The Lessons Of Gaza In A Time Of Collapse And Rebirth
By Juan Santos
Apocalypse No! part 7
In loving memory of the late Mayan priestess Jo’b No’j Chomiha (Rosa Maria Cabrera)
It can no longer be hidden. What is happening in Gaza is, transparently, ethnic cleansing - genocide.
That genocide has been ongoing for sixty years, sometimes in intense, rapid, and explosive junctures, sometimes more slowly, routinely – but always, methodically.
To see clearly the historical and cultural trajectories toward genocide in Palestine or elsewhere, one has only to map the intersection of stated intentions of the perpetrators and their actions over time – or experience a sudden revelation or flash of deep insight.
I was one of those who saw it all at once. At sixteen years of age, it hit me with an indescribable force, one that would require an essay in its own right; I had been watching a documentary on public television about the Nazi Holocaust. Then it hit me: What happened in the Holocaust was not the exception to the rule – it was the most profound expression of the rule; it was a concentrated expression of the way things are in everyday life, in the blind cult of everyday life. The Holocaust could not have come from nowhere, it was not an aberration, it arose from certain conditions, like a pimple from oily skin – and, like the blemish itself, the Holocaust was only a symptom of what underlay it – the conditions from which it arose. Outbreaks of genocidal horror in concentrated form arise from the norms that underlie them. If there is no basis for a thing to exist, it cannot come into existence.
What is happening in Gaza today is no accident; it is an expression of underlying logics, of underlying and all-permeating attitudes and feeling tones in Israeli culture; logics, attitudes and feelings that rest on a set of fundamental premises.
First among these premises is one shared by every civilization and empire on Earth over the historical period of the last several thousand years: that the members of a given culture are vulnerable, whether that vulnerability is to human enemies or the conditions of nature, and that this vulnerability rightly translates into a mindset of kill or die, kill or be killed, conquer or be conquered. Every empire culture has determined to be the killer rather than the one who dies or who is killed, the conqueror rather than the conquered, and the ruler rather than the ruled. Every empire faces what it considers an existential threat (indeed, each embodies a mentality that existence – life itself – is a threat.)
Without that threat, the empire cannot justify its existence. Almost all “progress” is measured in terms of overcoming perceived threats. It is important to understand, for example, that Israelis today view the genocide in Gaza as “progress.” That’s why opinion polls show their overwhelming support for it. Likewise the Nazis had made “progress” in dealing with the “Jewish Question,” until they reached the point where it seemed possible to progress to the point of a cure for the “Jewish disease” they said threatened the German people. Call it the promise of a Final Cure, a Final Solution, a Final Progress. Call it the promise of a Final Redemption, a cultural Liberation from the existential threat, the promise of the ultimate “success.” There is nothing at all unusual in it. Every aspect of our daily lives is permeated with such promises, and every one of them is a lie. It is the job of politicians to make such promises, and that is why we tend to despise them, even though every one of us is looking forward to the “final solution” of something or another.
Every TV commercial is a walking, talking final solution, a new “miracle” cure, real progress.
Every time we buy an advertised commodity we aren’t buying an object, we are buying an idea, a culture, a promise, a solution; whether the solution is to the “threat” of bad breath or the “threat” of “global terrorism.” As we make our purchase we are also buying into the basic notion that life is a threat and that civilization is its cure. For most Israelis, excluding a tiny conscious minority, the white phosphorous Israel is raining on the people of Gaza is not a burning poison – its medicine – it’s a cure, a solution.
But listen - don’t blame them; you’re not immune, either; you buy into the same lie, in some form or another. “They” are not different; you are not different. They are from the same culture as you and I; one of the Empire cultures - in this case, the West. In the West, as in all Empire cultures, “threats” are dealt with by eliminating them. So, the Nazis sought to eliminate the Jews; The Jews in Israel now seek to eliminate the Palestinians – they call it the Palestinian “threat,” so that the very name “Palestinian” has come to represent a threat in the emotional subtexts of Western empire culture.
Israeli writer Uri Avnery, writing on the genocide in Gaza, makes it plain:
“Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas "terrorist". Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a "symbol of Hamas rule." Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the ‘most moral army in the world’…”
And, if only Israel would smile as they kill, send in a few doctors and some medicine to anesthetize the pain, they would be both “moral” and “nice.” And no one could object. The slaughter could continue undiluted.
Just as Israel is out to eliminate Palestinians, you, cowboy, sought and still seek to eliminate Indians. Yesterday’s “savage” is today’s “terrorist”… threat…
In the US, Black people are a “threat,” so their elimination is sought in other, diluted ways, ways that don’t look like genocide - through mass incarceration of millions under the guise of “fighting crime” or the “War on Drugs”, or the War on Gangs,” anything that can be made morally justifiable and enlist the support of “nice” people. But the undiluted reality is that we, the descendants of Africans and Native Americans, are your Gazans. And your perception of us as a threat operates in your culture in just the same way as the Israeli perception of the Palestinians. You stole our land, our bodies; just as Israel is built on stolen Palestinian land; only in this case we are talking magnitudes of scale far beyond a small strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean. We are talking two continents in this hemisphere, and the enslavement and Conquest of Africa, and Australia as well.
Here in the Americas, your ancestors killed 95% of my ancestors – David Stannard in has seminal American Holocaust, published by Oxford University Press, puts the numbers at around 100 million dead. And you thought the 20 million the Nazis killed was unprecedented. That’s what you were taught, that The Nazis were an evil exception to “civilized” rule.
No, the Nazis were not an exception to the rule any more than Israel is an exception to the rule. Neither are the Europeans in the Americas.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Conquest of the Americas, The Conquest of Africa, with its fifty million dead, The Nakba (the initial Conquest of Palestine), the US / Mexican War of conquest - all of them are made of the same dynamics: “Progress” and expansion, the elimination of the “Threat”, and the need for internal cultural coherence against the threat.
Your upbringing was little more than an indoctrination into that internal cultural coherence, and a way of aligning your life-purposes toward your culture’s promise of the elimination of the threat. To be a “success” means that you have eliminated threats in a way that can be construed or falsified as “nice”. That’s what you buy into with every product and lie you buy. You buy into genocide; you buy into ecocide. You buy into the elimination of life on Earth. Life itself, after all, is the most fundamental existential threat; life embraces its complement, death. Life is full of wild things, threatening things. The word “wild” in its origins, pertains to life which is unbroken, untamed, undomesticated, uncivilized. In its origins, “wild” means self-willed. Life itself is a threat that must be eliminated. That’s the final logic of the final solution.
The “dark” “wilderness” is simply full of threats, you know. We were taught that, too. And if you are a white “American” it is manifestly your destiny to conquer the wild threat, to tame it, to break it- to eliminate it. If you are part of Nazi Germany, your purpose is not so different; if you’re Israeli, Greater Israel is your manifest destiny; or South Africa; or Australia. Name your colonial settler state. It may shake you to look at Gaza as a mirror: but, regardless, you are part of the same genocidal and ecocidal pattern.
This is the most elementary of understandings necessary for an honest approach to and assessment of our current global crisis. It is the single most important factor in understanding white European culture and its dynamics in the Americas and as a global Empire. It is fundamental to any understanding of the basic cultural assumptions that guide our daily lives and understandings of one another. It is an understanding so important, it describes a reality so all pervasive, that without it one simply cannot be an ally to oppressed peoples – in Gaza or anywhere else.
Without this understanding one has understood nothing. One’s “compassion” reduces to do-good-ism and elite rescue missions to the poor miserable brutes beneath one. Without this understanding one cannot be an integral part of the healing that we as humans, the Earth as a living being and the animals we love, so urgently need. Without this understanding one cannot conceive of the actual realities of the “old mind” vs. the “new mind.” Without this understanding one doesn’t even know what the old mind is.
Thank the spirits that the denial that has shaped us is, as we speak, at last, beginning to shatter.
Without having immersed oneself in fundamental understanding of the culture driven realities of genocide and ecocide, one does not know where we are, the conditions we face, or the depths of denial that surround us about our current crisis. In fact, without this understanding having been deeply integrated into one’s world view, one is by definition in denial. One is by definition part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Without this understanding one hasn’t a clue about the indigenous experience so many would like to emulate. Much less has one approached anything akin to indigenous American “wisdom” – or, for that matter, African experience and wisdom. If that is what you are looking for, then, here is some indigenous wisdom:
In the US today, Lakota men’s life expectancy on the rez in the US doesn’t just “happen” to be 44 years –the lowest on Earth. Lakota teen suicide rates don’t just “happen” to be 150% of the norm in the US. The Lakota unemployment rate and the extremities of Lakota poverty don’t just “happen” to be the case. Native Americans don’t just happen to have the highest incarceration rate on planet Earth, higher, even, than that of African Americans. These conditions are all are a direct result of having been conquered and being kept in subjugated state by an enemy people who promised and intended to wipe Native Americans off the face of the Earth – just as the Nazis intended to wipe the Jews off the face of the Earth. The rez is white America’s Warsaw ghetto (by the way, they don’t call the Black ghetto a “ghetto” for nothing) and people of indigenous descent, be they Lakota or Mexican, are, along with Black people, the “Jews.” Better put – the Palestinians.
In fact Hitler openly admired the extermination of the Indians, and the reservation system, and consciously took them as models. The South African Bantustans and the system of Apartheid had a similar origin, as does the division and colonial settlement of Palestine. Gaza is a temporary Indian reservation, “Indian Territory” only waiting to be taken, an open air concentration camp. Here and there, it’s the same.
Where did you think you were?
Palestine is everywhere.
If one hasn’t faced the historical, ongoing reality of genocide and of the US as a white colonial settler state and global empire immersed in, permeated by, and oozing genocide from every pore, then one doesn’t grasp the pain of oppressed peoples, its daily meaning, or the context of the daily experience of oppressed people here in the US or anywhere else on the planet. One cannot but react – be a reactionary (and I use the term advisedly, deliberately and consciously) when encountering the pain of oppressed people. One cannot understand the anger engendered by utter invisibility felt by those who face the realities of cultural and physical genocide everyday and when who, most often, face it alone, with no recognition from their supposed white “allies.” One will fail to see that what is happening in Gaza has a particular meaning for those who are living through it and dying in it. The drama of the mass slaughter of an innocent people there is only a concentrated expression of the blind cult of oppression that constitutes their every day lives, of the cult of everyday life.
Without conscious understanding of the dynamics of genocide, one can only blame the victim for their pain and anger, and fail to understand that one’s own blindness to the most elementary and basic of realities of everyday life presents a locked box to the oppressed – the same locked box oppressed people confront with their active persecutors and overt enemies – the locked box of denial.
Most of all, without such a conscious understanding one cannot see the reality facing the world today, the utter congruity and continuity between genocide and ecocide, and the ways that the denial and operation of one mirrors the denial and operation of the other, or the ways in which the daily details of a killing culture flow into the stream, the river and the sea of planetary death.
Without understanding genocide, one doesn’t understand anything essential -much less is one among the ranks of the “wise.” Without having faced the fundamental reality that shapes one’s culture and its daily interactions with other cultures, one cannot fully approach “wisdom” or humility or self-reflection, or even understand in a mature way what is happening around and in oneself.
What’s happening is that a choice is being made between life and death on a global scale. The choice before is also an individual one to be made in the context of one’s own, particular culture. But the choice is not between killing or bring killed, killing or dying; it’s between killing and living. And like the choices of the ancient peoples who chose Empire, the choices we make now will affect life at every level and on every scale. It will be Killing or Living…
Life on Earth isn’t “dying.” The furry ones, the four footed ones, aren’t “dying.” They’re being killed by a culture that is their conscious and self-declared enemy.
Here, in the midst of the greatest mass extinction in 65 million years, all that is “wild” doesn’t just “happen” to be dying, any more than Gazans “happen” to be dying. The Wild happens to be being killed by a culture that has openly and confessedly intended to eradicate, eliminate the wild, to conquer, tame, subjugate and destroy it all – a culture that is the active enemy of all life – certainly of all self-willed – wild life.
It is a culture that uses dynamite to blow up wolf cubs in the den as if they were so many Palestinian children; and that, death squad style, Israel-in-Gaza style, then uses helicopters to hunt their parents down from the sky.
If life is endangered, if “endangered” species are a symbol of that, then this is what they are “endangered” by - conscious killers. They are not endangered by accident, not by “well meaning” but ignorant people, but by killers - a culture of killers - even if, by chance, it might be rightly said that the killers do not understand, and dare not face themselves as such. (The reason oppressed people find it a relief to deal with overt racists is that it’s a relief to face someone who knows what they are. Most white middle class people in the US don’t face the nature of their culture. They sense that they can’t afford to face it.
To do so would be to break the code of silence called being “nice.” And being “nice” is what it means to smile as you kill. One must kill. There is a threat. But one can only continue to kill be pretending that what you are doing is something else. Mass murder is “defending democracy”; Conquest is “spreading the word of god and saving souls.” As I was told by a dear friend, a radical white feminist lesbian, being “nice” functions something like an anesthetic. Now that doesn’t hurt, does it?)
There are layers upon layers of misdirection, obfuscation, double entendre, doublespeak, half truths and manipulation that enable the killing, and that make up the cultural context in which the killing can go on without acknowledgement or feeling.
Wisdom, in this context, means, in part, being wise about how to deal with a culture of killers. “Wisdom” cannot be divorced from context, any more than it can be divorced from culture, or from experience within a given culture, or how we navigate – mediate - between cultures.
Without a deep grasp of the dynamics of genocide, one doesn’t even start to get this culture, and one is utterly unfit to mediate between the cultures of the oppressor and the oppressed, much less is one fit to guide the creation or foundation of what is most urgently needed - a new culture and an authentically “new” mind – which, in practice, can only be the outcome and product of a new culture that comes into being as this one collapses and as we consciously dismantle the consciousness that drove it. A “new mind” will be the sign of the new culture coming into maturity over the course of the coming generations.
Beyond that, without a firm grasp of the reality of genocide, and thus ecocide, one cannot love the world – not with competence, and not if love is the ability and will to extend oneself for the spiritual growth of others. One cannot extend oneself to guide others in a terrain one doesn’t understand – not without betraying them. Not if love, like “wisdom,” is a verb; an ability in a context.
And here is our context as the world and the Earth around us are on the verge of disintegration: it is the context of the death throes of a death system; the orgasm of a necrophiliac.
A mature capacity to love, in this context, is typified by four activities.
1. Guiding others to see what they are part of;
2. Guiding them to reject what must be rejected;
3. Helping them to learn that they are safe while they re-emerge and deprogram themselves from the cultural matrix of “threat” and “solution”, and;
4. Helping to restore or lay the foundations for a culture that is utterly different, while saving what we can, within the limits of our abilities, of life on this Earth.
These four things will, of necessity, become part of a new mythology. They are, fundamentally, religious tasks.
They will become and must become a foundation for the understandings of a culture of life, and they must be encoded in the new culture that arises from the death of this one.
A new culture must know where it came from, where it is going, where it refuses to go, where it is on the path and in its stage of development, and why. Otherwise, it could easily repeat and replicate the most devastating aspects of the death culture which is now collapsing around us.
If we don’t know where we are, and where we come from, we cannot know where we need to go, why we need to go there, and we can provide no means for others to gauge where they are in the stages of development from the old to the new. In other words, lacking such knowledge, we are useless to the future as any kind of leaders or guides; rather, we represent a dead end and a failure of understanding.
It is, by the same token, very dangerous to assume that one “knows” what the “new mind” is or will be. That is in part because what we (both as a species and as specific cultural groupings) do now and in the future will become part of the myth/ story that shapes the new mind and the culture that it arises from. Since we don’t know what we are going to do, at best, some of us who intend to help lay the foundations for a new culture can only live as if our story might come to embody worthwhile lessons for the coming generations, if there are to be any. But we cannot predict the outcomes or the meanings of the stories and myths they will comprise,
In the same way, the Hopi who lived through the experiences later embodied in their Emergence Stories could not know the outcome before it unfolded. As they moved thru the passageway - following the destruction of the Third world into the Fourth World, they did not know they would be followed by a “witch” who would corrupt the new world, or other key elements of the story that would give full shape to their culture as it deepened and evolved.
It is such stories that deeply shaped the traditional Hopi world experience or “mind,” and our story, as it will be told by our children’s children’s children, based on how we have actually lived it, will shape the “new mind” of the coming generations. This will happen in the same way that those who lived long ago, who lived and shaped the story of the “existential threat” and the “final solutions” of Empire, shaped our culture and our minds.
So, yes, Gaza is our mirror, it is the shattering mirror of a shattering world system of Empire and domination; it is the magic mirror into which we can look to see the truth of our cultural situation and the forces that drive our psyches, the painful mirror that can lead us to grief and transformation, in which we can see what is revealed, and what, and who, must change, and how. What is happening in Gaza is a Revelation. That is why we cannot tear our eyes – or our hearts – away.
And as we watch the drama, the tragedy of Empire, oppression, genocide and ecocide unfold before us in Gaza, we will no doubt find occasion to feel both deep grief and rage.
Grief over, and rage at genocide is completely justified. But it is important- central - to remember that the worst thing oppression does to us is make us someone we're not, to rob us of choice, to reduce us to being reactive, limiting our ability to feel and think clearly and with compassion about ourselves and others.
It forces us into the mindset wherein what “threatens” us determines our being, and our existence becomes little more than a reaction to that “threat.” Then the Empire mentality has “got” us. To the extent that the oppression reduces and limits our abilities to make conscious choices, we have become the victims of genocide within ourselves, we have become less than the promise of our full humanity; we are robbed of our birthright. The ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose from the deepest place of authenticity within us - from our hearts in right relation with all life. We must learn to live and act from love of our peoples, of the land and all life, and not from mere hatred of those who have foolishly made of themselves our enemies.
This freedom – the freedom to love, foster and nurture life, can never truly or entirely be stripped from us, as the indigenous ancestors and elders - all of those who have handed down the still living traditions from before the time of Empire - have shown us with their lives.
The spiritual elders and guides of the Maya of Guatemala are a recent and deep example of this. The Maya are just recovering from a genocide that took the lives of a quarter million of their people in the latter part of the 1900s; but, even though the denial had not yet shattered, even though the world was silent about their condition then, in that time just before the internet, they kept faith with their ancient traditions, knowledge, and prophecies, and emerged as a people who hold a deep spiritual light for a world in crisis. They re-emerged, as if according to schedule, for this time.
live, to the best of our capacities, like them.