The December-January war in Gaza came and went too fast for people in the United States who weren’t already convinced to come to a moral reckoning with what was being done in our name, and with the money and weapons we provided. Unlike the Iraq war, advertised for over a year before, this one took place in the shadow of a U.S. national election campaign that was generally unconcerned with Israel and Palestine.
But there should be no mistake for United States residents that this war was ours. The United States government was nearly unique in providing unqualified support to the Israeli assualt, which left over 1300 people dead. Near-unanimous votes in both houses of the U.S. Congress backed the Israeli position, nearly word for word. The unprecedented demand that the Palestinian side renounce violence per se as a condition of negotiations was included in that endorsement. The new president, Barack Obama, maintained a strategic silence but made clear that “Israel’s security” is “sacrosanct” in the campaign.
The depth of this support cannot be pinned entirely on the pro-Israel lobby, athough its operation is a part of the way Washington works, with clear parallels to the Indonesia lobby that maintained a flow of arms during more than two decades of the occupation of East Timor. But US support is also an issue of popular mentality, of the minds and perspectives in our community. It combines Christianity and Fundamentalist apocalyptic viewpoints with a common self-perception of our societies as divinely blessed cities on a hill in a hostile wilderness. This perspective is the ideology that was needed by our shared histories as a settler colonial states, reinforced over the past forty years by anti-Arab racism. It’s about resonance, a shared politics that makes it possible to endorse one another’s crimes. Smart analyses of these political affinities has come from both right (see Walter Russell Mead writing in Foreign Affairs last summer) and left (see chapter 4 of Retort collectives’ Afflicted Powers).
Somehow these ideological limitations seem to distort American perceptions more than Israeli ones when it comes to Israeli actions. No doubt this combines real and legitimate guilt and remorse over antisemitism (though rarely does that come with a real self-examination about antisemitism in American history) with the World War II-centered story of American nationalism. The fact that defeating Nazi antisemitism is at the center of the last war most Americans can be proud of has made many reluctant to criticize the Jewish state that emerged in the years that followed.
But not keeping our eyes open gets us into big trouble. Fortunately, the Israeli media some times offers an up-close view that is sadly lacking in our own. So too, of course, do the Arab and international media. Right now, the Gaza war is being examined in a big way. Take a look…
- Amos Harel, “IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement“
- Harel, ‘Shooting and crying’
- Harel, Probe into Gaza op allegations comes too late
- Uri Blau on the t-shirts Israeli army units make to psych themselves up for war.
- Democracy Now!, “Israel Promises Internal Probe After Soldiers Describe Civilian Killings, Lax Rules of Engagement in Gaza Attack“