U.S. anarchist Noam Chomsky and Israeli Communist Ilan Pappé, both prominent Jewish critics of the state of Israel and its brutal oppression of Palestinians, have put together an important account of contemporary imperialism in Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War on the Palestinians, a volume edited by activist Frank Barat and published in late 2010. While Gaza in Crisis deals in large part with Israel’s policies with regard to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and in particular the Jewish state’s murderous winter 2008-2009 assault on the territory, the work as a whole constitutes something of a dialectical exploration of domination and negation as perpetuated not only in historical Palestine but also more generally by the system that lords over the Palestinians’ dispossession and colonization. In this sense Gaza in Crisis provides critical perspectives on what the late Edward W. Said termed the question of Palestine as well as the world at large; given the negation that dominates both these spheres, reflection on the reflections of these thinkers could prove an important task.
The profundity of the predicament in contemporary Palestine should be self-evident. Citing the work of Richard Falk, Chomsky claims the “stranglehold” that Israel tightened considerably on Gaza following the 2006 elections that Hamas won handily to represent a “prelude to genocide”; Pappé for his part finds Israel’s behavior during Cast Lead itself to have constituted genocide. The present reality is that of a “human catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions”: reason would demand that Israel be relegated to the status of a pariah state, says Pappé. Instead, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) uses its influence to call for U.S. strikes on Iran as the Obama administration continues to bankroll Israel and protect its settler-colonialist project.
In Chomsky’s view, Israel’s brutality as evinced during Cast Lead reflects “depraved indifference” to human life; in accordance with the Goldstone Report, Chomsky sees the assault as amounting to a clear example of state terror, one reminiscent in fact of the Russian state’s crimes in Chechnya. He claims Cast Lead to have found its basis in conscious efforts taken by Israel and the U.S. to crush the model of resistance proferred by Hamas in Gaza against the collaborative approach favored by the Palestinian Authority, an organization with which Chomsky suggests doing away—this in an interview years before the publication by Al Jazeera and The Guardian of the Palestine Papers. His calculus in this sense follows from his postulation of a Mafia doctrine on the part of the U.S. whereby alternatives to the geopolitical designs favored by prevailing elites, whether they be Islamist or humanist, must be repressed, even and especially through the use of overwhelming force. The support granted by official U.S. society to Cast Lead in particular and Palestine’s destruction in general is obvious and shprofould need no explication. For the Israeli and U.S. establishment, indeed, the interests of Gazan Palestinians are at best ipso facto suspect, at worst disregarded entirely—they are “unpeople,” in historian Mark Curtis’s term: moscas (flies), or nadies (no one), as scrawled in Acteal, Mexico, site of a massacre committed by government-affiliated paramilitaries in December 1997. In their victimization by constituted power, Gazans undoubtedly share much with Iraqis, Haitians, Congolese, Mexicans, and many others. It is however not insignificant that Hosni Mubarak, the man who met with Tzipi Livni days before the launch of Cast Lead and kept the Rafah border-crossing closed as Gazans were being ruthlessly bombarded by Israel’s military during subsequent operations, has been overthrown by means of the struggle of subordinated Egyptians. While the present suffering of Gazans, Egyptians, Libyans, and many other peoples of the present world makes rather difficult declarations that would celebrate the facticity of historical progress, the radicality of the efforts taken by the Egyptian masses against Mubarak—itself an echo of previous attempts at intifada, whether in Palestine in 1987, Paris 1789, or Chiapas 1994—is to be welcomed, both in Palestine and elsewhere. Indeed, its applicability can be said to reach something of a present universality.
Critical for the prospect of progress in Palestine is the exploration of how it is that that which currently prevails so does. Chomsky is undoubtedly right to stress that the immediate fact of Cast Lead is explained by the present state of former Palestine: the indigenous Palestinian population itself has no state but is instead the object of U.S.-Israeli domination—a diagnosis that in no way denies the objectified and subordinated Palestinians subjectivity. Neither Chomsky nor Pappé seem to take John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s theses on the Israel Lobby as entirely convincing; both point out that U.S. policy vis-à-vis Palestine is the product of the work at least as much of the Pentagon and arms manufacturers than AIPAC, with Pappé even finding space for fundamentalist Christian Zionists in his account of the historical trajectory of Israel within the official U.S. policymaking apparatus. Indeed, he shows that the U.S. government’s foreign policy has not always unconditionally supported the Zionist project in historical Palestine, as he examines the tradition of the ‘Arabists’ in the U.S. State Department who reportedly held the interests of the region’s populations with less dismissal than Zionism has to date. These Arabist officials included Henry King and Charles Crane, who participated in a commission on inquiry sent by the Versailles Conference held at the close of the First World War to the Levant to investigate the aspirations of the area’s residents in light of the defeat of their imperial overlords, the Ottomans. King and Crane found that most Arabs who were interviewed favored incorporation into a Syrian Arab state, one historical possibility that like others has been negated by that which has passed. Pappé claims Arabists to have been hegemonic in the State Department until the Eisenhower administration, during which the AIPAC was founded, though he also recounts the Bush I administration’s tepid criticality of Israel. In this sense he presents an alternative he finds to have existed through his examination of historical events—an indication that matters can be other than the way they have been and are.
A key point for Pappé in this work as elsewhere is consideration of al-Nakba (the catastrophe) suffered by the Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel. He finds that examination of the historical negation committed by Zionism at the birth of its state in particular could raise questions regarding the legitimacy of the ideology and its practices altogether—an educative potential largely occulted by formal-educational processes in Israel as in much of the world-system’s core, as Pappé notes. The historian furthermore stresses that al-Nakba should not be considered a merely historical reality, in light of the breadth of Israel’s destructiveness both historically and contemporarily. That which Pappé terms “mainstream” or “pragmatic” Zionism—a project that seeks hegemony in all of that which imperialists call Eretz Israel—is rather firmly in power in Israel: as is the case in the imperial entity’s godfather-country, the official Israeli political class is itself a catastrophe. Beyond having massacred the largely defenseless population of Gaza during Cast Lead, Israeli hegemons threaten other acts reminiscent of those that accompanied al-Nakba at Israel’s origins, in Pappé’s estimation. The émigré-historian finds there to be little grounds for hope for the development of a humane alternative to the present devastation in Palestine from within Israeli society itself; though substantially oppositional forces exist within Israel—Anarchists Against the Wall, for example, or the critical youth demonstrators in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, Hadash perhaps—Pappé finds them to be exceedingly marginalized as regards having much of an impact on Israeli public opinion, which it should be said seems to collaborate enthusiastically with the dispossession of the Palestinians. Whether or not such a conclusion can definitively be made, Pappé nonetheless seems correct to insist that a fundamental transformation of Israeli attitudes and comportment comprises the “principal barrier” to “peaceful reconciliation” among the present resident-subjects of occupied Palestine. It it toward the end of promoting this transformation that Pappé expresses his support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli state.
Chomsky finds the prospect of boycotting Israel questionable if advocacy of such a position is not coupled with calls to boycott the U.S., the Zionist state’s imperial enabler. Presenting such a task as largely unthought-of due to widespread perceptions that the U.S. is “simply too powerful,” he demonstrates how far global-justice movements have to develop—a reality which does not however seem to be an argument against BDS targeting Israel. As elsewhere, Chomsky in Gaza in Crisis stresses the dire need for the administration of political matters to be devolved to the global demos: he notes that while the most likely future scenario for conflict in historical Palestine will be the very destruction of Palestine, human affairs anarchically depend too much on “will and choice” for this tendency to necessarily become an inevitability. Following the example recently manifested in Tunisia and Egypt, among other places, the U.S. public could for example intervene radically in matters and, together with other ends, enact a more humane and rational approach to the problematics brought about by Zionism. Employing perspectives close to those expressed by autonomous Marxists—and considerably more profound than those proffered in this work by Pappé, who never really goes beyond advocating strategies that would “change” the “political elites’ orientations”—Chomsky warns his audience that Israel’s “murder of a nation” is perpetrated “at our hands.” Responsibility for mass murder and social destruction, whether perpetrated in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or the world over, lies with the managers of the prevailing system but also crucially with those who collaborate with it.