A catastrophic balance



Reflections on Israel's war against the Palestinian people.

“The fact that our woes are largely systemic is, in some ways, a cause for despair, as it can be extremely difficult to change systems. But it is also a reason for hope.” (Terry Eagleton, Hope without optimism, P. 180).

“Every person born into the world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique…If there had been someone like her in the world, there would have been no need for her to be born” (Martin Buber quoted in John Diamond, Narrative means for sober endings, P. 78).

“Il n'ya pas lieu de parler de réconciliation entre nous et les Arabes d'Eretz Israel, ni maintenant, ni dans un avenir proche”. (Vladimir Z. Jabotinsky, Le Mur de Fer.

“After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine” (Ben-Gurion. In: Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel. P. 22).

“If we stop the war now, before all its goals are achieved, this means that Israel will have lost the war, and this we will not allow” (Benjamin Netanyahu. Recent interview with CNN).

“…when invece the effort of the forze revolution is insufficient to arrest the power, and in this way insufficient is the strength of the reaction to the riassicurare il vechio potre, allora “avviene the reciproca distruzione delle forze in conflict with the establishment of the pace of the cimiteri , magari sotto la vigilanza di una sentinel extraniera”. (Massimo L. Salvadori quoting Antonio Gramsci in Gramsci and the historical problem of democracy, Einaudi, 1970, p. 138).

Let's start by simply recording news circulated this Monday, March 18, regarding the war imposed more than five months ago by the state of Israel on the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Haaretz, the most important Israeli newspaper, highlighted that: (i) in Gaza the situation is one of catastrophic famine. The total number of hungry people exceeds 1 million and 100 thousand people; (ii) UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced this state of affairs with the grim comment: “This is the highest number of people facing catastrophic famine ever recorded.” Nowhere else has this occurred; at no other time, Guterres highlighted; (iii) the Minister for Foreign Policy Affairs of the European Union, the Spaniard Joseph Borrell, opined, one tone lower on the harmonic scale, that “Israel is causing famine in Gaza”; and (iv) the reaction of the Israeli Foreign Ministry was typical: “It is time for Minister Joseph Borrell to stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defense against the crimes of Hamas.”

Let us move from the declaratory plan to statistical data that form a macabre set: (a) from October 7th to March 18th, 31.726 Palestinians, 2/3 of them women, children and elderly people, perished in Gaza. Lives taken by the Israeli war machine, a scandal that the International Court of Justice, presented with South Africa's complaint, agreed to consider with a view to, in due course, defining whether the war against the population of Gaza is genocidal or not. For now, the Court, following procedural rules, has only admitted the plausibility that the crime of genocide is being committed by Israel.

(b) more than 7 thousand people are missing under the rubble; and the total number of injured – the vast majority of them women, children and the elderly – was, on the 18th, almost 74 thousand.

Until a few days ago, therefore, the war imposed on Gaza killed 112.518 Palestinians. These figures, which are much more than numbers (think of Martin Buber's phrase), mean that each of the victims, both Palestinian and Israeli, is or was a world totally or partially destroyed. We must add to this statistical and Buberian reality: since the beginning of the Israeli war, more than 400 Palestinians have been murdered in the West Bank. As if that were not enough, the Minister of National Security, Ben-Gvir, announced that since the beginning of operations in Gaza, more than 100 authorizations for the acquisition of weapons have been issued. Let us think about the Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the permanent complicity between them and the Israeli forces that dominate the occupied territories. Let's think about what this type of news tells us about the colonial violence that also occurs, although with less intensity, in the West Bank under occupation.

To complete the picture: on October 7th, fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other small anti-colonial groups resisting Israeli oppression by resorting to armed struggle – the limit right of colonized peoples, recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in special through resolution 37/43 – carried out their largest and most important insurgent operation. The result – appalling for all of us, but especially traumatic for the Zionist State, Israeli society and the so-called defense forces – was the death of 1.200 people, including civilians and military personnel; injuries to more than 3.000; and imprisonment of a contingent of military and civilian personnel which today, after the exchanges that took place during the first ceasefire, is estimated at 129 people.

These data tell us that the total number of Israeli deaths and injuries is 4.329; whereas the total number of Palestinian deaths and injuries reaches 112.518 people; that the ratio between them is 26 Palestinian deaths or injuries for every Israeli death or injury. This dismal balance also highlights the brutal disproportionality of Israel's reaction to attacks by armed groups operating from Gaza. War of harassment, war of punishment and collective expulsion of the population under the pretext of eliminating Hamas and other armed groups, something apparently impossible.

Let's move on to the news circulated on March 19th by The Guardian, a reference newspaper that can be considered 'during' from Israeli Haaretz.

On that date, the British daily reported that the continued and significant restrictions imposed by the Israeli military on the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, added to the relentless way in which the Zionist forces continue to conduct their war operations, could be signaling the operationalization of a strategy centered on the imposition of death from hunger. The newspaper talks about 'starvation' and, with characteristic British restraint, suggests that 'starvation', in this case, it appears to be a war crime.

Still second The Guardian, the World Food Program – the largest humanitarian agency on the planet – estimates that a minimum of 300 trucks with food should enter the Gaza Strip daily to meet the immediate needs of the hungry population in a very precarious manner. On the 17th, the newspaper notes, 18 trucks received authorization from the occupying power to enter that territory. We know, those who are informed, that the insufficient quota of 300 trucks/day is filled only rarely.

Another important news: the idea, floated by the US and other Western allies and partners, of reinstituting the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, received an immediate reaction from Benjamin Netanyahu: “Bringing the Palestinian Authority to Gaza is bringing an entity committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. There is no difference between your goal and that of Hamas. It is an entity that educates about terrorism; that rewards terrorist acts. The ambition of the entire Palestinian leadership, whatever its form, is the elimination of the Zionists.”

It is important, in this context, to correlate Benjamin Netanyahu's extremist demonstrations since October 7th with the results of opinion polls carried out in Israel after the war against the Palestinian people in Gaza began. One example is perhaps more than enough.

On February 21, more than four months after the war declared by Tel Aviv, the Israel Democracy Institute carried out an opinion poll that allowed it to detect the following: 63% of Israeli Jews oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. This, obviously, gives a measure of the rejection of the great mass of the Jewish population of Israel to the “two state solution”, an idea that, launched 87 years ago (Peel Report, 1937), was adopted by the UN when it recognized the State of Israel. Israel in 1948 and the partition of historic Palestine. On the long path that would lead to the creation of two states, the maximum achieved was inscribed in the failed Oslo I and II processes (1993 and 1995). The idea of ​​creating two states, when the area initially intended to enshrine Palestinian territoriality became a collection of bantustans, is floating again after its obvious sinking. The creative imagination of politicians and diplomats was reduced to rhetorical efforts.

According to the same survey, 71% of those interviewed believe that the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state would maintain or increase 'terrorism'; 51% of those questioned consider a complete victory for Israeli forces in the war that Israel started on October 7 to be unlikely; but last February 75% of Israeli Jewish citizens (the opinion of the 'Israeli Arabs', second-rate citizens, is naturally different) approved the planned military operation against Rafah, the very small territory where they concentrated, to escape the slaughter that began in October, more of 1.5 million Palestinians. This, in general terms, is the non-Zionist-Buberian 'state of mind' that has long animated the vast majority of Israeli nationals.

In light of these data, and the faith in the use of blind force that this 'state of mind' confirms, it is necessary to record: (1) the genocidal war against the population of Gaza – even though in legal terms it remains in the limbo of the plausible, together with Soderini and the unborn children – it has everything to last much longer than we, all horrified, can imagine; (2) this is a war already lost by Israel on at least two fronts: the battle for the hearts and minds of the so-called 'world public opinion' and the mobilization in the streets by social movements, parties, unions and more, critical of the state Zionist.

The battle to conquer 'global public opinion' includes its Western fraction, in fact the only one truly important to Israel. Such a battle seems lost for the Zionist state, despite all the efforts of those, Zionist or not, who support the war. On the second front, of a complementary-operational nature 'vis-à-visThe first, the set of movements against the war and military practices of Israel, also shows signs of being victorious in the streets.

In other words, the dynamics of mobilizations in favor of Israel, as opposed to those calling for its political, ethical and moral condemnation, together with the immediate cessation of the war, gains strength, space and public as barbarism continues to prevail in Gaza . Zionist arguments, not without reason, lose weight in light of the reality marked by daily massacres widely disseminated in various media. Ultimately and in the long term, popular support for Palestine, those in Gaza and those in the West Bank will weigh decisively. For now, it further isolates the Zionist state and the governments and movements that support it.

Even on a symbolic level, always so difficult to conceptualize with precision, it is easy to see: the myth of Israeli democracy disappears, at the same time that an opposing view is affirmed, which understands the Zionist state as the incarnation of one of the last historical expressions of European settler colonialism, in the case of Israel aggravated, as in South Africa'boer', due to the apartheid dimension of ethnic background.

In short, in the ideological struggle Israel no longer has the means to effectively counter criticisms of both political, ethical and moral background. This is occurring, with different intensity and rhythms, in both the USA and Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, continental Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In some of these countries and regions, the defeat 'in fieri' begins to become clear. In others, it is still in the stage of accumulating forces. In any case, the final vector seems established: the future looks extremely negative for Israel. This general tendency applies with even greater force, of course, to the entire Arab world, to the entire Islamic world, to countries where Muslim minorities are important. In this context, let us think about Africa, above all. But this same movement, although comparatively much less powerful, is also present in Latin America.

Despite this, and despite the first 'signs of dissatisfaction' emitted over the last few weeks by Western leaders (Biden, Borrell, Macron, etc.), the 'crescendo' of popular mobilization has in fact not come even remotely close to its major goals: the cessation of war and the creation of the amazing possibility of establishing peace. The issue is so intractable that not even a hypothetical second ceasefire lasting six weeks, a measure that effectively resolves nothing, has so far been reached. Even if it comes to fruition, the adoption of the measure in itself solves nothing, it only stops the massacre.

On a strictly legal level, the process opened by South Africa at the International Court of Justice will most likely lead, in 2, 3, 4 years or more, to the conviction of Israel for the crime of genocide. But on a strictly legal level, the crime is still not a crime, genocide is nothing more than a plausible hypothesis. On the level of everyday reality, on the other hand, the plausible has already metamorphosed, given the brutality of the facts, into open genocide.

Let's move on to another level of analysis.

In previous text, posted on the website the earth is round Less than two weeks ago, I used as an epigraph another phrase by Vladimir Jabotinsky, the most important, clearest and toughest formulator of a specific variant of Zionism, revisionist, antipode of philosophical Zionism in very idealist, humanist, ethical, cultural and morality defended by Buber and Scholem.

The revisionist variant of Zionism, in its harshness and purity, became progressively stronger in historic Palestine and then in the state of Israel. But the achievement of ideological primacy was slow, revisionist Zionism having been in the minority since the 20s until at least the 1967 war. From then on it grew a lot, although it would only reach executive power ten years later, when Menachem Begin, a historical revisionist Zionist, became prime minister.

For Vladimir Jabotinsky – whose strategically decisive ideas were elaborated in a short text, dated 1923 and entitled The Iron Wall – an agreement between the Jews in Eretz Israel and the 'Arab people” (Jabotinsky did not recognize a Palestinian people, only the Arab people or nation) was not pressing. On the contrary, it should be avoided at all costs. The priority was to build the Iron Wall – synonymous with unmatched military strength and strategic capacity – capable of imposing the Zionist will to power on the Arab people, that is, on the Arab people in Eretz Israel and the rest of the surrounding Arab nation. Essential: the Wall would have to be strong on such a scale that any threat or even Arab influence would be impossible. Only then, for Vladimir Jabotinsky, would an agreement between the two peoples be possible and necessary. Only when the correlation of forces became completely favorable to the Jewish people, only when the backbone of the Arab people's resistance was definitively broken, would the Zionist side be willing to effectively 'negotiate peace'.

In other words, the fundamental idea – the Iron Wall as its metaphor – was to strengthen Israel as much as possible in internal strategic-military terms, while, on the external plane, the Zionists would build pragmatic alliances with one or another of the great Western powers with geopolitical interests. permanent, colonial character, in the Middle East. Thus, if we think about Machiavelli, in a certain way there would be a happy meeting between 'virtue' (the inner wall) with 'luck' (pragmatic alliances that reinforced, on a broader geopolitical level, Zionist dominance). By doing so, the Jewish population in Palestine in the 1920s and the future state of Israel would be in a position to finally impose an 'agreement' between an immensely strong part and a practically defenseless part.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, recognized by the Zionist far right as their 'maître faleur', is the founder of revisionist Zionism, but he was also one of the creators of the Hagannah in 1920. This line of Zionism fought all others, with the exception of the 'political Zionism' of Herz and followers. Over the decades, revisionist Zionism fought bitterly against the other members of its own ideological arc, from the humanists to Buber to the self-styled socialist laborers, and, obviously, attacked the anti-Zionist Marxists who managed to transfer around 40 thousand Jews left to Eretz Israel during the second aliyah (1904-1914).

But the revisionists' main adversary was Labor Zionism led by Ben-Gurion, a sworn enemy of Vladimir Jabotinsky. Ben-Gurion, in symptomatic speech, nicknamed Jabotinsky Vladimir Hitler. The mention of Vladimir Hitler is not gratuitous. In fact, for most historians, Vladimir Jabotinsky and revisionist Zionism were either an adapted expression of Mussolinian fascism or, for the more lenient, a form of European proto-fascism.

For Michael Stanislavsky (Zionism – a very short introduction, P. 48): “Although he himself never crossed the line to full-fledged fascism... the youthful minions of his massively popular movement adopted the black-shirt uniforms of right-wing parties of the day, repeating his mantra that 'all a Jewish boy needs to learn is to speak Hebrew and shoot a gun”. Stanislavsky's apologetic contortionism seems evident to me, his saving distinction between proto-fascism and fascism or Nazism has a hint of academic refinement, but in the end it is not sustainable. I remember, from my reading decades and decades ago, that Curzio Malaparte, in kaputt, refers to Vladimir Jabotinsky as 'Mussolini's favorite Jew'.

Without a doubt, the most important dispute within Zionism was that between the revisionists, on the one hand, and labor, on the other. But leaving the personal dimension aside, the relevant thing is that both revisionist and labor Zionists – the first openly, the others in a more calculated, generally covert way – obeyed the logic of the Iron Wall. Both implemented it. Labor, in the Ben-Gurion era of early Israel; the revisionists, especially from 1977 onwards. Begin, the first of the revisionist prime ministers. Benjamin Netanyahu, the most recent incarnation. This is, in a somewhat summary way, the thesis defended by the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim in his major work, released in 1999 under the title The Iron Wall, Israel and the Arab World. The long text, more than 700 pages, deserved an update from the author, an article circulated in 2002: “The Iron Wall Revisited”.

For Avi Shlaim, after a certain time, after, in my opinion, 1967, but especially after 1977, both revisionists and labor began to think about Israel and its relationship with the 'Arab people' from the central axis of conformation by Vladimir Jabotinsky's ideas duly updated. Today, everything seems to indicate that the metaphor of the Wall is shared by the majority of the Israeli Zionist elite, the armed forces, the academy, and also by the media that counts and, most important of all, by the Israeli electorate, that is, by the fraction of the people made up of first-class citizens, Israeli Jews, whether they are Zionists or not. Sure, minorities continue to exist. Minorities continue to criticize. Minorities persist in opposition. But the majority caravan is the one that crosses the desert.

Shlaim's thesis, a key that greatly helps to explain what is happening in the current Israeli state and society. It helps us understand why Israel's intransigence 'vis-à-vis' Palestine and its people is complete, with Benjamin Netanyahu being supported by the mass of Jewish citizens, including those who want to see him out of power and, if possible, in prision. Israel's permanent aggressiveness against its Arab neighbors – let's not even mention Iran – and its unlimited virulence against the Palestinian people are also illuminated by Vladimir Jabotinsky's metaphor.

However, of course, this must be realistically nuanced. The opposition is frontal between Israel, state and society, and the Arab peoples, but the pragmatism that simultaneously marks the Arab elites and their Israeli counterparts allows for solid and lasting understandings between them. The biggest example, the relationship between Israel and post-Nasser Egypt. His biggest project, which was being implemented via the Abraão agreements. At the back of the stage, the revisionist Zionist desire, today Zionist in general, to build Greater Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. At the back of the stage, the immense Arab distance between the power elite and the people.

Because I accept, albeit partially, the interpretation elaborated by Avi Shlaim, it is difficult for me to believe that the Israel of today, that of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Israel of tomorrow, probably that of Benny Gantz, are substantively different. Benny Gantz's visit to Washington and his message to Camila Harris and Joe Biden, similar to those from Benjamin Netanyahu. This proclaims that Netanyahu and Ganz are parts of the same whole, the whole clearly thought out by Vladimir Jabotinsky, the whole metaphorized by the Wall. If I am right to some extent, then, even by derivation, it is to be expected that no current Zionist leadership has the political, ideological and even axiological flexibility to satisfy the minimal, electorally distressed demands of its main Western allies and partners.

In a way, the West too, not just Israel, has become a prisoner of the Iron Wall. For the extended West, which goes from North America to Oceania, passing through Europe, Israel, Japan, South Korea and other allies and partners, the current name of this high-walled prison is perhaps “Western complicity in genocide in Gaza.” And if we close the circle of the revisionist mentality even further, everything becomes clearer: the mass psychology of the Israeli electorate, reflected in the public opinion polls circulated after October 7th, denotes something desperate. The polls clearly say that the vast majority of Israeli Jews have become, whether they are aware of it or not, revisionist Zionists in the way they see and think about the world, as many of them proclaim themselves to be Labor. The Iron Wall complex became an item of common consumption. The Wall constituted an indispensable part of the Israeli national psyche founded on the antagonistic ideas of siege and expansion.

Because I think this way, I see with deep frustration that the future of the Palestinian question – Vladimir Jabotinsky's 'Arab question' – has no way, within many months or even a few years, of reaching its highest moment, the definitive Palestinian liberation from Zionist colonial yoke, successor to the British colonial yoke. Because I think this way, the scissors of realism cutting close to the wings of desire, I continue to place what we all desire, the victorious outcome of Palestine's centuries-old struggle for self-determination, is still very far away.

The genocidal war imposed on the population of Gaza will certainly advance the process at an incalculable human cost. But the decisive victory still lurks behind the horizon. For this reason, the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national liberation has become the harshest example, on the planetary scale of the international arena, of a catastrophic balance to be positively transformed. In the midst of the ongoing catastrophe, let us remain with our only certainty: the national liberation of the Palestinian people is ineluctable.[1]

Long live free Palestine! Free when it will be tamen!

Tadeu Valadares he is a retired ambassador.


[1] This text resulted from an update to a lecture given on March 19, 2024 at the CBJP Political Observatory.

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