The war in Gaza is in our consciousness, yet it seems so difficult to write about. Almost all the writing on the subject, in English at any rate, seems to wear its futility on its sleeve. Writers are performing their duty: some bear witness, some provide historical perspective, some make impassioned pleas. Others add their two bit jingoism, obscuring complex realities by their easy certainties and abstractions. But in all that writing, you get a sense of a narrative that is going nowhere. Gaza, at the moment, seems be a spectacle, not just of dead bodies but also of dead ends. There are no narratives of liberation, no solutions in sight, and no fundamental transformations that can break this vicious cycle of violence.
Think of all the narratives that are now dead ends. Liberal Zionism, the political creed that sought to combine liberalism with nationalism, now seems to have collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. Sometimes there is, indeed, as the Mahabharata reminds us in the context of war, a contradiction between choosing one’s side and choosing humanity, and liberal Zionists seem to be struggling with this contradiction. But even the more jingoistic nationalism now seems to be a cause without a purpose.
Nationalists trot out the narrative of self-defence, and there is something to that argument. But the scale of the response, the mismatch between ends and means, the disregard of the likely future effects of such a war, suggest not so much a sense of purpose but a kind of nihilism. If reliable scholars in Israel are to be believed, the scale of coarsening of Israeli politics this war has occasioned is quite unprecedented. Even the exercise of power and self-defence might be more credible if it were combined with a political narrative about a just and workable solution for Gaza. But, instead, the only proposal really on offer has been a kind of eternal occupation; a security strategy premised on nurturing the sources of permanent insecurity.
Palestinians have been confined to a permanent nether zone of world politics. The depth of political tragedy they have experienced is hard to fathom. The two-state solution seems to be an impossible dream. Some modicum of democratic self-government seems always to end in a subversion of democracy, both from within, but especially from the outside. There is, at the moment, no organisation that could be a powerful, sympathetic and effective carrier of Palestinian aspirations. The Palestinians have always been more of a pretext in the complex vortex of Middle continued…