Hamid Abu Daqqa was playing football in his Real Madrid shirt when he was shot through the stomach by IDF troops several weeks ago. This was significant for the Palestinians and the wider Middle East, but not for anyone else. Not a single UK broadcaster knows his name. But do they know Muhammad al-Hums, Ranan Arafat, Omar Mashharawi, Isam Abu al-Miza, Hiba Mashharawi Turk, Mahmoud Abu Sawawin, Marwan Abu al-Qumsan, Walid Abadla, Hanin Tafish, Faris Basyouni, or Muhammad Iyad Sadallah? These are but a small sample of the children, pregnant women and elderly Palestinians killed in recent days by Israel. Not a single UK broadcaster knows a single one of these names.
Anyone with an internet connection can hear live feed of the airjets, drones and helicopter fighters strafing the Gaza sky. If you want the sonic experience of airborne death, it's available to you. Not a single UK broadcaster will trouble you with it. Anyone can see the pictures of the destroyed buildings, of ambulances wrecked. But not courtesy of a UK broadcaster. Anyone can find out how many of Gaza's ambulances were actually functioning before the bombing began, because the blockade has led to fuel shortages. But you would have to seek this out on your own initiative, because a UK broadcaster will never tell you. You can find out how frequently a thunderous explosion would strike nearby if you were in a densely populated area of Gaza - roughly every fifteen minutes. That's four times an hour you would narrowly miss death, without even leaving your house. You could work out how much sleep it's possible to get with that on your mind. You can find out from Paul Danahar of the BBC that half of the casualties taken to Shifa hospital from the last aerial attack in the north of Gaza city are children - but ironically not from the BBC. You have to look at his Twitter account to find this out. You can find out how Palestinians are coping - families of seven moving into single rooms, avoiding exposure as far as possible, huddling together for an illusory sense of security, waiting to see if they'll be the next smoking crater with an English-speaking journalist standing next to it. Not a single UK broadcaster will tell you this, but you can find out.
Now, here's the thing - and it's a small thing, but in many ways it is symptomatic. In the event that you know all this, know how the IDF routinely shoots random Palestinians like rabbits, know about the 'medieval-style' torture facilities in which Palestinians are detained, know how much lethal material is being unloaded on densely populated Gaza, as much to terrorise as to actually murder, know how much infrastructure is being wrecked, know how little escape there is, then you know something else: the leaflets dropped on Gaza signify extraordinary sadism on Israel's part. This is what the leaflets say:
"For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety. Hamas is once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed. The IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel. This announcement is valid until quiet is restored to the region. Israel Defense Forces Command."
It is not simply that every word of this vile little pronunciamento is a lie - or rather, is concentrated ideology. That is to be expected. The state speaks no language other than ideology. Nor is the practice of dropping leaflets from thousands of feet in the air to the effect of 'why we are bombing you' anything new in the history of colonial missions. In a sense, the medium (the 'leaflet bomb') is the message, literalising the ideological dominance of the colonial power, just as incendiary bombs literalise its politico-military dominance. But this is an antiquated technique of psychological warfare.
In this context, the leaflets are dropped on Gaza, but the IDF doesn't expect or require that its victims believe in its thoroughly just motives. It doesn't really believe it will undermine the political unity of Palestinians against Israeli domination, or split Gaza residents from the Hamas leadership. Indeed, it expects anything else but this outcome. It's hard to believe they think anyone will believe it's a 'humanitarian' step either, as some apologists have claimed - having no idea how grotesque they make themselves. (Isn't it interesting, by the way, that these apologists increasingly come in the guise of a 'voice of reason', even though they look and sound utterly insane?)
The authors of this leaflet know there is no escape. They know that no resident of Gaza is safe. There is no building that cannot become a Hamas 'facility', no person that cannot be deemed a Hamas 'operative', or at least be deemed to have been negligently or culpably close to one. There is nothing anyone can in Gaza can practically do to be sure that the IDF will not vaporise them. And as tanks and reservists gather on the border, pending an invasion, there is nothing that the average Gazan can do to avoid being in a neighbourhood that is sealed off and shelled for hours and hours, humanitarian agencies prevented from reaching the wounded, starving survivors for days afterward. The authors of this leaflet know what they are capable of doing to people in Gaza, because they have done it before; and they know Gazans know.
This leaflet is like the sadistic taunt of a bully who is really enjoying himself - "stop hitting yourself", in the context of mass murder. I think it is this surplus enjoyment more than any utilitarian calculus that is really at work behind this low tech leaflet bombing. This has also been evident in the witticisms coming from IDF Twitter feeds - the #hamasbumperstickers meme providing the occasion for predictable jokes along the lines of "my other car is..." or "if you can read this...". Tellingly, the IDF chiefs were shocked and dismayed by the criticisms of this: indignantly grousing that they couldn't even have a little joke while their opponents cheered on Hamas terrorists etc. People were just trying to tell them: Don't be so openly thrilled by what you're doing, by your fleeting, giddying sense of omnipotence, by what you are getting away with. Don't so explicitly revel in torturing your captives. It sits uneasily against your own claim that every civilian death is a tragedy to you, that your highest priority is to protect life. It's obscene. But Israel's military best could only see this as at best a weird injunction from outer space, at worst an antisemitic double standard.
Alexei Sayle characterised Israel's rationalisations during Cast Lead as evincing 'the psychology of the of the murderer, of the rapist, of the bully'. He said it acted like a spoiled psychopathic child. And indeed Israel, accepting the anthropomorphism of the state for the sake of this discussion, does give the impression of being a psychopath (in the colloquial as opposed to the diagnostic sense). I think this has to do with the image that the Israeli state has of itself in relation to the world. Israeli state ideology is predicated on the conceit that it is the organised self-defence of a Jewish people who are permanently at risk of antisemitic reflux. In a world of nation-states, the best self-defence is to 'normalise' one's relations to others by achieving statehood, as opposed to remaining a dispersed minority within other states. To be an effective self-defence, then, Israel must be the strongest state, the biggest state, the most militarily powerful state it can be, or simply risk reproducing Jewish subordination on an international scale. Its borders must be, as Ben Gurion insisted, potentially as fluid and expansive as those of the US in its colonial phase. As importantly, it must seek and obtain the indulgence and protection of the major imperialist power, if it can be obtained. And finally, it must compel, through an iron wall of overwhelming violence, the acquiescence of those indigenous people, those barbarians who could never make the desert bloom, and who would never be grateful to those who did. All of this was consonant with the standards of colonial state building up to the mid-to-late twentieth century, and thus consistent with the dominant ideology in the imperialist societies whose support Israel needed. There was no problem getting the support of imperialist societies for such a project in that era. The trouble is that the anticolonial movements and the revolt against colonial ideology came just as Israel was being birthed and its power consolidated.
Now Israel is attacked by reference to standards that it was never able to adapt to or internalise, because the repressed would not stay repressed. It is attacked as a racist, colonial power when everyone had previously agreed that this was how state-building was done. It's so unjust; so unfair. It's antisemitism. It's a genocidal conspiracy. And the more Israel is criticised by reference to what one might call these anticolonial standards, the more it defiantly exhibits its fidelity to the colonial ideas on which it was founded. The more the indigenes refuse to simply disappear as a people, as a political entity, the more it yearns to inflict the decisive final defeat, the Wounded Knee Massacre that will facilitate the final closing of the frontier and the establishment of Israel as an unbeatable regional power. The Israeli state pragmatically surrenders this pleasure, knowing it can never get away with this as things are, knowing it must take its time, act gradually, or risk losing its privileged alliances, losing everything; but it deeply resents the sacrifice and takes every opportunity to get compensation for it. Its sense of victimhood is as limitless as its demand for satisfaction, for revenge. This is why its bloodlettings are never enough, why it must always extract something extra, why it must revel so much in the supererogatory element of its punishments, and why it always nonetheless feels short-changed. Israel's dilemma, as a colonial state-in-the-making, attempting to finish the job but always prevented from finally doing so (even if it is never clear what such consummation would actually mean), is what makes it unique, and makes its behaviour uniquely symptomatic.