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  • The War with Gaza Did Not Take Place
  • Ofer Cassif (bio)

The recent Israel assault on Gaza was one in a series of war crimes and atrocities committed by the State of Israel. In 1948 there was the Nakba, the violent deportation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of their villages and towns. The Nakba was followed by the imposition of military rule on Arab-Palestinian citizens from 1948 to 1966, and their systematic discrimination and marginalization ever after. Along with the 1967 occupation of yet more Palestinian territories came the criminal establishment of Jewish settlements in them. The racism within Israel feeds into justification of the occupation by representing the colonized/occupied as “inferior,” “barbarian,” or “primitive.”1

The repeated assaults on Gaza since September 2005 should not then come as a surprise. They are a “natural” byproduct of the occupation and, particularly, of the so-called 2005 “disengagement plan” that turned Gaza into a huge prison. So the question is: in what sense were the latest Israeli aggression and its attendant, horrendous war crimes against Gaza different from its predecessors? In my view the answer lies not in the nature of the assault or the war crimes themselves, but in the way that the Israeli public experienced the war through media and public discourse. For the Israeli public, the assault was, in Jean Baudrillard’s terms, a simulacrum of war, a hyperreal war.2

According to Baudrillard our age, “the era of simulacra and of simulation”, is characterized by two interrelated features: (i) the image or copy is the “real” by virtue of its perception as such by society, and (ii) any distinction between reality as is and its representation vanishes:

[In] the era of simulacra and of simulation … there is no longer a God to recognize his own, no longer a Last Judgement to separate the false from the true, the real from its artificial resurrection, as everything is already dead and resurrected in advance.3

In the First Gulf War, Baudrillard argued that the images of the “war” and its simulation preceded the war, becoming the war itself.4 The atrocity of the massive airstrikes and artillery barrages by the coalition troops, the immense death toll and injuries, especially of Iraqi civilians, were not part of the “war” in which there were few direct clashes between combatants, and few coalition casualties.5 The Western media showed the war from the perspective of the “smart” bombs, aimed from a distance at only the enemy who deserved to be targeted.

As Paul Virilio noted, the experience of the Gulf War via the screen was not confined to Western civilians but also, or primarily, to those who actually carried out the “war” - generals, pilots, flight controllers, etc. Since the Second World War, wars are not so much a matter of combat but “pure war” the endless preparation for war – culturally, technologically, economically and so on. In “pure war” simulations are used in combat training, such that the battle itself turns out to be the continuation of the simulation.6

On July 22, 2002, the Israeli Air Force dropped a one ton bomb on the house of Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh, killing fourteen civilians, eight of whom were under the age of 15. When the then Israel Air Force Commander Dan Halutz (who later became Chief of Staff) was asked, following that killing, what he felt when he dropped a bomb on civilians, he answered: “a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all.”7

The militarism of Israel makes it one of the best examples of living in a state of “pure war.”8 Halutz’s words do not simply reveal an individual’s numbness or apathy to Palestinians’ life per se, but show that most Israeli combatants (and, as we shall see soon, civilians) perceive the bombing and targeting of Palestinian civilians as no more than another simulation – a continuation of flight simulation, analytical models, SBTP9, and so on. Computer monitors and gaming joysticks become the weapons of this war.

During the latest assault on Gaza...

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