Beyond the images of dead and maimed children coming out of Gaza, the most repugnant pictures have been of Israelis cheering on the slaughter from a bordering hill. There was a cinema-type atmosphere close to the town of Sderot all last week as, near enough to see the missile flashes and hear the blasts, the excited audience clapped each lethal strike. Successive days and nights of live carnage were accompanied by drinks and popcorn. Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad described the macabre gatherings as ‘most closely resembling the front row of a reality war theatre’.
Such scenes – which are usual on the so-called ‘Hill of Shame’ during times of conflict – were replicated across Israel. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem young people chanted ‘Death to Arabs’ in between celebrating each murderous attack on their hated neighbours, ones which have so far claimed more than 200 lives, at least 80 per cent of them civilian, ranging from new-borns to elderly disabled people. Social media has also descended the depths, with malevolent Israeli posters expressing their delight using a range of exclamations – from the obscene to the downright evil.
There is nothing new about the voyeuristic element to ‘precision’ warfare. Airforce commanders always ensure that their best work is recorded for posterity, and indeed distributed to eager TV producers through their defence ministries. Actions such as the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing of the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk in 2003 became prime time spectaculars, with news channels offering blanket coverage. Some 1500 Cruise missiles and bombs poured down in the first 24 hour period, during which buildings disintegrated in dark mushroom clouds of smoke and light. Human casualties could only be imagined, but the terrifying images were straight out of an apocalyptic Hollywood epic – repulsive but morbidly captivating.
Similar broadcasts characterised the so-called War on Terror – a seemingly never ending onslaught against weak, ill-equipped enemies, with the multi-billion dollar American-led war machine wreaking havoc. Casualties suffered by coalition forces were kept to a minimum, mainly because on-the-ground soldiers could always call in air strikes with on-board cameras. Afghans, Iraqis, and a range of other foes were, meanwhile, killed in their hundreds, day after day.
War waged by the West against poorer nations is now an increasingly dislocated one – a target can be ‘taken out’ from afar with no emotional engagement. In turn, service personnel make an effort to portray themselves as benevolent figures using just the right amount of clinical force to achieve an objective.
Yet all the evidence from the past few days points to Israelis actually wanting emotional engagement. They wish to humiliate, as well as to destroy. MPs like Ayelet Shaked, who represents the far-right Jewish Home party in the Knesset, revels in the slaughter, just like the thousands of excited ‘war theatre’ audiences across the country.
Shaked actually referred to Palestinians as ‘snakes’, making out that all of them – men, women and children, even unborn children – were part of some destructive criminal enterprise. The politician wrote on her Facebook page: ‘Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads.’
The tone is chillingly melodramatic, but it cannot hide the demonic juxtaposition – the cold, ruthless, extermination of Arabs combined with a primeval blood lust and elementary racism. It is a horrendous mix – one backed by two of the biggest and most sophisticated war machines in the world. Beyond Washington and Tel Aviv’s vast arsenal, the Israelis have a missile defence system – the so-called Iron Dome which enables them to shoot down incoming projectiles before they cause significant damage.
In an absurdly asymmetrical war, the military wing of Hamas fires basic rockets from its cramped positions in Gaza. Most are woefully outdated artillery ordnance designed to be fired in large barrages, rather than in single units. Many have been smuggled into the area through tunnels from the Sinai, while others are actually built in primitive workshops on the Gaza Strip. Nobody really has much of an idea where they will end up.
Of course Hamas is trying to cause as much damage as it can to Israel, but beyond the destruction of buildings and isolated human casualties (which must, of course, be condemned), it is largely failing. Israel knows this, but its policy is to meet threats to its population with revenge attacks – to kill indiscriminately under the guise of ‘protecting our people’, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu puts it.
What Netanyahu really means is that he thinks nothing of using criminally disproportionate force to defend genocide and continuous land-grabbing – that Israel has the power and authority to impose its will on an oppressed people, and that his country will continue to do it with impunity. Thanks to social media and mainstream TV, objective onlookers around the world can see much the same images as the baying mob on the ‘Hill of Shame’, but the vast majority have a very different view of it. They believe that Israel should be formally criminalised and treated like an international pariah, and that 47 years of apartheid policies and military occupation should finally come to an end.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.