Monday, September 13, 2010

Massacre? What Massacre?

Here's what a massacre - just a wee one - looks like. It occurred sometime between 1920 and 1925, during Spain's Rif War in Morocco:

"I am sitting on a stone, polished by millions of raindrops, smooth like a bare skull. It is a whitish stone, full of pores. It burns in the sun and sweats in the dampness. Thirty yards from me stands the old fig tree, its roots twisted like the veins of a robust old man, its contorted branches hung with the trefoil of its fleshy leaves. On the other bank of the stream, beyond the ravine, the remains of the kabila straggle up the hillside.

"A few months ago a group of huts stood there, built of straw and twigs. Inside, mats of plaited straw. One mat in the doorway, where you left your heelless slippers, the babouches, on entering; another inside, on which you squatted down round the tea cups. A few bigger ones lined up against the wall for sleeping. The kabila was nothing but straw huts and straw mats. Its bread was a kind of cake baked on hot stones and made of grain pounded between stones, a blackish cake bristling with bits of singed straw. The sharp hairs of the dry wheat ears stuck in your throat and bit you there with their hundreds of teeth.

"The kabila would wake up in the morning and its men would come out of the huts, each beating his pitiful little donkey. Then he would mount it and his babouches would flap on the ground, so small was the donkey. Behind him came his wife, burdened, everlastingly burdened. The three would go to the flatter part of the hillside and the man would dismount. The woman would unstrap the wooden plow from her shoulders and harness it to the donkey. Then she would meekly yoke herself to the plow and the man would inspect the knots in the harness of donkey and woman. He would take hold of the plow, and the woman and the donkey would begin to walk, slowly, in step, the donkey pulling the ropes with his collar, the woman pulling the rope crossed over her flaccid breasts, both working slowly, planting their feet deep in the soil and sinking into their knees at each stop.

"The lords of the kabila would begin their morning on horseback, on nervous little horses with thick manes. Their rifles slung on a bandolier, they would disappear into the hills. Nothing remained in the kabila but the chickens, the sheep, and the children, all playing about between the huts, pecking, browsing, tumbling in the dust; all smeared with dirt and slime, all toasted and bleached by the sun.

"A few months ago the kabila was razed to the ground. It was done from so short a distance that the artillery had no need of range finders. The captain of the battery had said: 'What for? You simply fire, just as you throw a stone at a dog'.

"At the first shell, everything had come tumbling down. The straw of the huts burst into blazing chips. The children fled uphill among the rocks. The chickens and the sheep scattered as their instinct drove them. The women gave piercing shrieks which resounded throughout the valley. The lords of the kabila made their horses caracole, brandishing their rifles in the air. When a few shells had been fired, the infantry marched up the hill and occupied the hamlet. The soldiers rounded up the scattered chickens and sheep which returned to their homestead at sunset. They lit their campfires and ate their evening meal. The air was full of the breast feathers of chickens, which drifted slowly around, sometimes settling gently in a bowl. The operation had gone according to plan. At nightfall there was nothing but some heaps of smoking straw and two or three children mangled by the first shell, chicken feathers drifting in the air, and sheepskins, a banquet for flies, stuck on crossed poles. The place where the kabila had been smelled of jute from the thousand sandbags which formed the parapet; it smelled of roast meat, of horses, and of soldiers, of sweaty soldiers with lice in every fold of their uniforms." (The Forging of a Rebel, Arturo Barea, 1943/1972, pp 237-238)

OK? Got the picture? Fast forward to this weekend.

I was skimming the book reviews in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald when I happened on a review of Raimond Gaita's Gaza: Morality, Law & Politics by Bruce Elder. The opening sentence had me coughing and spluttering: "Do you remember the Middle East conflict in Gaza between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009, known variously as the Gaza Operation Cast Lead (the Israeli description) or the Gaza Massacre (the Hamas description)?"

So what happened in those 22 days wasn't really a massacre? That's just Hamas' description?

Well, no it isn't. Others, who weren't asleep at the time, knew a massacre when they saw it unfolding before their eyes:

"The casualty figures* attested not to a war but to a massacre - or, as Duncan Kennedy put it, they were 'typical of a particular kind of 'police action' that Western colonial powers... have historically undertaken to convince resisting native populations that unless they stopped resisting they will suffer unbearable death and deprivation'. Indeed, an Israeli soldier posted in the Gaza Strip later recollected how Operation Cast Lead was largely conducted by remote control. 'It feels like hunting season has begun', he mused. 'Sometimes it reminds me of a Play-Station [computer] game'. 'You feel like a child playing around with a magnifying glass', another remembered, 'burning up ants'." (This time we went too far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, Norman Finkelstein, 2010, p 77) [*1,387-1,444: Goldstone report]

"The fighting in Gaza is 'war deluxe'. Compared with previous wars, it is child's play - pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organisation that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory. This war is also child's play because of its victims. About a third of those killed in Gaza have been children - 311, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry; 270 according to B'Tselem human rights group - out of the 1,000 total killed as of January 14. Around 1,550 of the 4, 500 wounded have also been children, according to figures from the UN, which says the number of children killed has tripled since the ground operation began. This is too large a proportion by any humanitarian or ethical standard." ( Child's Play, 15/1/09, from The Punishment of Gaza, Gideon Levy, 2010, p 103)

Isn't it fascinating that there are so many out there in ms media land who can recognise a massacre everywhere but in Palestine?

And it's not as if Herald reviewer Bruce Elder doesn't know one when he sees it. After all, he is the author of the 1988 book, Blood on the Wattle: Massacres & Maltreatment of Australian Aborigines Since 1788.

Work that one out!


Anonymous said...

'Blood on the Wattle: Massacres & Maltreatment of Australian Aborigines ...(the aboriginal description)!

So who is Elder and what is his relation to israel?


MERC said...

Probably none, Brian, but Palestine/Israel is a notorious blindspot for the chattering classes. Phillip Adams is the classic example here in Australia.

Anonymous said...

hitting up the lectures this time. I am a little disappointed in the public intellectuals, atm with the Iran "weapons program", which is patently false, see: NIE, Ritter, Hersh et al.

any questions for the panel on the second lecture? 15 June - Raimond Gaita will present "Power and Consent"
22 June - Robert Manne, Guy Rundle, Gerry Simpson - Panel Discussion

I think Gaita is philosophy prof of ethics, and he was a volunteer in Yom Kippur 73 war