Mountaintop Removal – OpEd


In his March 24th opinion piece for the Times, David Brooks agrees with a “broad consensus atop the Democratic Party” (is there room for such breadth on the peak of that lofty mountain?) saying that Israel has the right to defend its apartheid regime by killing, banishing or imprisoning not only Gaza’s entire military but its entire elected government (the West Bank’s elected government, as well, but for a 2007 Israel-assisted coup there reversing the election).

Brooks approves of this “consensus” among top Democratic party officials, but laments that it’s not the whole story, as those leaders, he feels, also believe the ongoing extirpation can and should be conducted more humanely.  How could it be conducted any differently than it is, he asks, when Gaza has tunnels?!?!

Brooks seems earnestly to believe that a military enemy’s retreat underground requires ever more frenzied massacres of civilian populations left on the vacated surface. In his opinion piece Brooks intones the ritual cliché that by burrowing as far as it possibly can from the Gazan population – in the sole direction a hyper-crowded bantustan affords, which is downwards – Gaza’s Hamas-party government has chosen to use the population as “human shields.” To Brooks, the Gazans trembling before an Israeli troop detachment are “in between” those troops and their underground foe in some odd, non-Euclidean geometry where triangles are straight lines. All of this, in short, can’t be flat-out ethnic cleansing for its own sake. Brooks echoes Israel’s claims that each humanitarian institution making Gaza livable had, before its inevitable destruction, a Hamas base directly beneath it, later undetectable amidst the rubble. One wonders, short of tunneling into the next life, how Gaza’s elected defenders could have put themselves at sufficient distance from their families and friends that Israeli and American genocide apologists would stop slaughtering those families, then trusting the quick verbal ritual of “human shields” to wash bloodsoaked hands and souls beige-pink again.

Brooks feels the tunnels are a monstrously wasteful overspend on Hamas’ part – his clichéd assertion that Gaza-under-apartheid has, of all nations, the least (and not the greatest!) need of military spending is of a piece with his “human shields” cliché, depending as both ideas must upon the desirability of Gazans simply, and unfussily, dying.  

But the horror of Gaza’s military and government existing at all depends as well on the media-frenzy myth that has sprung up around October 7th.  Genocidal racists habitually summon up, then effortlessly believe, the most absurd such myths and this is no exception.  Does Palestine, alone among nations, deserve to exist without a military and without a government – that is, stateless, in pure enslavement – due to a special inhuman savagery of this one attack? 

On Oct 7 Hamas engaged in a sortie to kill Israeli soldiers and armed, combatant ex-military (nearly all adults in Israel are ex-military, trained precisely to fight alongside Israel’s troops at such moments) while taking noncombatants hostage to trade for the Gazan civilians Israel already held hostage in four figures, without trial or charge.  Hamas will have taken hundreds more hostage than the reported 250 who reached Gaza alive on Oct 7 – hundreds killed by IDF pilots whose Hellfire missile strikes would leave Gaza littered with melted cars packed full before their destruction, and rows of Israeli houses reduced to ashen rubble – Gazans, hostages and all – clearly not by the guns, grenades and RPGs with which Gaza’s soldiers were equipped but by Israel’s own tank shells and helicopter-fired missiles.  One pilot, invoking the infamous Israeli policy of killing hostages to prevent hostage exchanges, assured Ha’aretz that elimination of hostages was existing policy: “once you detect a hostage situation, this is Hannibal … What we saw here was a mass Hannibal. There were many openings in the fence, thousands of people on many different vehicles with hostages and without.”  Concertgoers at the rave, though caught between two military bases under attack, were roadblocked against escape by an IDF terrified of further Gazan infiltration, and many report that after they had fled their cars, an IDF uncertain of their identities appears, in defense of Israel’s shaken authority, to have begun picking them off from the air.

Many actually unarmed civilians, actually killed by Gaza, will have fallen to the “fog of war”  and many also, as with any military action, to the rage or callousness of individual soldiers, but not enough for their deaths to have been the sortie’s goal.  They will almost certainly have died in fewer numbers than Israel’s own, unanswered, civilian death toll counted over any two successive years of Gazan quiescence and in incommensurably smaller numbers than the civilian lives any modern U.S. intervention reaps within its first 24 hours.   Unlike Israel’s answering genocide, this wasn’t even “terror” – this military action had specific goals from which mass killing of civilians (hence any terror motive) were notably absent: from what Gaza had to accomplish with its action, there wouldn’t have been the time.  Pure fictions about beheadings, tortures, and sexual violence, though amplified by top Democrats including Pres. Biden himself, are unsupported by the identification of even a single victim, and clearly invented to justify the massive terror for which, David Brooks argues, those Dems show insufficient enthusiasm.  

Would the collateral damage in our own wars – not to mention Israel’s – justify the complete dismantling of the U.S.’ military and our elected government, top Dems and all, leaving our population completely defenseless and in an open air prison?  Because unless apartheid containment of certain populations – certain cultures, certain races – is justified, Gaza’s violence was clearly far, far more just  than any U.S. military engagement of the last seventy-five years; and its “collateral damage” comparably less blameful, even if ramped up to the horrific death tolls we – not to mention our Israeli client – customarily inflict.

Decades after the U.S.’ last plausibly ethical war, the genocide scholar Hannah Arendt warned us that “those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.”   In the 2024 election, no broad consensus will exist beneath the Democratic Party to support the genocidal fervor so devoid of mercy at its top. Despite Brooks’ assurance, no consensus likely exists among Dem leaders that their genocide is insufficiently humane: instead they seem to note with alarm that its cruelty has become an electoral liability for them, and an obstacle to fantasies of a restored unipolar dominance over a planet wracked with growing disgust for country and its leadership. Our Bidens and Clintons hope to squeeze through to victory through cosmetic gestures like the toothless demand for Netanyahu to cede his position to an even more bloodthirsty member of his own far-right government, and the Israeli-drafted plan for construction of a Genocide-Islandpier over which still-starving Palestinians can be forced onto exile ships if Egypt continues in refusing to dot the Sinai Desert with their refugee-tent cities. 

If top echelons of the Democratic or Republican parties minded starvation warfare, minded genocide, then our arms shipments to Israel would cease until Israel was one majority-Palestinian state with voting rights for all who had forgone fleeing to Europe or America with their apartheid-requisitioned wealth, and instead remained to share in the region’s poverty and precarity, performing the rightly arduous work of making neighborly amends. While few tools remain with which to denazify U.S. culture – at least, not from within the U.S. – some remain, and one of them consists of inching the Democrats towards basic humanity with not merely the threat, but the accomplished example, of resounding electoral defeats.  Our commitment, not just to ending the genocide in Palestine, but to sustaining and upholding Palestinian democracy and with it, Palestine’s elected government, requires that lesser concerns for our safety and comfort be put aside so that the beginnings of a punishment of genocide – falling sadly short, at first, of Hague tribunals – might take place even here, within the United States.

Sean Reynolds

Sean Reynolds was a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and is currently an activist in the Foreign Policy Working Group of Chicago Area Peace Action.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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