It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.1
Half a world away, war has broken out between Israel and the Palestinians. We have Palestinian friends. They were happy when news of the Hamas attack reached them. One of those friends was in Gaza at the time. They have since gotten out.
I look at my Instagram feed and my Palestinian friends are strident about the suffering inflicted by the Israelis on the Palestinians. That suffering is their justification for the horrific violence the Palestinians inflicted on the Israelis. I believe Palestinians have suffered. I believe Israel has often treated them brutally, though I know less about it than I should. I also believe Hamas punished civilians for the sins of the state in a horrifically brutal way. If we are to believe the news reports, babies were shot, beheaded, burned. Women were raped. Children were killed while their parents watched. Parents were killed while their children watched. It is hard to know what is true and what isn’t, but some part of it is likely the truth. My Palestinian friends may have cause to be angry, but I can’t see how the violence Hamas perpetrated on the Israeli people can be justified.
(For example, the situation in Israel and Palestine) was an absolutely impossible way to try to make reparations for the Holocaust, right? I mean, this idea that after the near annihilation of the Jews in Europe, it’s any kind of solution to push Palestinians off their land … It’s a project that has been violent from the beginning, and it didn’t address the underlying causes of the genocide in Europe. It just displaced them. So we’ve been in this dance of denial and disavowal ever since, and now it is reaching its most violent apotheosis as we speak. —Naomi Klein2
The anger between Israel and its Arab neighbors, I learn, goes back to the late 1800s, early 1900s, and was exacerbated by the creation of Israel following World War II. To establish the state, Jewish people claimed dominion over land they had not occupied in large numbers for 2,000 years and inhabited primarily by Arabs for the last 1,500 years. It reminds me of the Native American story, and the stories of Indigenous peoples all over the planet, displaced by more resourced and technologically advanced peoples.
My wife shared an article that explains why there is conflict and why that conflict was inevitable. Here are some quotes from it:
Given the urgency of their situation, it is understandable that the Jews were not concerned with the response of the Palestinian Arabs to their project. After a tragically failed attempt to identify spiritually, emotionally or intellectually with the cultures and nations within which they resided, the Jews learned the hard way that the modern world was increasingly defining self-determination in exclusionist, not liberal, terms. The pogroms and persecution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did even more to shape the tenor and nature of the Zionist movement than the brutality of the Holocaust; it was that predicament which gave birth to what might be called “The Original Never Again” — the determination on the part of the Jews never again to be supplicants, dependent on the kindness of strangers, or feeble bystanders to their own persecution, waiting pitifully for the world to evolve beyond prejudice. Influenced by the character and tenor of nationalism as it evolved in Europe, where blood and soil were the hallmarks of legitimate belonging, the Zionists had concluded that they could only overcome their outsider status by settling in Palestine — a land where their “insider” status could be unearthed, and their physical and spiritual links with the past revealed.3
The Palestinian Arabs said No to the idea that in the 20th century a people who last lived in Palestine in large numbers over 2000 years ago could claim, on the basis of a religious text, rights to the land where the current inhabitants had been living for a millennium and a half.4
Israel is set to launch a ground offensive in Gaza. The objective will be to exterminate Hamas. Civilians are already dying in daily areal bombardments.
The quote I began this post with comes from Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian is relentlessly brutal. Horrific things happen on almost every page. A band of men travel together hunting Indians and brutally killing them when they find them. They do a lot of killing along the way. There is no love in the book. It’s all about mankind’s endless capacity for violence. I am not done with it. I keep hoping for some positive resolution to the story. Some lesson to be learned. Some wisdom about finding the better angels of our nature. I don’t think McCarthy believes that humankind is anything but a brutally violent species.
Palestinian artist Heba Zagout was killed with her two young children in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza on Friday, October 13, her sister confirmed on Facebook.%20The%2039-year-old%20artist’s%20death%20was%20also%20reported%20by%20the%20Palestinian%20publication%20Arabs48.5
I am fortunate. I was born in the United States to an upper middle-class family. I have known little physical violence in my life. I have almost always lived in relatively safe places. I am a six-foot tall white male. It could only have been better for me if I were blonde and my family upper class. I have no reason to complain or think that war is the base condition of humankind. War has always been a distant calamity for me, only experienced through the news and movies.
The news we watch, MSNBC mostly, makes the case for Israel’s right to defend itself, and therefore, invade Gaza, ostensibly to eliminate the threat of Hamas. I heard a commentator say they would get a few years of peace out of it before Hamas regrew and rearmed itself, or some other organization took its place.
There will be no winner of this conflict. Only losers. The cycle of violence looks set to continue without end. Cormac McCarthy could have written a novel about this conflict. McCarthy’s Southwest seems as desolate and inhospitable as the land in contention between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The violence seems just as brutal, mindless, and pointless.
My wife cried when the news of the Hamas attack first broke. I struggle to get emotionally worked up about something happening at such a distance. The invasion of Ukraine had a bigger impact on me, but it was through fear. I could imagine the Ukraine war leading to nuclear armageddon. I think it still could. I am not as fearful about this one, but maybe I should be. There is so much to be sad about these days. We live in the universe of Cormac McCarthy.
I have felt disappointed in my Palestinian friends for being happy and defiant in the face of such horror. They will tell me that, like John Snow, I know nothing. It’s true, I know nothing about their pain, and the pain of their families, and the pain of their people. I only know there is pain on the Israeli side too. How do I weigh the pain of these two sides against one another? Pain is pain.
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International) by Cormac McCarthy