Gaza: the Reality and the realty of it

In a post called “The View From Gaza Under Siege,” Andrew flags a bloggingheads diavlog I saw the other day about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the current situation in Gaza. The discussion is between Robert Wright and Bassam Nasser, a resident of Gaza employed by Catholic Charities. Nasser forcefully expresses one standard Palestinian line: for a  “two-state” solution, but without any territorial compromises and with the right to live anywhere in Israel.

Andrew writes:

A gripping, enlightening, taboo-breaking dialogue on the Israel-Palestine question on Bloggingheads. Worth watching in full. Seriously. This is what the web is for: expanding the boundaries of permissible debate on often emotive matters. And reality. Yes: reality.

I would not say that Robert Wright is breaking any taboos … He’s merely trying to let this guy be heard, with the demand for “return” and all. So it’s not a taboo discussion, just a relatively full hearing of one side of discussion that we know is, regardless of the bounds of reasonable discourse, beyond the bounds of a reasonable two-state solution. That may be why we don’t entertain much dialogue about the position to which Nasser subscribes: Why give false encouragement to perspectives that would tank a peace process and a bilaterally-created Palestinian state?

Although, since the election of Netanyahu, Andrew has been bemoaning the lack of a reasonable Israeli partner to achieve the two-state solution, he doesn’t seem to care that this Nasser fellow is more extreme than Netanyahu from the other side.

Wright just wants the guy to get a full hearing, and so he doesn’t challenge, for example, Nasser’s weak comparisons of the equal land exchange idea with the injustice of exchanging the same surface area of Times Square to Iowa. Nasser implies that Israel wants to exchange “desert” land for the land the settlers are now using in the three main blocs. Except, at this point, most of the agricultural expansion in Israel and the territories is from irrigating arid land or using technology to grow in land that’s too costly and difficult to irrigate. (Besides, Times Square land is worth very little when we discount what’s been built on it, by non-Iowans, and it would be the land in Iowa that’s actually fertile.)

Wright stays 100% empathetic (although Wright’s “empathetic” demeanor reminds me  of a Vulcan on amphetamines trying to be empathetic), and doesn’t directly contradict Nassem on anything, Gaza-related or otherwise. What he does is, as one reader notes in the discussion forum:

Yeah, big kudos to Wright for arranging this interview but I wish he’d gotten someone else to be Nasser’s diavlogue partner. I was annoyed by the way Wright was (or seemed to me to be) asking leading questions to get Nasser to reiterate the Bob Wright Worldview(TM)

Wright chooses to lead Nasser where he thinks a Palestinian thinker should go, rather than challenge him. I’m not sure how helpful that is in this situation. Besides how grandiose the Palestinian demands are represented, given the regular political realities of solving a land struggle, there is the problem of Nasser’s portrayal of Gaza.

For example, when Nasser says that there was no electricity the day before, he consigns the blame to Israel as a cruel puppeteer with its hand on every string. Wright doesn’t challenge him on what Hamas does with the generators lately, although it made Gaza’s head electrical engineer go on strike in protest.

As a philosopher once said, in a book Andrew calls a favorite:

There is an innocence in lying that is the sign of good faith in a cause.

Nietzsche meant a lot of things by that aphorism. One is that any human perspective is fundamentally false, but it’s a tribute to our sense of who we are. This includes any creed, ideological, or otherwise. For each of them tempts the believer to tell “lies” to himself and to others, i.e., to convince them and himself that he has the Truth.

Andrew the self-professed “fervent Zionist” ( — tee hee — ) is also a fervent pushover for whatever Nasser says about Gaza. Instead of the critical thinking Andrew boasts is what guides his “controversial” exploration of a number of difficult topics, including Israel-Palestine, suddenly we have “reality. Yes: reality.”

It’s not reality. Reality is beyond any given human being’s perspective, and can be reflected by any number of differing perspectives.

I recommend this thread in the discussion below the diavlog:

Gaza — a comparative perspective, a reality check

Please check this article in the Economist — not a pro-Israel paper:

The situation looks far from dire. Read any article on South Sudan (so far war-free) right now, and tell me that living conditions in Gaza are an Israeli atrocity.

In fact, the New York Times reported that when Gazans broke the Egyptian border they commented on how much worse the Egyptian town on the other side was.

Regardless of anecdotal descriptions painting good/bad extremes, the UN Human Development Committee calculates the living standards and development potential in the Territories (adjusted for Gaza) as better than for a big portion of Arab countries, including Syria and Morocco. That’s just a statistical comparison of different measures, but surely the comparison is data-based and meaningful.

The living situation in Gaza is an iconic symbol for propaganda, yes, and photos can be taken of all sorts of ugly corners that prove to Muslims that the poor neighborhoods in their own country are less important than the Arab neighborhood made poor by the West.

But compared to the Arab province of Khuzestan in Iran, certain areas in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or… SO MANY other places, Gaza is a “walk in the park” … in this case, a broken-down old industrial park.

Andrew doesn’t seem to be able to process such attempts — involving facts and figures, thinking about what it means to live in a crap situation — at getting closer to reality. What’s more important is to uncritically accept any Gaza resident’s proclamation of daily horror along with Israeli responsibility for it … since it furthers Andrew’s own political narrative.

“As long as we’re on the subject of reality, and telling/believing “lies” in innocence, I should point out the dictionary definition of “siege,” the word with which Andrew describes Gaza.

A siege is “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside.” In contrast, “essential” supplies are just about all those that get into Gaza with regularity. As Khaled Abdel Shaafi, UN Development chief, said: “This [Gaza] is not a humanitarian crisis. It’s an economic crisis, a political crisis, but it’s not a humanitarian crisis. People aren’t starving.”

Sorry, Andrew, if this assessment contradicts your messenger with the euangelion from Gaza. From the Economist article mentioned above:

Israel’s siege still causes misery. Yet some economists say the strip is growing faster than the West Bank run by Hamas’s rival Palestinian Authority (PA), albeit from a far lower base. The petrol pumped into Gaza by underground pipes and hoses from Egypt costs a third of what it does in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ West Bank capital, where Israel supplies it. Free health care is more widely available in Gaza. Imports travel faster through the tunnels than via Israel’s thickets of bureaucracy. The web of Israeli checkpoints that still impedes Palestinian movements and commerce on the West Bank is absent in Gaza.

As well as lower prices, Gazans benefit from civil-service payrolls. Several outfits pump cash into the strip’s economy: the local Hamas government; the UN, which employs 10,000 Gazans; and Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, which is the largest employer of all. Payments to Hamas and its connected tunnel-operators boost the economy too. A car-dealer bringing in a new Hyundai saloon through the tunnels stands to make a profit of $13,000.

Above ground things look better, too. In the 14 months since the war ended, Hamas has swept up much of the wreckage. The Islamic University, bombed by Israel’s aircraft, sparkles again. New cafés have opened across Gaza City. Power cuts dog Gazan life, but Hamas profits from the taxes it collects on the fuel that powers a noisy surfeit of generators. America recently imposed sanctions on the main Hamas-owned bank, but the informal hawala banking system that straddles the border keeps the strip solvent. Whereas Gaza was once plugged into Western economies, the siege has forced it to find other financial moorings. So confident is Hamas that it can survive without the PA’s banking system that it has just, for the first time, sent its police to raid a bank that had obeyed a PA order preventing a Hamas-run charity from having access to deposits.

Andrew’s politicized imagination is the strongest element of his view of life in the Territories, and he affirms any account that fits with his portrayal of Gaza as a scene of devastation helped by “neocon cheerleaders,” with no evidence whatsoever. Here are the search results for “pulverization” on The Daily Dish. Sullivan appears to have developed a tic. If he sees that Gaza isn’t devastated, he might start to fidget like when Rainman missed his scheduled viewing of the People’s Court.

And here are some remarks from a Telegraph journalist who was stationed in Gaza, and fairly unsympathetic to Israel, let back in after the ceasefire:

One thing was clear. Gaza City 2009 is not Stalingrad 1944. There had been no carpet bombing of large areas, no firebombing of complete suburbs. Targets had been selected and then hit, often several times, but almost always with precision munitions. Buildings nearby had been damaged and there had been some clear mistakes, like the firebombing of the UN aid headquarters. But, in most the cases, I saw the primary target had borne the brunt.
[…]
But, for the most part, I was struck by how cosmetically unchanged Gaza appeared to be. It has been a tatty, poorly-maintained mess for decades and the presence of fresh bombsites on streets already lined with broken kerbstones and jerry-built buildings did not make any great difference.

From the very beginning, Andrew’s narrative about Gaza, which has become his unquestioned “reality” by now, has been wrong.

The other day, Andrew tried to give us a window into the mindset of someone who is less interested in facts and reflexively discounting whatever does not conform with the political narrative the person believes is just:

The neoconservative mindset is less concerned with real-life effects and consequences of actions than with the a priori ideological propriety of such actions. That was, in so many ways, my own profound error in the buildup to the Iraq war. […]

I was thinking like an ideologue, not like a conservative. I have learned my lesson.

Has he?

Here’s a search for “Fallujah” on The Daily Dish. In the Second Battle of Fallujah, more civilians were killed by the U.S. military than died in Gaza, and there truly was pulverization  … Is Sullivan screaming for an inquiry as fair as the Goldstone report? No, on this Andrew seems to remain “fervently pro-American.” The soldiers did what they had to do in the sad world of asymmetric warfare.

What’s important to Andrew is not the facts of civilian death or destruction but rather that American rank-and-file soldiers were responsible for one and Israeli soldiers were responsible for the other.

Here’s the overwrought connection he makes between his two targets, Israel and neoconservative American officials/pundits:

Cheney saw America as Netanyahu sees Israel: a country built for permanent war and the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of waging it (with a few war crimes to keep the enemy on their toes).

But America is not Israel. America might support Israel, might have a special relationship with Israel. But America is not Israel. And once that distinction is made, much of the neoconservative ideology collapses.

War crimes in Fallujah … ? Not even worth investigating. The Goldstone report … ? Not even worth challenging. The Dish helpfully explains why:

I took neoconservatism seriously for a long time, because it offered an interesting critique of what’s wrong with the Middle East, and seemed to have the only coherent strategic answer to the savagery of 9/11. I now realize that the answer – the permanent occupation of Iraq – was absurdly utopian and only made feasible by exploiting the psychic trauma of that dreadful day. The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right.

Err … we went to war in Iraq because Saddam “disagree[d] with the Israeli right”? We’re at odds with Syria and Iran because each “disagrees with the Israeli right”?

That’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to these last few years.

Yes, “forced to” — by some kind of decrepit thinking that results from long-term self-loathing. Poor victim Andrew is. With clueless innocence, he has entitled the post the above two quotes are from, “False Premises” — referring to neoconservative ones!

For the Dish, it really doesn’t matter what happened, when and where in either Fallujah or Gaza. The neo-neocon who runs it is still

less concerned with real-life effects and consequences of actions than with the a priori ideological propriety of such actions.

That’s how he still knows what is and is not “reality. Yes: reality.”

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