War Journal |111123

A month has passed.

I spent the entire first two weeks since the beginning of the war depressed in bed. Then, I moved further to one of my favorite dissociative activities – unsentimental geo-political analysis. Now I’m ripe to talk about my feelings as well. This text includes all of the above. It is contradictory, I doubt if I read anything worth reading since the beginning of October that wasn’t. I’m fed up with absolute answers. There are no winners here; everyone gets out of it worse off. Maybe that’s the true meaning of war. 

This insatiable tragedy keeps on devouring lives and bodies. The lives of, oh too many became a cruel storm of blood, fear, helplessness, loss, and rage. Hope is sucked out of the soul, the roof is being torn off, the windows and doors blow out, the walls threaten to collapse. While all the know-it-alls speak in exclamation marks, our hearts are racing with questions as though about to burst.

Overpowering each other

This is not the time to hurt more people.

These days, it seems like we all lost the ability to talk with each other. In some weird twist, it looks like we all became the war. We can’t even agree whether it’s a war. I can talk about myself: about shouting, being attacked, attacking, fighting with the closest people, searching for consolation while screaming, being subjected to never-ceasing generalizations, hearing and reading in my circles xenophobic and antisemitic texts and subtexts, being metaphorically kicked out of so-called “safe spaces” while concurrently being demonized, and about a stifled sob, and about crying my eyes out.

All I see around me are ever-growing polarized fights with the sole intent of overpowering each other. I think it’s time to admit we are in a crisis that is not solely a militant-humanitarian one. I try to understand how we got here. I usually agree that “our job” is to speak more for those in a less privileged position and believe that someone will speak for us. That this is how you create solidarity. However sad or insane it might be (you are free to choose), as a Jew, I currently feel that I can’t trust the goodwill of the world. As a queer person, I can’t trust the patriarchy. As a Middle Eastern, I can’t trust the empires.

It also feels like everyone is fighting for recognition. Maybe we are now experiencing the climax of our identity politics. We got so used to reclaiming space, to get recognition for our identity, and we taught ourselves that “we aren’t free till everyone is free” but also that we need to “clear the stage” so that the less privileged can be heard. We are all “very important” individuals… And so, what we are left with is a set of rules, a set of legitimate voices of inner children, and a set of illegitimate voices of illegitimate children. So everyone is fighting everyone, as if the world can’t contain infinite variety, as if narratives must compete and can’t expand each other. But the truth is that to create reconciliation and peace, it is necessary to understand how the other side experiences reality and its pain – indeed, a difficult thing to do.

Maoz Inon, an Israeli peace activist whose parents were murdered during Hamas’ attacks, explains in a podcast the tactics he and his partners developed to bridge cultural gaps – “We did not come to argue about a narrative, and we did not come to create agreements. We believe (…) that one only needs to know the other’s narrative. Only by getting to know the other’s narrative – the difficulties, the fears, the disasters, the history, but also the hopes – can we build a unified society. (…) The moment we try to hide an identity, erase it, lock it in a closet – and it doesn’t matter if it’s LGBT identity, or Palestinian identity, or any other identity, we’re just inviting the next explosion.”

You may not necessarily be antisemitic, but demonizing Israelis as a group surely is xenophobic.

First of all, let’s establish the following: you are probably biased, ill-informed, and influenced by systemic antisemitism to some extent, or as my grandpa always said – “ein guter Deutscher ist Antisemit.” I guess there’s no need for translation, and no, it doesn’t only apply to Germans. 

Hamas is an antisemitic and fascist organization. Its original charter from 1988 contains many antisemitic tropes; among other things, it accuses Jews of engineering World War I and claims they profited during World War II. Newer versions are less blunt, but after the atrocities of October 7, the debate about whether they were a political ploy or not seems quite absurd. Pardon my French, but brown shit is brown shit, and I’m most certainly not going to waste time trying to understand their “motives.”

I’ve always believed that the ongoing occupation undermines the moral stance of Israel. However, demonizing Israel as ‘colonialism’ and demonizing ‘Zionism’ is an oversimplification and unjust. This is a debate often found among left-leaning or progressive circles, heavily influenced by Western perspectives and a reluctance to acknowledge the complexities of global issues, preferring instead to break their bones to fit them into oversimplified matrices. Those genuinely wishing for the region’s well-being should not disregard either side. The narrative that “Israel is a colonial state” is not only misleading but mainly counterproductive. 

UN Secretary-General Guterres said that “October 7 attacks have not taken place in a vacuum”. I agree with him, but I must extend that the reactions to the attacks have also not taken place in a vacuum.

The left sometimes likes to think of antisemitism as exclusive to the right but tends to forget it is also a well-rooted lefty tradition. Simply put, for the right, Jews were rats, and for the left, capitalist octopuses. 

Jews have been a projection surface for so many centuries. Thus, it is almost impossible to find accusations that don’t simply rhyme with something from that tradition, but they repeat themselves occasionally.

On the one hand, many Westerners are still haunted by delusions about a threat from a malicious octopus wrapping its tentacles around the globe, now more commonly – a Muslim one. On the other hand, the criticism about the Israelis and the obsession with their actions is often very similar to some classical antisemitic canards.

In contemporary times, we talk about amplifying marginalized voices, white supremacy, and decolonization, so a new trick was introduced – whitening the Jews – and so despite a hardcore history of persecution, the only minority that is perceived as privileged at least as straight white men, if not more, are those who one-third of them had been wiped out about only 80 years ago. Concurrently, the politicization of antisemitism done by many Zionists has proven to be a very effective tool to push back criticism about Israeli actions – this undoubtedly should be criticized as well – and indeed it is. 

Since the war erupted, I personally experienced gems like: hostile looks during a house party, positive remarks of surprise, which subtext you could sum up as “you don’t have horns!”, “Netanyahu is the new Hitler,” “Zio-Nazis are all the same,” “Of all the problems in the world, antisemitism is really not that important,” or forcing me to swear that I am indeed ethically sound and opposing the occupation completely, eh sorry, Zionism in general. I ask myself whether these people, some of whom used to be quite close to me, are aware of the similarity to historically doubting Jews’ loyalty? 

If even an artsy queerdo, who conscientiously objected to military service in the IDF and resisted the occupation all of his life, is putting up on trial so naturally and so fast in the heart of fucking Berlin, then we get the hint. We know there’s no need to listen to your thoughts anymore. Honestly, the most appropriate thing to do with your opinion is like in the meme: take it, fold it into a small elongated shape, lube it, and shove it up your arse. 

I also occasionally hear some fantasies some people express about an Israeli society with excellent social mobility and the possibility of a voluntary expats population transfer of the wealthy Jews back to an imagined ancestral homeland in Europe. Besides being immoral, paternalistic, antisemitic, and colonialistic, this is a dash detached from reality. It is also worth noting that, as of today, almost 2/3 of Israeli Jews are of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry. Yay! We are POC even according to the most exclusive progressive standards! 

Jews are not white; get used to it. Many Jews, indeed, like to see themselves as white. I won’t dive into genetics and heredity comparisons here; that’s too 1930s for my taste. Let’s just say that in the chronology of genocides made by white (supremacists), the Jews enjoyed a massive chunk of the cake. Passing as white is still a privilege in our sad world, which some Jews definitely enjoy. However, it doesn’t make them white, and it definitely didn’t help the blonde mother of my grandpa as she was stripped of her dignity, possessions, clothes, shoes, hair, and eventually body in Auschwitz. You don’t have the right to define us, nor to white us – simply get the fuck out of our self-determination.

It may come as a surprise to some of you. Still, among the 10 Million people residing in Israel, there are various groups and various worldviews (even before taking into account the old saying “two Jews, three opinions.”). Not all of them are super privileged. In fact, although the size of Israel’s economy is ranked around 30th place in the world, its poverty rate also ranks second in the OECD, with only Costa Rica having a higher one. Like in most neoliberal democracies nowadays, those groups are often fed instead of bread with populism, xenophobia, and polarization – maybe Netanyahu’s greatest flagship project. Whatever the background is, also these people rightfully demand answers and a future perspective. One that does not include missiles, murder, rape, and post-mortem incineration. If we want to be honest, we, the Israeli left, together with our international “allies,” failed to deliver.

Let’s have a line for Palestine!

This subtitle is neither a quote nor a valid or helpful moral statement. Ignoring complexity, having no interest in educating yourself, and flattening years of conflict to fit some “brand loyalty” on social media – isn’t a legitimate lifestyle choice, no matter how edgy or trendy you might be. 

Even though condemning the filth of a teen rightwing extremist, you can not put in the same post the sentences “I don’t know if I have the lexicon to do this and I still don’t but…”, “Accuse me of not putting this in the most eloquent way but…”, or “People way smarter than me should be unpacking this shit” and then use terms like: “genocidal social media trends,” “Sociopathic Psychosis,” “sanitize the Palestinian genocide,” “psychotic genocidal behavior. Vindictive cruel behavior.” – this is not criticism; this is, at best, a flat and lazy juggling of words that means the other group is bad people. At worst, it is also cynical because it’s great for traffic. It’s a way to enjoy sympathy and brand yourself as subversive or alternative while refusing to educate yourself or even express something clear (that as an artist!). Truly, High School Never Ends. Besides being unfair, it’s hazardous. If we aren’t able to think and express ourselves in a complex fashion, if we rush to label things as “sociopathic psychosis” or “genocide,” we become limited in our judgment, and this will surely open the gates of hell.

A month ago, Judith Butler wrote that “so many people watching the carnage via the media feel so hopeless. But one reason they are hopeless is precisely that they are watching via the media, living within the sensational and transient world of hopeless moral outrage.” Basically, most people’s concept is to do nothing, especially nothing, which seriously impacts your life, knowledge, countries, or the privileges you enjoy. The same probably goes for me as well. My heart is crushed and destroyed from these last few weeks, of course also because of what is happening in Gaza, but stating the obvious is stupid, and in this case, it is also not good enough. 

I’ll give you a tip – when you come to speak with a nation suffering from a gigantic posttrauma and has the complete legitimacy to be suspicious towards you, be a dash more humble. Whether it’s just or not doesn’t matter. Don’t think you will persuade that nation by boycotting or applying pressure tactics. Don’t think that imposing your inaccurate comparisons will bring anyone good. Even as a lefty who saw and still sees himself as part of the peace movement, I really fail to understand what the slogan “Free Palestine” means practically at the moment. Sorry, but you are working on autopilot. There is no clear-cut solution here.

No society in the world would and should accept a situation in which a three-year-old girl whose parents were murdered in front of her eyes, together with a 10-month-old baby, are being held captive with about 30 other kids and more than 200 grown-ups. Underground, with no visits by the red-cross and very scarce manipulative signs of life given to their loved ones, if at all. The occupation is horrible; it is unbearable, and to maintain it, Israel commits unjustified violent acts and war crimes. One thing does not contradict the other, but people talk less and less about the hostages; from the beginning, they were a kind of “software bug”. Quite a few on the left moved further automatically but, in fact, retreated to the cozy and familiar default – “likes” and demonstrations against the crimes of the occupation. You have to understand that the Israelis will not back off here, and there is no reason for them to leave helpless innocents in the captivity of decapitators. 

For too many, there is context and history, and only when the occupation ends (whatever that means, after both the Israeli and Palestinian fanatics beheaded also the peace process) the right to live of those abductees will become relevant and legitimate again. This is a thought and a moral failure that is as repulsive as the concept that the lives of the innocent masses in Gaza are collateral damage on the way to the realization of the justified goal of the elimination of Hamas. 

It is time to stop making the same mistake over and over again. You give no answers to the sane, moderate Israelis. You live in an imagined reality and do not offer real solutions, belittle their concerns, cancel their rights, cancel their narratives, and do not understand that while you feel so good about your self-righteousness, you are only causing more damage. You are pushing the moderate voices out and you will not be able to solve anything without them, assuming that you are interested in solving something, and not just arguing for the sake of arguing. Doing that while external to the conflict often gives the impression that it is all just virtue signaling.

Stop ranting about colonialism, imagined skin colors, and stupid semantic games – is it war or not? Contextualization or not? Perhaps at this moment, what is most important is to create an inclusive, unified front for all citizens. It is indeed a bit more complicated than putting together catchy slogans of outrage – welcome to the Middle East.

What do you seriously have to offer to both sides? To the millions that were simply born into this reality? How do you protect the lives and the quality of living of all people in the entire region? How do you make your politicians and media continuously talk about that, and not about the smoke screen of narratives that are anyhow irrelevant to you, or for the momentary situation, and mainly hide the interests and instrumentalization of this conflict by your countries? 

Decolonize (yourself and the weapon industry)

This part is by no means intended to question the rights of oppressed people nor contradict the brave movement of decolonization, which is undoubtedly very much needed in our world. I also don’t doubt Israel’s responsibility for its brutal actions. Neither am I interested in pretending that there are no power differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I also don’t deny the imperialist support for Israel (and Hamas by others, by the way). I am solely interested in a broader, less hypocritical perspective. Again, the world needs more narratives – not less.

If you think the USA and UK sent their giant aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean a second after Hamas attacks started, or that all diplomats bought new trolley bags and started traveling around the globe, all to protect Israel or deescalate the situation – wake up, and smell the petrol! In other words, don’t simply believe any official or semi-official person from Israel, Palestine, the USA, the UK, Katar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, France, or Germany – they are all sunken up to their neck with interests they don’t always disclose.

These are the top 10 largest arms exporters in the world ordered by scale of sales in the last decade: United States, after a drop of 44% in amount comes Russia, after a further drop of 58% – France, a drop of 32% – China, a drop of 14% – Germany, a drop of 22% – United Kingdom, a drop of 19% – Italy, a drop of 23% – Spain, a drop of 0.3% – Israel, a drop of 22% – Netherlands.

How can the situation be resolved without harming civilians? If anyone has good ideas, please be vocal about it – if not, how about you sacrificing your life as a White Helmet while overseeing the demilitarization of Gaza? Oh, you don’t believe in armies? Stop exporting weapons, silly! You don’t have a private weapon factory? Ah… In that case, stop enjoying state and economic profits from your weapon industry and wars around the globe!

I can assure you that the weapons the countries mentioned above produce aren’t used as paperweights or exhibits in contemporary art museums. It is even more absurd when you think about the direct responsibility that at least five of them have for the creation of the mess in the Middle East in the first place. It also seems kinda needed to recall that the majority of those countries have a vibrant fascist recent history, colonial history, and present, and can undoubtedly be described as war profiteers. Again, for clarification, this is not meant as whataboutism – weapon manufacturing is a filthy, filthy business in Israel’s case as well. The fact that the continuation of armed conflicts is an interest of so many people in the world is thoroughly disgusting. Although, in Israel’s case, it has plenty of justifiable and historical reasons, a “successful” arms industry is always a moral stain and a reason for concern. It doesn’t justify the demonization of Israel or Israelis, nor does it make them a legitimate target as part of a holy war against “colonialism.”

The collapse of “The Conception.”

I agree with Eva Illouz that “the global left has made itself irrelevant”. Many Israeli and Jewish friends, including myself, are still unsure how to digest it, living outside of Israel, and whether it is a terminal condition. I definitely know who aren’t my allies anymore. They’re most certainly not passengers of morality autonomous cars, who didn’t even wait to understand what happened before rushing to blame innocent civilians. People who needed a couple of days to recalibrate their compasses by Judith Butler and then started pretending they didn’t want to de-center the discourse. Not because the Israeli pain is more important but because we have no reason to trust you and the honesty of your motives. So many Palestinians in Israel and abroad intuitively “got it” immediately; the international saints are still phrasing manifestos of excuses. It is difficult to say I am surprised by the reactions of many on the left; just as little was I surprised by the actions of Hamas. We will reach peace in the Middle East not with the help of these groups but despite their existence.

I write these following lines not in order to please anyone. I just don’t think this text will be complete without them. 

Dear fellow Israelis who got so far in this text, we are also on autopilot. We fall back to unison. Our media is filled with the sweet stench of unity and propaganda. “We invite you to hang the national flag in your window” – is this televised schmaltz or fascism? We have already killed 10,000 people and counting, 70% of them children and women. There’s the criminalization of content and limitation of the freedom of speech, and there’s the normalization of extremists as part of the government – per usual, no questions asked. “A war has been imposed upon us by a barbaric enemy,” “Never mind what the world has to say, we know we are right,” Right till the end. Whatever end. Whenever it ends. 

The failure of “The Conception” means not only that we got hit so strongly and horrifyingly but mainly the failure of the pseudo ideology of Netanyahu, probably the worst, most corrupt, and immoral Jewish leader that ever existed. It is also the failure of too many of us, inspired by the diabolic politics of him and his messianic and jihadi counterparts. A failure to grasp that technology, wealth, and power will never make our neighbors, our cuisines, disappear. 

A big irony, as we know, is that those who got hit most severely were communities saturated by peace and human rights activists. Dreamers and thinkers of the kind that really act, and not only on social media. I would not dare to judge anyone from these communities for losing hope. I can only pray for an unexisting god that we will manage to rise once more from the ashes, rebuild hope, and cry together that the occupation must stop. Fanatics on all sides, who are ruled by hatred, bigotry, and mammon will not dictate our lives, will not dictate our future.

Despite the global atmosphere, we need to be careful not to be swallowed up by our own self-righteousness, the continued blindness, the continued “management of the conflict,” the continued lack of demand to define a clear finish line, to define a political vision, to define any vision at all. 

Every conflict since the dawn of history has eventually ended; this one will as well.

Amit Jacobi, 11th November 2023

Interesting to read and watch:

Wise, compassionate, and balanced overview by Seyla Benhabib, with practical ideas for the future

Yuval Noah Harari, honest, grounded, and with a broad perspective, as always