The gentrification of Gaza

Image: Kelly


Many Western intellectuals see Israel as the embodiment of European enlightenment and ignore the “destructive element of progress” by disregarding what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Google defines gentrification as “the process by which the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, often displacing current residents in the process.” Decades ago, when I stayed with friends in an apartment near Tompkins Square in lower Manhattan, I witnessed how gentrification actually occurs.

Initially, the police gradually cleared the area around the square, thus forcing the homeless and drug dealers to concentrate inside the square; Then, in a large and well-coordinated action, the police cleared the square of these inhabitants, claiming that the place, in any case, was not their home. Thus, the entire area was gentrified, property prices rose, new stores opened around...

Isn’t what’s happening now in Gaza the same gentrification? First, Israel allowed the Palestinians to leave their territories and concentrate in Gaza, where practically the entire population comes from other places. Now, he has decided to expel them from there, since, in any case, it is not their home... the forbidden motto “from the river to the sea” now acquires a new meaning: “Great Israel”.

Today, we tend to forget what that motto originally meant: all who live between the river and the sea must be free, not with the Jews being expelled. Furthermore, should we add to this motto: “From the river to the sea… and beyond the river” – are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia free? Can there be freedom and peace in Palestine if the domain beyond the river remains as it is? Don't the states beyond the river need to have Israel as their main enemy precisely to postpone their own emancipation?

In the same vein as the Israeli gentrification of Gaza, Dmitry Medvedev, vice-president of the Russian Security Council, commented in a interview with state news agency RIA Novosti on the war objectives for his country in 2024: “The special operation will continue, its objective will continue to be the disarmament of Ukrainian troops and the renunciation of the current Ukrainian state to the ideology of neo-Nazism.” The Russian attack on Ukraine is, therefore, a humanitarian act, whose objective is the gentrification of Ukraine… So, how are the two wars, in Gaza and in Ukraine, related to each other?

There are many variations that circulate in our media. First, a pseudo-leftist version: Ukraine is like Israel provoking a war by slowly terrorizing Donetsk/Gaza so that Russia/Hamas could no longer tolerate it. Then, the right-wing version of the same parallel: in both Ukraine and Israel, a democratic European state is brutally attacked by a primitive eastern despotic state or society (Russia, Palestinians) and, therefore, Ukraine and Israel deserve our full support. Finally, there is the position of pacifists: war is always an evil, so we should demand a ceasefire in both Ukraine and Gaza. I also disagree with this position because it forgets that peace, as a rule, serves the occupiers: after finishing the conquest, of course they want peace...

On January 6, 2024, Donald Trump suggested, at a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, that the Civil War could have been avoided through “negotiation,” arguing that the fight to end slavery in the U.S. was unnecessary and that Abraham Lincoln should have done more to prevent spillage of blood: “So many mistakes were made. See, there was something that could have been negotiated, to be honest with you. I think this could have been negotiated. All the people died. So many people died.”2

Donald Trump is just applying to the past his idea that, if he were president, he would end the Ukrainian war in 24 hours, with negotiations. And we can imagine other similar opinions about missed opportunities in the past: in July 1940, Britain should have accepted the “generous” German peace plan that would have allowed it to keep its empire intact, etc.

So, in my opinion, the only correct position is: armed resistance to Russia in Ukraine, but peace and negotiations in the Gaza war. Why? Isn't this stance inconsistent? No, because although Israel is an occupier in the West Bank and Gaza, the parallel between Israel and Russia is not perfect. In the Middle East, we have a truly tragic situation, in which an all-out war would be destructive for both sides, while Ukraine presents a clear case of a sovereign state brutally attacked by a neighboring state.

In this situation, accurate criticism of Israel is a condition sine qua non for any solution. The most disgusting thing about this criticism is that many Germans who publicly attacked me for my stance on the Israel/Gaza war later approached me privately, saying that they agreed with me, but now is not the time to say that. publicly. My interpretation of their act is: yes, now is not the time to state this publicly because such an act may have some real effect – we will be allowed to state this when it no longer means anything to do so.

The critique begins by analyzing the context of what is happening in and around Gaza. By “background” I am certainly not referring to pride disguised as profound wisdom: “An enemy is someone whose story you have not heard.” Really? I heard the story of Hitler (when he was young I read Mein Kampf) and I was even more horrified… Although he insisted that the Holocaust cannot be “understood”, Primo Levi introduced here a fundamental distinction between understanding and knowing: “We cannot understand it”, but we can and must understand where it comes from […] . If understanding is impossible, knowing is mandatory, because what happened can happen again.”1

This is why the truth of the elevation of the Hamas attack to an unrepresentable evil, that is, an act of savage freedom that is not based on specific causes, is its exact opposition: we are constantly bombarded by representations (photos and clips) of the horrors committed by Hamas, with the underlying order: just look and be horrified, don't think and analyze! Hamas' attack is treated as an abysmal evil that cannot be contextualized or relativized, whereas Israel's counterattack is generally interpreted as entirely determined by circumstances: many were brutally massacred, so what can Israel do but crush the threat and destroy Hamas? There is no serious choice here... The paradox draws attention: perversely, Hamas appears as the only truly free agent.

If, after the Hamas attack of October 7th, someone even mentioned that the Palestinians are also suffering, they would immediately be accused of relativizing the horror through contextualization – “Hamas has no context”, as the title of one comment in one article stated. major German newspaper. Are we ready to say the same about the massive destruction of Gaza, with thousands of children killed, or should we evoke here the context that makes this horror understandable? (Today, it is permissible to find the suffering of the Palestinians deplorable and demand that Israel show more restraint; but only the suffering Palestinians are the – potentially – good ones. If they actively resist, they instantly become terrorists…).

Things get really obscene when Israel not only commits brutal and unjustifiable violence, but presents it as a humanitarian act: emptying Gaza (and perhaps, in the near future, the West Bank) is the best humanitarian solution for the Palestinians (since, if they are expelled, of course the Israel Defense Forces will stop killing them…); in the calculated bombings of Gaza, these forces are setting new high-level humanitarian standards for bombing a country... The official objective of the Defense Forces is to destroy Hamas, but what they effectively achieved was to destroy Gaza and in this way they gave a new impetus to Hamas, as the only group that really fights for the Palestinians.

Some of my pro-Zionist German friends claim that we should unconditionally support Israel because, despite its problematic acts, the state is basically Western civilization's only island of freedom and democracy in the Middle East... My answer: yes, and the The whole world can see in Gaza every day what Western civilization and humanitarianism mean in practice.

Even in the developed West, the majority of people are in favor of the ceasefire, which demonstrates a separation between the population and governments, and this separation can lead to dangerous and unpredictable consequences. Our moral edifice, which is not just hypocritical (as it always was), with the Gaza war even lost the hypocritical force of appearance — in this war, appearance effectively becomes just an appearance, no longer an appearance that contains its truth itself. In that regard, Arundhati Roy noted that if the bombing of Gaza continues, then “the moral architecture of Western liberalism will cease to exist. He was always hypocritical, we know. But even so this hypocrisy provided some kind of shelter. And that shelter is disappearing before our eyes.”

The crucial idea is that despite its hypocrisy (or, why not, because of it and through it), the liberal moral edifice nevertheless “provided some kind of shelter.” Just remember the Tiananmen protests of 1989: the protesting crowd built a simple copy of the Statue of Liberty and danced around it. It would be easy to dismiss this as an infatuation with the American ideological dream: what the Chinese crowd projected onto the statue was possibly a mix of political and personal freedoms, social justice and common well-being – a rather respectful emancipatory desire.

Wasn't it the same thing when, about a decade ago, students protesting in Hong Kong asked Donald Trump to protect their autonomy? And when, in recent decades, there were “rainbow” revolutions in Ukraine, Belarus, etc., the demand for membership in the European Union was motivated by what “Europe” represented in the eyes of these countries: freedom and security, well-being. being… much closer to an elementary level of social democratic ideas than to the reality of the European Union. In a sense, they were more European than most true Western Europeans. It is in this sense that the moral edifice of Western Europe “provided a kind of shelter”: it served as a moral compass.

But why shouldn't we just say that the disappearance of the hypocritical shelter is a good thing, since, at least in the US, as Malcolm X said, “democracy is hypocrisy,” so that by eliminating hypocrisy, we could build a more authentic moral edifice? The answer is that hypocrisy is infinitely superior to the brutal display of violence: it keeps alive the standards that allow us to judge what we are doing.

On a more general level, the same applies to universal human rights: yes, they were hypocritical, but they triggered a long process of self-rectification. Brutal dictatorships dissipate the appearance of formal freedom, and what we get is not real freedom, but the rule of brute force. This is why we must insist on “universal” themes such as human rights and resist the temptation to “deconstruct” them as a tool of imperialist domination, against the self-destructive anti-Western attitude of cancel culture.

We can see what awaits us outside this space in the new non-aligned BRICS group, especially now that even Saudi Arabia and Iran have joined it: tolerance… of each other's crimes. However, the real problem is how to really keep the Western emancipatory legacy alive. In Germany, the words “never again” [Never again] are often repeated, indicating that we should do everything we can to prevent something like Shoah happen again. However, Franco Berardi2 recently wrote that today, “from the German point of view, the words 'never again' should be interpreted this way: after killing six million Jews, two million Gypsies, three hundred thousand Communists and twenty million Soviets, we, the Germans , we will protect Israel no matter what, because they are no longer enemies of our master race, but part of it.”

This speech may seem harsh, but it is important to note that Jürgen Habermas, the last great representative of the Frankfurt School and one of the signatories of a letter in full support of Israel – a letter that became the main target of Franco Berardi's criticism – is a great supporter of the legacy of the Enlightenment: one of his best-known books is The unfinished project of the Enlightenment,3 a critique not only of French postmodern thought, but also of Dialectic of Enlightenment, by Adorno and Horkheimer.

Succinctly put, Jürgen Habermas dismisses the horrors of recent centuries, from colonialism to the mass murders of millions of people, as mere signs that the Enlightenment project is not yet fully realized, while Adorno and Horkheimer see in these horrors the materialization of innermost potentials of the Enlightenment and not just remnants of the oppressive past not yet annulled by the realization of the Enlightenment project.

Franco Berardi reminds us of the lines written by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in 1941: “the very concept of this thought […] contains the germ for the regression that is taking place everywhere today. If the clarification4 he does not welcome within himself reflection on this regressive element, he is sealing his own destiny. By abandoning reflection on the destructive element of progress to its enemies, blindly pragmatic thinking loses its overcoming character and, therefore, also its relationship with truth.”5

This is also what is happening in the problematic support for Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank by many Western intellectuals: they see Israel as an embodiment of the European Enlightenment in a less progressive part of the world and therefore ignore the "destructive element of progress." ” by disregarding the fate of European Jews, as well as what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. A black American recently visited Hebron to assess the prevailing opinion that the situation there is very complex; What he saw is that the situation is very simple: no complexity, just open and brutal apartheid…

The general lesson from all this is that, if we really want to confront the destructive phenomena that have plagued us over the last few decades, from the rise of new populisms to new forms of social control, we have to take a critical look at the very philosophical foundation of liberal democracy. today's Enlightenment thought.

*Slavoj Žižek, professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School, he is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London. Author, among other books, of In defense of lost causes (boitempo). []

Translation: Paulo Cantalice for the Boitempo's blog.

Originally published in author's social networks.


1 Cousin Levi, If This Is a Man (The Truce, London: Abacus 1987), p. 396.

2 In a text published in a private communication.

3 T. No.: The Unfinished Project of Enlightenment. No translation in Brazil.

4 N. do T.: The word used by Zizek so far is “Enlightenment”, but, in the Brazilian edition of Dialectic of Enlightenment, translator Guido Antonio de Almeida explains his choice: “The translation of Enlightenment by clarification requires an explanation: why don't we resort to the term enlightenment, or illustration, which are the most common expressions among us to designate what we also know as the Epoch or the Philosophy of Enlightenment? Firstly, as could not be otherwise, for the sake of greater fidelity: the expression clarification translates perfectly not only the historical-philosophical meaning, but also the broader meaning that the term finds in Adorno and Horkheimer, as well as the current meaning of Enlightenment in ordinary language. It is good to note, first of all, that Enlightenment is not just a historical-philosophical concept, but a familiar expression in the German language, which finds an exact counterpart in the Portuguese word clarification, for example in contexts such as: sexuelle Aufklärung (sexual clarification) or politische Aufklärung (political enlightenment). In this sense, the two words designate, in German and Portuguese, the process by which a person overcomes the darkness of ignorance and prejudice in practical matters (religious, political, sexual, etc.).”

5T.N.: Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2014), p. 8. []

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