, feeling very exposed against the snow. I make my way slowly, waiting to be shot. Step after step I continue but still no bullets come. My pace quickens. I feel a huge weight lifting from me as I walk, as if my soul is being unburdened. Then, just as I reach the clearing, a cattle truck appears before me, one of those used to transport Jews. I know I must go in. As I enter it transforms into the Ark, burning in a pure white fire. Letters of the sacred alphabet rise up on the flames and with them my Spirit is set free.

Afterword

It’s impossible to solve human problems within the frame of awareness that gave rise to them. All we do then is push old vectors around This is especially true where there is significant emotion involved, as there clearly is around the case of Gaza. Old deadlocks can only be resolved by the introduction of new awareness. The source of new awareness is found in every human being and not just ‘experts’. The truth of this has been obscured by a legacy of violence which ordains that we also have within us complex wounds that limit and distort. This dictates the surface forms of our psychology and politics but we also know how to achieve deep transformations of consciousness: to heal, clarify and expand. As more people follow this course, the old forms of sectarian politics will no longer be representative. New forms will be needed to express new modes of awareness. This is what ‘2012’ is all about.

I have many spiritual friends who can’t bear to think about bloody conflict in places like Gaza because it is too difficult, depressing and disempowering. Some say they ‘don’t want to give it energy’. This is hopeless. Transformation (purposive, lasting change) is only possible when we are prepared to see what is. Even when it doesn’t need to be that way, it will stay that way (we will) as long as we fail to admit and accept ‘it’. It is only when something is accepted that ‘it’ (we) can change (in relation to ‘it’). I also know intellectuals who scorn reflections like those above, claiming that they are vague, wishful or delusional. In fact they can be engaged in quite precise ways for transformational purposes. The real issue is that they challenge us to move beyond established forms of thinking and experience. They demand that the embattled ego relinquishes control over experience, its own and that of other people.

Such an ego, identified with what it takes to be the rational order of (its) experience, denounces such ideas as irrational and thus justifies its failure to transcend the ghetto of its conditioned awareness. It is a fallacy to believe that players like Netanyahu, for all their ‘intel’, operate along different lines. An unenlightened ego tends to be committed to its ideas, ideals, allegedly rational frames and worked out positions. It may believe passionately in them, as Gilad Sharon no doubt believes in his. Such passion doesn’t make our beliefs true. Rather it impels us to cling vainly to frames of consciousness that give rise to problems we don’t know how to solve but have learned to live with, however miserably and at whatever cost, to others and ourselves.

The problem for militant intellectuals and leaders right now is that they won’t trust enough to relinquish control. This means they can never experience an ordering power greater than that of their own egos. How long can we afford to be governed by (their) fear? Ghettos start in consciousness and 2012 is a time for stepping out. We need to bring these worlds together.

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