Gaza : How to Get Out

How can we talk about Gaza without distracting ourselves from Israel’s just cause? Faced with the attacks of October 7, the war had to be waged, with its dual aim: the liberation of the hostages and the lasting restoration of Israel’s security, i.e. the eradication of Hamas. All this in the inextricable conditions of a combat in which the adversary wishes the martyrdom of its people, and Israel as a Jewish and democratic state must ensure that they achieve none of their aims, including this one. However, this is not what is happening, and we need to redefine the situation in the light of this fact.


Mark Rothko, n°8, 1952, Wikiart


The trap that Hamas set for Israel on October 7 is about to completely close on the Hebrew state. This is what is being hammered out at this point in the war—Israel’s proven inability to free the hostages and wage a battle that does not lead to unacceptable destruction of the civilian population and living conditions in Gaza. As we know, this deadly race was Hamas’ intention all along. Its genocidal acts on October 7 were the first step in this direction. It proved its intent once again by rejecting the ceasefire agreement for Ramadan and by refusing Israel’s request for a list of hostages still alive. Its objective is and has always been, for the war to claim as many victims as possible, both in its own camp and in that of the enemy. The goal is for the conflict to spread, for the West Bank and the Lebanese border to go up in flames, and for Israel’s support to dwindle until it is ostracized by the nations and abandoned to its fate. The Palestinians must be a people of martyrdom is the unequivocal credo. And the Jews must be banished, physically and morally, condemned to death or to the pariah status they deserve.

Israel has been unable to break this infernal cycle for five months. The exclusion of the far right-wing members of the government from the war cabinet was not enough to deprive these individuals of their freedom of action. The religious Zionists, whose desire for the subjugation of the Palestinians is so great that they can envisage their expulsion from all the territories and thus a policy of ethnic cleansing, have retained their positions in the government, fostering hatred and creating obstacles both to the indispensable humanitarian policy that should accompany the response in order to ensure security, and to the pacification of the situation on the other fronts, where such security is equally precarious. While Israel is currently facing an existential threat, much of the responsibility lies with those within the state. The first responsibility lies with Netanyahu, who is determined to fan the flames at every opportunity and is unable to bring an authentically Zionist focus to his involvement in the conflict, i.e., to preserve every Jewish life, including those of the captives, and to aim in the war for a post-conflict situation in which, on the one hand, national unity is rebuilt in a democratic state governed by the rule of law—a unity which obviously includes the country’s Palestinian minority, on the one hand, and, on the other, the conditions for a lasting peace in an environment conducive to the existence of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has never been a politician up to this double challenge. This was the message that the Democratic Campaign delivered every week for nine months until October 7, drawing attention to the essential issue—the inclusion of the Palestinian question in the intention to create, for Israel itself and in the eyes of the world, a Jewish and democratic state. In other words, the inclusion of the Palestinian question in Zionism’s response to the traditional Jewish question in contemporary history.

There’s no getting around the fact that in the face of one of the deadliest attacks since its creation, Israel responded with courage, unity, and determination. But it did not do so in continuity with the movement of rebirth and self-criticism that was in full swing when the attack occurred. Whatever the causes, a policy other than the purely reactionary one did not manage to break through, i.e., to make its mark on the way the war is being waged, not only in terms of its real necessity but also in terms of the horizons to which it must necessarily aspire. Although public opinion does not indicate that the far right has been strengthened during this period, the fact remains that it has not been excluded from leading positions, nor has the coalition on which the current government is based been broken. The consequences are disastrous in terms of a loss of Palestinian civilian lives that no security policy can justify.

The way out, therefore, lies in the implementation of new diplomatic mediations. These are primarily expected from negotiations that are unfolding, albeit with difficulty, among a plurality of regional and Western actors, in order to pave the way for the emergence of a credible and responsible Palestinian voice, as well as an Israeli voice with a vision for the future, beyond the blockades of extremists on both sides.

And yet, establishing such a dialogue requires more than mere diplomatic efforts. It’s not just a matter of moving towards a compromise in which each position, under the more or less benevolent pressure of third states and international institutions, modifies itself as much as possible to reach a zone of agreement. A zone in which the wills are bent to the point of loss of their fundamental content. On a level other than the diplomatic or simply political, we need to confront what remains a gaping absence amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the mutual acceptance of what deeply legitimizes each of the two camps, the recognition not only of their respective existence but of the reason that fuels their will to exist in the particular political form they intend to take.

In the case of the Jews, it’s a question of Zionism itself, as a realized policy—that is, the act of having built a state on the historical land, where a Jewish presence has always been maintained in the filigree of exilic dispersion, offering indispensable support so that the dispersed people are no longer a politically destitute prey, overexposed to anti-Semitism. Indeed, the modern era has shown how far this anti-Semitism can go and how consubstantial it is with non-Jewish national forms of integration, however egalitarian. For the Palestinians, it’s a question of their ability to live in their (equally historical) land, as an autonomous people with a sovereignty they never had, and to overcome their current situation, which for some of them is a regional dispersion in several countries—Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria in particular, with very unequal conditions of existence for these different minorities (the conditions in Israel being the most favorable, since they are the only ones that grant egalitarian citizenship to individuals in a state governed by the rule of law)—and, for another part, the transitory condition of the inhabitants of a proto-state, in territories at war or under foreign occupation.

The deadly period inaugurated on October 7 brought out this double legitimacy. But it did so in the manner of a revelation, where the image appears only with the frozen sharpness, the inversion of meaning, and the paralyzing contrast of the photographic negative. That’s where we should try to start to see the situation differently. And to understand what stage we’ve reached in the tragedy of the conflict between two legitimacies.

Let us therefore use the developing bath. What the sequence has demonstrated with unequivocal clarity is that anti-Semitism with an exterminatory aim is indeed represented and active on the Palestinian side. Therefore Israel is justified not only in defending itself but in defending precisely what it defends, namely the survival of Jews and their protection from pogroms. The fact that the events of October 7 elicited jubilation in certain sectors of global opinion and led to a sudden growth in anti-Semitism—with Europe by no means exempt—further reinforces this truth revealed by the developing solution. In essence, Israel is never more indispensable to the challenge posed by the Jewish question on a global scale than in the era in which we live. In short, Israel has never appeared more indispensable in meeting the challenge posed by the Jewish question on a global scale.

Then, the war in Gaza brought the illegitimacy of Israel’s policy of occupation and oppression of the Palestinians in the territories over the last two decades to a climax that we are now reaching. A policy based on the refusal to take into account the national and political identity of these people, a minority of whom are Israeli, but who are nevertheless a unique people entitled to sovereignty over the land allotted to them. A guilty policy to the extent that we can now envisage a part of this denied people dying of hunger or perishing under the fire of an army that does not target them on their own merits, but—whatever it does—hits them to an extent that a Jewish and democratic state cannot accept.

The Jews have no right to illegitimacy, i.e., to ignore what, with the establishment of the Jewish state, falls precisely within the scope of international law, which demands that the rights of peoples be respected. But the Palestinians have no right to anti-Semitism, the very reality of which is the ultimate legitimacy of Israel. Yet the Palestinians, represented by Hamas, have undermined that legitimacy—in concert with and with the approval, sometimes denied, sometimes not, of many other actors around the world. Without a rethinking—focused on this very point—on the part of this camp, no progress will be possible. Conversely, without removing the legitimacy of the current Israeli government to wage war as it does, and to remove the Palestinian national question from the political agenda of the Jewish state, and thus without reviving the democratic and Jewish critique of the current Israel as what leads the conflict to its end, no way out will be possible.

At the moment, everything is preventing these crossed legitimacies, along with the gestures of transformation they imply on both sides, from being recognized. Why is this so, if October 7-Gaza sequence does indeed have the revealing function we’ve just seen? Why is it currently impossible to take a true photograph of the negative, one that would reveal the nuances, lights, and depths of the situation that make it so true?

Because the sequence of October 7 in Gaza has become part of a new consciousness, especially in Western opinion, which divides it into two, redefining each pole by twisting it. In this respect, a shift has taken place that did not begin yesterday but is now unfolding its full ideological impact. October 7 was an attack that certainly caused a stir. Is this not anti-Semitism? “Let’s contextualize” was the response of the most cautious in denial, while others did not hesitate to celebrate an “act of resistance,” even if it meant putting an aesthetic reservation on the tribute, as Judith Butler has just done. This is because there is an urgent need to conceal not only the crime itself but also the very act that is at stake—namely the legitimacy of the State of Israel. A state that we do not want at any price and that has been classified in advance as a colonial state. But a colonial state in relation to what or to whom? We no longer know how to define it either, because we have systematically erased the components of the Palestinian people, its internal differentiation, and at the same time the conditions that would allow it to constitute itself as a national entity acquiring a state. Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza like a military citadel, has thrived on this generalized unconsciousness.

And symmetrically, the Israeli far right has fed on the same travesty. It too is in line with the Western denial of a conflict between two national claims that are different but equally legitimate. It too, while claiming the opposite, turns its back on October 7, which is the beginning of a sequence in which the two legitimacies confront each other and must necessarily be measured by what they really say. This Israeli far right is also dismembering the two poles of the sequence, which is being prolonged by the war in Gaza, in order to prevent this conflict from revealing its full meaning: to put the two-state solution back on the drawing board, on the basis of an awareness of anti-Semitism—which obviously has its Arab version, sufficiently virulent to motivate the acts we have just witnessed—on the one hand, and integration of the Palestinian national question into Israel’s domestic and foreign policy on the other.

This presupposes an end to the war as it is currently being waged.

Bruno Karsenti

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