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Responses to Gaza border protests show how surreal Israel has become

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A destroyed ambulance in the Gaza Strip in 2014

The facts on the ground in Gaza are not much in dispute. 60 Palestinians are now confirmed dead, mowed down in one day by live fire from Israeli Defence Forces, the latter situated at a comfortable remove from the crowds of Gazan inmates with their ineffectual rock-throwing and tire-burning. 2700 were wounded that day, at least 1350 of whom were hit by live gunfire. Israeli snipers targeted clearly-identified doctors and medics and journalists. Health care in Gaza is, to no one’s surprise, breaking down from the sheer volume of wounded.

There were no Israeli casualties.

"Unbearable," for some. It's Hamas's fault, say others. Those brave soldiers who gunned down civilians in Gaza aren’t responsible for pulling those triggers -- Hamas made them do it. Besides, the civilians in question should have been standing "hundreds of metres" away from the cage-fence. They brought it on themselves.

The attempt to map cause and effect on the carnage does lead to difficulties, though. One of the specious arguments for the existence of a Creator -- that the universe can only be explained by a first cause -- is easily disposed of: "Who created God?" And in the present circumstances, one can apply precisely the same logic: Who created Hamas?

The origin of the anger displayed at the Gaza prison fence might well be blamed upon Gaza's current jailers, who have not treated the inmates with an abundance of kindness. Or on a captive people, dispossessed, poor, and made desperate by lack of hope, who elected a violent prisoners' committee. Or we could go back a few decades and blame the Great Powers and the Suez crisis, or even further back to the UN partition that gave rise to an ethnostate called "Israel" in the first place.

Or Great Britain’s governance of the Palestine Mandate. Or Nazi Germany. Or the Treaty of Versailles.

"History" is a series of narratives in which events acquire specific meanings, the interpretations of which become severely circumscribed thereby. It's not some objective process of linear cause and effect. It is a mug's game to imagine history in this way. There is no single point of origin where suffering began, and to which an ultimate blame can be assigned. There is only suffering. If the Israeli snipers (and the U.S.) want to argue that the Devil sighted down the barrels of their guns and fired at Gazans, I could just as well argue that another infernal majesty or two, at no great remove, motivated the hatred that characterizes Hamas. But there were evil majesties before that, and more before that.

I don't see how any of this is helpful.

One can't deny agency to any of the parties involved in the bloody affair a few days ago. The crowds at the prison fence were not "herded." The snipers were not automata. Yet somehow, only Hamas is ascribed with agency in the affair, a malign force from which all evil springs. Here, in a progressive Israeli newspaper, we can see the nub of the problem:

Hamas conveyed indirect messages to Israel on Monday night that it might change tack in the Gaza border protests Tuesday, but Israel isn’t certain whether the group really aims to rein in the violent demonstrations which claimed the lives of 60 Palestinians by live Israeli gunfire Monday.

It’s impossible to read that without blinking. Who needs to be "reined in?" Where did the violence come from? Who are the victims of it? It's all there, in a single sentence composed of frankly bizarre juxtapositions.

Surrealism, in fact, has been defined in just that way, as "a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities," and the Middle East has clearly lurched into the surreal. It’s a landscape of death and champagne, one in which the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is opened by two notorious anti-Semites, and the victims of gunfire just down the road are held to be the perpetrators.

There can be no consistent foreign and domestic policy and no peace when sense, language and images have been stretched so far beyond their limits that they have become almost completely meaningless. It's theatre of the absurd that now spreads before us, with blood and fashionable gowns. All the audience can do at this point is watch, shift uneasily in our plush chairs, and wait for the whole thing to end.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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