Monday, January 19, 2009


The Times of 1/19/09 includes these two articles about Gaza.

Page 6 carries the headline: “Shocked and Grieving Gazans Find Bodies Under the Rubble of Homes.” It pictures and describes some of the horrors experienced by civilians, with appropriate emphasis on dead and wounded children.

The first page carries a News Analysis above the fold which is headed: “Parsing Gains of Gaza War” with the subhead, “Israel Cannot Be Sure of Lasting Deterrence.”

The last paragraph on the first page reads as follows: “The Israeli theory of what it tried to do here is summed up in a Hebrew phrase heard across Israel and throughout the military in the past weeks: ‘baal habayit hisdtageya’ or ‘the boss has lost it.’ It evokes the madman who cannot be controlled.”

The currency of this phenomenon is reported and acidly condemned by Uri Avnery, the great Israeli leftist, in a Counterpunch article today.

The Israeli’s crazy boss theory mimics Richard Nixon’s madman logic; the crazier they think we are, the less likely they are to resist us.

An Israeli “former national security advisor” is quoted as follows: “The phrase means that if our civilians are attacked by you, we are not going to respond in proportion, but will use all means we have to cause you such damage that you will think twice in the future.”

The corollary seems to me this: “We may therefore do whatever we like to you without fear that you will respond by attacking our civilians. As our military is entirely beyond your reach, you will have no means of retaliating, which will allow us to operate entirely as we choose.”

The article continued directly below the national security advisor’s quote (re Shock and Ruin) substantiates what the phrase “all means” comes down to in practice.

“All means” include economic blockade leading to malnutrition and medically preventable deaths; the widespread slaughter and maiming of civilians; the systematic destruction of private and public property including civic and government buildings, universities, refugee facilities, food depots; the repeated killing of medics and shooting of ambulances, etc.

Routinely, these events have been described as collateral damage unavoidably caused by legitimate pursuit of military targets. The “crazy boss” idea suggests something quite different – a strategic philosophy applicable not only to Gaza but to Lebanon, Jenin, and wherever else the results have been similar.

The “crazy boss” mindset suggests the purposeful creation of horrors so intense as to paralyze the enemy’s ability to resist. It suggests the imposition of sufficient pain on civilians to frustrate any and all attacks and counter-attacks. In other words, it defines “terror” in the most explicit and unequivocal use of that widely misapplied word. It evokes Lidice.

The charge of “state terror” is hardly new, especially in this context. But it is a choice rarity to have all the elements so frankly displayed on the front and inner pages of the New York Times.

The newspaper of record shows us general depravity -- prevalent popular indifference to, and support for, the destruction of civilians in large numbers, and the reduction of civilian life to rubble. This much is now writ large in the public square – unpainted by euphemism, naked as flesh.

Not all of us find this a revelation. In our view, it carries forward quite naturally Israeli history and the history of resistance to Israeli expansions and occupations – from the start.

Nor is this kind of thing unique to the neighborhood. It thrives today in Congo and Sudan, and on a far grander scale than anything Israelis or Palestinians have ever contemplated. It once defined the history of Europe, and the Americas. It recently devastated East Timor, Southeast Asia, South Asia.

The struggle against mass depravity seems always to have been an uphill effort.

What is currently unique about Israel’s situation is the Jewish state’s ability to involve nearly the whole of the West in its generous use of massively applied terror as an instrument of national, and in this case mini-imperial, policy. The Tamil Tigers, Russian Army, Sudanese militias, Rwandan business agents, Zimbabwean police, Khmer Rouge, CIA, Taliban, Al Quaeda, Indonesian military … all have excited widespread Ministerial and Presidential condemnation of their dreadful tactics.

Even the United States has been obliged to denounce and deny the military and informal terrorism it has sponsored here, there, and everywhere.

Where the Holy Land is concerned, the American government – right, left, and center – vigorously asserts Israel’s right to do whatever it wants, when and for whatever reason it wants to do it. Comrades Sanders and Feingold vote “yes” in full knowledge of the mayhem they are blessing and the justifications offered.

The Europeans, who sometimes show at least the fragmental decency required to look embarrassed by their own moral decrepitude, dare not speak aloud in responsible tones.

Alone in the West, Venezuela and Bolivia object unequivocally.

The madman theory is, of course, the psychological underpinning of all terror – whether feebly implemented by slaves under lash or more robustly by colonizers maintaining order.

When strong, armed-to-the teeth nations put the madman theory to work on a massive scale with compulsive regularity, we are at least tempted to consider how the violently insane are, and must be, treated in other circumstances -- confined when possible, or, in rare and tragic circumstances, put down.

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