The Paradox of Death in Victory and Victory in Death

As Israel’s genocide in Gaza entered the starvation phase and photos of emaciated children began to go viral, Arundhati Roy illuminated an essential fact that jarred with the heartbreaking sight:

The Palestinians, facing down the most powerful countries in the world, left virtually alone even by their allies, have suffered immeasurably. But they have won this war. They, their journalists, their doctors, their rescue teams, their poets, academics, spokespeople, and even their children have conducted themselves with a courage and dignity that has inspired the rest of the world. 

The paradox of victory in death was thus eloquently set. Because by every yardstick the world likes to use, the Palestinians of Gaza are facing decimation of a magnitude truly threatening to their meaningful presence on this earth. In Gaza, they are massacred, orphaned, maimed, hungry, thirsty, sick, defenseless, without shelter, hospitals, schools… In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they are besieged, oppressed, thieved, evicted from their land and property, and violate. And yet, they triumph even as they succumb.

It seems obscene that, in the Palestinians’ most desperate hour, their story should finally resound across continents in all its painful details, and their century-long quest for justice should finally become the centerpiece of the struggle over Palestine.

But such have been the disorienting trends unleashed by Israel’s choice to openly commit genocide and the way Gazans have collectively endured it in real time. In this last heinous demonstration of hate and vengeance, Israelis have acted out, as if on a stage before a spectating world, the entire history of Palestinian dispossession. They, their politicians, their soldiers, their newspapers, their universities, their police, their liberals and conservatives, their settlers, men and women, and even their children, have conducted themselves with a boastful malice appalling in its racism and mercilessness. In every Israeli act of cruelty, in every method of dehumanization, people everywhere get to see what we, in this region, have been witness to from the very beginnings of this wretched tale.

And so, Israel falls as it conquers unopposed. In its victory, it lies dying. It lies dying under the rubble of the myths and fables and delusions and indulgences that electrified its supporters, hog-tied its adversaries, and allowed it to tear into another people with such license. The tragedy in all this is that Zionism’s trajectory was not foreordained but it was foretold.

Israel soldiers having their way in abandoned Gazan homes

There is a continuum that joins Ahaad Ha’am in the late 19th century to Hans Kohn in 1929 to Primo Levy in 1982 to Masha Gessen today, and many of their kin beside. In the misdeeds of the very early Zionists, Ha’am foresaw what has been unfolding since then in Israel-Palestine. Certainly, the terrors we survey in Gaza now.

….[the Zionist pioneers believed that] the only language the Arabs understand is that of force ….. [They] behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.

Now, even as the overwhelming majority of its people egg on its war, Israel’s admirers, in increasing numbers, are walking away in utter dismay at the butchery and carnage. They walk away ever fearful that by committing genocide, Israel is effectively committing suicide. I was at a loss to choose that one voice that embodies this dejection and dread. I kept coming back to Marilynn Robinson’s reticent words in her conversation with Ezra Klein on “Beauty, Human Evil and the Idea of Israel”:   

Israel…in modern history is such a radical statement of the question of how to respond to injury. It overwhelms the terms of the question–the modern history of it. I am speaking of course of the Holocaust. I mean I think it would be better for the ultimate safety of Israel and the ultimate identity of Israel as itself if it had not taken such an extreme vengeful posture, and I think that that’s consistent with the text…the whole thing is very sad.

The quote doesn’t do justice to the podcast, one of Klein’s best, nor to the hard reckoning camouflaged in Robinson’s delicate reproach. But ironically, in the subtlety itself one can glimpse the steepness of Israel’s fall. Even those closest to it understand the cost of what it has wrought.

It’s a seismic turning point. Biblical, one might say. A unique moment for reinvention, precisely because it is a unique moment of such wholesale destruction. In the material sphere, yes, and still more in the realm of intangibles. We all float now in a very fluid time whose emerging forces are indecipherable and unknowable.

There is the reasonable prospect, however, that, as the Palestinians endeavor to reconstitute themselves in resistance to yet another campaign to be rid of them in Israel-Palestine, they can rely on newfound strength in an infinitely more supportive world, with a multitude of constituencies organized and active on their behalf.

There is also the reasonable prospect that, as Israel begins to assess its place in a universe palpably less accommodating towards its behavior and character, it will be compelled, in very concrete terms, to contend with the myriad consequences of the ethnic cleansing and genocide on which it has so openly and defiantly embarked. Indeed, that includes within the West itself, which thankfully is the sum of so much more than its defunct ruling class.

To love Gaza, then–to love it truly and wholly–is to love, in equal measure, its strengths and fragilities. To bow to its beaten spirit no less than to its soumoud, steadfastness. To romanticize less its heroism and respect more its vulnerabilities.

To acknowledge, first and foremost, that your role as Gaza’s lover is to embrace the richness of its humanity.

There is no show of love, no test of character more meaningful than this.  


On Another Note

I can’t help but stay on subject again.

The Zone of Interest won the Oscar for Best International Film. In his acceptance speech, director Jonathan Glazar went bold, following in Vanessa Redgrave’s footsteps in 1978, when she won Best Supporting Actress for Julia

We stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of 7 October in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza.” 

Just as Redgrave was assailed then, so was Glazar condemned last week. Because, as Noami Klein writes in the Guardian, The Zone of Interest’s “subject is not the Holocaust, with its well-known horrors and historical particularities, but something more enduring and pervasive: the human capacity to live with holocausts and other atrocities, to make peace with them, draw benefit from them.”

And there is no parallel that enrages Israel and its supporters more than this one.

Consider this five-hour parley on the Lex Fridman Podcast your weekend pastime. Historians Norman Finkelstein and Benny Morris, analysts Mouni Rabbani and Steven Bonnell face off on the Israeli-Palestinian debacle. Take full advantage of the time off and have a listen. Riveting! Every minute of it.

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