- Introduction: The Israeli War on Gaza 2014
What, after all, is left to say and to write? Did we not say it all, last time, and the time before that, and yet “it” is happening again? Perhaps a numbed silence is the most appropriate response to Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza from 8 July until 26 August 2014. The war was raging when I first approached potential contributors to this special supplement, and some told me they had nothing to add. As Palestinian blogger Sam Bahour wrote on 4 August: “Since I have written for decades about how Israel’s prolonged military occupation and endless violations of international law—let alone their blatant disregard to their very own self-interests—would get us to this very point, fresh analysis and fresh vantage points are difficult to find.”1
The 2014 war began, I thought, as a repetition of the November 2012 war, and then when Israel launched a ground assault on 17 July turned into a repetition of the 2008–9 war. Why then, repeat what had been said and written when “it” happened before? The Israeli government repeated its empty justifications too, about self-defense and Palestinian use of “human shields.” So can this supplement do no more than repeat what was said with such insight when “it” happened before? On an earlier occasion Judith Butler wrote: “If we equate all life that is destroyed in war with the notion of the human shield, then ... we have a ready justification for murder, since all those who are in the way of bombs are there on purpose, are there tactically and purposively, and are not only part of the war effort but are conceived as shields, as instruments of war.”2 And indeed, the Israel government repeated its justifications of murder and war crimes.
There would, I believe, be value to a supplement that did no more than repeat the condemnations of murder and other war crimes during Israel’s latest war on Gaza. After all, “it” cannot go unremarked, without bearing witness, without calling on the Israeli state to assume its responsibility, and above all without using our words and thoughts as shields in the face of bombs and shells. The shields can’t stop the bombs but they can reflect that “it” doesn’t simply happen as fate, that somebody wages war, and that Israel’s war on Gaza is no mere repetition of senseless events in an unending conflict. By its end the 2014 war had set its own unprecedented measures of destruction, fatality and injury. It was a repetition that supplemented its predecessors’ violence with more violence. Some of the details of the war are contained in the essays that follow, but it is not the purpose of this collection to document the course of the Israel assault on Gaza. The war was as an event whose timing, viciousness and ramifications should be considered in themselves.
The purpose of these essays is also not to provide some spurious sense of “balance.” The collection of essays is titled deliberately “Israel’s war on Gaza” in order to reflect the immense imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, both generally and in the form of the armed factions in Gaza. Moreover, the current tendency among talking-heads and international relations “experts” to refer to the war as “asymmetrical war between a state and non-state actors” has Orwellian ramifications, according to which the powerful state becomes the victim of the oppressed who don’t fight fairly but by unconventional means. The obfuscating language of asymmetrical warfare constructs “an idiom that converts ostensibly technological or strategic differences between state and non-state actors into moral and civilizational hierarchies.”3
The essays in this supplement express some of the voices that added to public discourse at the time of war or soon afterwards.4 Rather than rounding up the usual theoretical subjects, I have turned to authors, not all of whom are academics writing in their professional field, who inhabit Israel/Palestine and its diasporas. The collection opens with an essay by Amir Nizar Zuabi, written and first published during the war, which eschews...