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Editorial The violence of the oppressed

NO-ONE should cheer the slaughter in Israel. Those Israeli families in their homes, the young people at the music festival deserve to be alive. The small Israeli boy taken hostage and videoed being tormented deserves to be home and safe.

And when Jews are massacred indiscriminately it is inevitable that Jews everywhere, and not only they, will see a pogrom. Any response that does not understand the fear Jewish people feel lacks moral imagination.

But to forebear from cheering is not to condemn. When the Mau-Mau killed farming families in their beds, socialists did not cheer. They saw instead the refracted violence of British colonialism and fascist settlers denying land and freedom to the Kenyan people.

Nor did anyone celebrate when the FLN bombed cafes and concert halls in Algiers. Yet those blasts were the echo of 150 years of French imperialist brutality.

Mao Zedong famously wrote that “a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture … it cannot be so refined, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.” Nor is it a Twitter thread. 

The “civilised” world prefers its illusions, and above all prefers to turn its head from the violence of the oppressed. So it is in Palestine.

The governments of world imperialism condemn the inhumanity of people whose humanity they have denied for generations, a people who they seek to write out of history by violence, by dispossession and ultimately by ignoring their existence.

The “civilised” condemn the murder of innocents, as if it was possible for the violence of the dispossessed to only reach the guilty, secure in their guarded compounds, and as if their own hands were spotless.

The civilised legitimise only their own preferred methods — ethnic cleansing through sombre jurisprudence, notionally “targeted” massacre deploying the highest technology available, the lawful imprisonment of children, starvation sanctions.

Thus attacking a police station in Israel constitutes terrorism, while bombing a hospital in Gaza is self-defence. And a British Foreign Secretary endorses the war crime of collective punishment through starvation.

Much sweeter if the oppressed always marched under the banners of Bloomsbury or Berkley, and stuck within the reservations of Western-sanctioned ideologies. 

Yet the eschatological Islamism within Hamas is not down to atavistic “historic Islamist bloodlust, passed down through the generations from birth” in the shocking words of the editorial director of Jewish News this week. 

Its charter anti-semitism is an ignorant, imported and inexcusable reaction to a modernity that has failed to deliver for Palestinians.

Neither is asymmetrical war attractive to look at. It is bloody, intimate, and often unspeakably cruel. But it is not the alternative to symmetrical war, which is unavailable even were it desirable.

It is the alternative to silence. Those who denounce Hamas’s attacks today also denounced the unarmed demonstrations at the Gaza border fence in 2018. 223 Palestinians died then without a gun in their hands.

They criminalise the peaceful Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign to pressurise Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. They deny the Palestinian Authority the right to seek redress at the International Court of Justice.

They demand instead that the Palestinian people acquiesce in their own historical marginalisation.

All the “civilised” will accept from the Palestinian people is silence. At most, the prisoner may be permitted to parley with the jailer for improved rations. 

But perhaps the penny will drop, even among the bien-pensants of social democracy, whose own history is steeped in bloody imperial violence from MacDonald in India to Attlee in Indonesia and Blair in Iraq: if you cannot stomach the violence of the oppressed, then halt the oppression.

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