By Irfan Ahmad
Amidst Israel’s dastardly bombardment of besieged Gaza, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contested the propaganda about Hamas as a 'terrorist organisation'. He instead described it as “a liberation group fighting to protect Palestinian lands.” Piers Morgan, host of a popular TV talk show “Uncensored,” termed Erdogan’s statement as a “shocking defence of Hamas.” Morgan went on to say that “I support Israel’s mission to eradicate Hamas. They [Hamas] are bloodthirsty, mediaeval bunch of terrorists.”
This is a typical position of most Western states and their compliant allies like India which keep their own citizens in the dark about the truth of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. In another interview, Morgan thus asked Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot if he “condemn[s] Hamas attacks on October 7.”
Merchants of bullshit
Understandably, Morgan represents what Western elites have historically propagated about Palestinians and Hamas: bullshit. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt takes bullshit as a discourse that is unconcerned about truth. Bullshit, therefore, is more dangerous than lies. While hiding it, a liar is still concerned about the truth. A bullshitter, in contrast, simply disregards truth.
To counter bullshit is not to answer the injustice-affirming question like Morgan’s but instead ask a justice-generating one: have allies of Israel condemned the ruthless occupation of Palestine – integral to the very ethnic ideology of Zionism – and the routine violence, physical and symbolic, unleashed against Palestinians?
To ask such questions is to be truthful to history, which power-elites are often hostile to. In his book, Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American scholar, chronicles how the Israeli "settler colonialism", in league first with the British-French and later with the US, have launched a century-long war on Palestine from 1917 until 2017.
Another way in which a genre of bullshit about Palestine is spread is not by the personnel of mainstream media but by a mercenary of untruth hired from outside. An Op-ed in an Indian media is titled: “Even if Israel Disappeared, Muslims Would still be Hostile to Jews— That’s the Problem.” Its author is Ibn Khaldun Bharati, a fictitious name. His bio reads as “a student of Islam …[who]…looks at Islamic history from an Indian perspective.” That an Indian media published this hate-filled Op-ed under a pseudonym shows Zionism’s reach in the subcontinent as well as the moral cowardice of both the media and the author.
Such unethical practices by merchants of bullshit and mercenaries of untruth are, however, essential to perpetuate occupation of Palestinians and stigmatise their fight for freedom. No serious student of history – among them are notable Jewish scholar like Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein – let alone one who claims to study Islamic history, will write an Op-ed about “Israel-Palestine” and erase the blood-soaked history of colonialism that fictitious Bharati shamelessly does.
Gaza in 2023 and Warsaw Ghetto in 1943
Israel justifies its ongoing assaults on Gaza as a retaliation to the Hamas’ October operation. But the truth, writes Emad Moussa, a Palestinian-British researcher, is that “since 1948, Israel has been planning to empty Gaza.” This important point links the present with the foundational goal of Zionism based on expulsion and extermination of non-Jews.
Israel’s periodic wars on Gaza in 2008-9, 2012, 2014 and 2021 are, therefore, regardless of Hamas actions. Leaving aside the misleading names of these wars ( which depict Israel’s expansionist policies as defensive), in Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom, Finkelstein writes that “Israel more often than not reacted to Hamas inaction” and Hamas “refused to provide the ‘terrorist’ pretext Israel sought” to launch its war.
Hamas’ operation is thus understandable neither in terms of its characterization as “bloodthirsty, mediaeval bunch of terrorists” by Morgan nor as “a bunch of lunatics” by Yossi Beilin, the ex-Israeli Minister. The description of Palestinians by the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman as “inhuman animals” too is a classic example of bullshit.
A historically-informed explanation of the Hamas operation is plausible by comparing the present condition of Palestinians with that of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. In 1943, Jews militantly resisted the Nazi occupation under which their lives were made unlivable. Morgan, Beilin, Gillerman and others are scared of this comparison precisely because it breaks Israel’s claim as an eternal victim. Moreover, it also shows them partaking in the program of ethnic cleansing more or less the way the Nazi Germany enacted it in the early 20th century.
As an enclave, the entire Gaza is 40 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide. Of its 2.3 million population, most are descendants of Palestinian refugees humiliatingly expelled from their homes in the 1948 war. Surrounded by a fortified perimeter, Israel blockades its airspace and territorial water. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Denied freedom to move from and enter their own land, and confronted with military checkpoints, Palestinians have been living under constant surveillance. In one account, in 2008 only 20 percent of people suffering from diseases like cancer and cardiac problems were granted “permits” to go abroad for treatment and the availability of 20 percent essential drugs was “at zero level.”
According to the World Bank, in 2021, poverty in Gaza stood at 59 percent, a striking increase from 39 percent in 2011. The current unemployment rate is 45 percent and the ratio of households suffering from food insecurity is 64 percent. Clearly, these shocking facts are direct outcomes of economic blockade. Israel enforced air, land and naval blockade of Gaza in 2007, after the electoral victory of Hamas. However, according to Khalidi, ban on movements of people and goods, building of security walls and so on are traceable to the 1990s, at the time of “the Oslo Peace process.”
In 2008, a UN agency recorded that the blockade by Israel had “created a profound human dignity crisis, leading to a widespread erosion of livelihoods.” Well before the blockade, in 2003, Baruch Kimmerling , a sociologist at the Hebrew University, described Gaza as “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.” Amidst ceaseless bombing, in a video on social media a teenage girl in Gaza asked: are people in Gaza “a piece of trash”? We are face to face with what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls “naked/bare life”, the paradigmatic sites of which were concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
Compare Gaza with the Jewish ghetto. After occupying Poland, the Nazis created the Warsaw ghetto in 1940. To realise Reich’s goal to be “free of Jews,” dispersed Jews were ordered to move to one designated area. Unlike Gaza as a concentration camp, the one in Warsaw was smaller: it was 2.5 square kilometres where about half a million Jews lived. Like Gaza, it was encircled with a 3-metre tall wall. The movement from and to the ghetto was policed. As in Gaza, in the Warsaw camp too, only residents with special permits could leave the ghetto. Food supply was rationed. Stripped of dignity and reduced to subhuman life, when Jews began to be deported to death camps, those remaining in the ghetto were left with the option not between life and death but between dying “with dignity” and dying “like hunted animals.”
Choosing dignity, Jews formed Jewish Combat Organization, ZOB. In April 1943, each of the 500 fighters of ZOB had a pistol and some grenades. 400 members of another resistance group had 31 rifles and 21 submachine guns. Such weapons were, however, no match to the Nazi army’s. In May 1943, the resistance was crushed. Jews were either killed in fighting or deported to death camps and the 2.5 square kilometres of concentration camp reduced to rubble.
Jews who rose to resist were not terrorists; rather, like Palestinians now, at that time they were terrorised by the Nazi occupation. Like the lives of most Palestinian now, those of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were signed by degradation and fear of being “humiliated” “at any moment.” In his memoir, Primo Levi, a survivor of holocaust, likened Jews in the concentration camps to Muslims. He wrote: “I, who speak, was a Muselmann, that is, the one who cannot in any sense speak.” In Remnants of Auschwitz, Agamben reformulates Levi’s paradox to link it to the very constitution of modernity. But Agamben seems to be interested more in speaking than in the subject of listening.
The question we face is this: is the world listening to humans in the Gaza concentration camp, who, subjugated yet in love with justice and dignity, have spoken? Importantly, will the world listen? And if it will, when and how?