As I grope for understanding in these dark times, for reasons not entirely clear to me, I find myself assailed by the Brothers Grimm tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I do not aim to pursue a flat analogy that renders Israel the scheming Wicked Queen and the Palestinians, the fair and gentle Snow White. But in a state where facts and fables are rather interlaced (for instance, “Jewish and democratic”), fables can at times illuminate facts.
Israel’s chronic onslaught on Gaza hearkens back to the Queen’s deadly arrogance. Launched after two rounds of massive killing in 2008 and 2012, this most recent Israeli binge (depicted by the powers that be as “Israel’s right to defend itself”–read “its might to defend its occupation”) has, as of this writing [July 31], killed 1,364 Palestinians in 24 days, with 56 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians joining the body count.
But you may wonder how the fable’s pretense relates. You recall that the Queen cannot bear being rivaled by Snow White’s beauty. I maintain that Israel, “the only democracy (sic) in the Middle East,” cannot tolerate Palestinian political will, self-determination, sovereignty, or even mere presence. Therefore Israel doggedly works to crush Gaza’s freedom, a freedom and persistence of will that keeps Gazans in their homeland despite Israel’s doublespeak-veiled efforts to expunge them.
Granted this illumination may run counter to intuition. Analysts refer to the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza as prisoners inhabiting an“open-air prison,” established by Israel’s 2005 “disengagement,” aided by the Egyptian state, a prison that chokes Gazans from land, sea, and sky within a mere 139 square miles. But what if Gazans, their strangulation notwithstanding, are essentially the freest of all Palestinians, their life instincts so powerful they build arteries and veins (“terror tunnels”) rather than comply with the unrelenting blood-letting perpetuated against them.
This remaining patch of Palestinian freedom is what Israel finds unbearable (and not the now-forgotten abduction that gave Israel its pretense to attack). If Snow White’s fairness so frightened the Queen that she devised subterfuges to extinguish it, Israel similarly cannot tolerate a kind of Palestinian freedom foiling its full dominion over the land.
To begin understanding Gaza’s freedom and the threat it poses to Israel’s dominion, one must transcend lithospheric pretexts to war, such as tunnels, kidnappings, and projectiles, which can deafen ears and occlude vision of the core reality. To reach the core, one must dig for a deeper and broader context, such as that found in history, specifically the history of an eminent Zionist desire, imprinted on Israel’s making, to rid the land of its native Palestinians (with the exception of menial laborers and domestic servants). Thus, we can be sure the mass killing in Gaza, when and if it abates, will not cease entirely, but continue, albeit at a more sporadic pace in the work of occupation. And yet, Gaza will continue determinately to resist Israel (and indeed other Arab states who wish it complacent).
But what of the other Palestinians who maintain their presence under Israel’s dominion, who also continue to resist, albeit in less dramatic ways—the Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, and inside Israel’s borders (those formed on the 1949 armistice line, but not officially recognized by Israel itself)? Don’t they also express freedom under domination? Aren’t they also relatively less oppressed than Gazans to begin with? How thus can Gaza’s Palestinians be seen as the most free?
Beginning in 1948 Israel began by domesticating the Palestinians who remained in its midst (some 12% of the original population) through military rule with its checkpoints, curfews, economic and political restrictions, mobility permits, ID cards, arrests, and occasional massacres. The annihilation of a “Palestinian” presence was made complete (for a time) through the additional power of language, via the creation of the population category of “Israeli Arabs.”
In 1966, Israel ended this first military rule, going on to occupy what was left of Palestine a year later, in 1967, namely the rest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israel then proceeded to establish its rehearsed military rule over these domains, albeit with less success.
Following the Palestinian 1987 intifada, Israel entered into “a peace process” in the early nineties, leading to the 1993 Oslo Accords. Professedly designed to lead to an end of the occupation, the accords and attendant negotiations have neutralized Palestinian rebellion by establishing a National Authority (PNA), which in this neoliberal epoch, is largely subcontracted to outsource the labor of Israel’s occupation (within those population centers of the West Bank designated as “Area A,” ostensibly under PNA control). Israel thereby tried to bring Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinians closer to the position of its “house slaves” (“Israeli Arab citizens”).
Then in 2006, a rupture between Fatah and Hamas lead to an administrative dissolution between the West Bank and Gaza, bringing about Gaza’s unprecedented and increasing isolation. With the West Bank-based PNA colluding in its own domination by Israel, Gazans (the “field slaves”) alone remain to be subdued. Gaza alone remains capable of revealing the concealment that is Israel; it alone remains to disturb Israel’s plans for normalizing Israel’s colonial democracy.
Gaza therefore bears the brunt of Israel’s aspiration to purify the land of its Arab and other natives. And despite having no place to hide and no place to flee, Gaza’s Palestinians remain the freest, remain the only ones powerful enough to release Israel’s demons into the world for all to see, remain the most haunting to Israel whenever it dares to face the looking glass against the wall.
[This piece originally appeared in a special weeklong series on the Stanford University Press blog, and is reposted here in partnership with SUP blog. The entire 10-part series can be found on the SUP blog.]